Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has encouraged the church to go out to the world. In “The Joy of the Gospel,” he spoke of his dream of a “missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.” In 2016, inspired by this call and led by the Holy Spirit, I announced a new vision for the Diocese of Green Bay that embraces this dream:
“We are missionary disciples striving to lead all people to the Kingdom of God.”
Since that time, my staff and I have worked to help folks in the diocese understand and live this vision. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, we use certain terms so often amongst ourselves that we assume everyone understands them. The term “missionary disciples” is one example. Though used often, and incorporated into our vision, it can sometimes seem like insider jargon, rather than a vision that all people can embrace.
So what exactly is a missionary disciple? I could offer a theological response to this question, but I think that would simply add to people’s confusion. Instead I want to explain this in simple terms that will allow people to live this out in concrete ways. To do this, let’s break down the term into its component parts.
First, what is a disciple? A disciple is a friend and follower of Jesus, who follows Jesus, worships Jesus, and shares Jesus with others. Very simply, a disciple is a student, someone who follows another person and learns from them. As Christians, we are students of Jesus Christ. However, being a disciple of Christ also means becoming a close friend with Jesus. Think of the disciples that we read about in the Gospels. Those men and women were not just students who came and went after receiving their lesson for the day. They were men and women who gave up other things to follow Christ.
Being a disciple means we have to take time to get to know Jesus. This is true of all our friendships. In order for them to thrive, we must make ourselves available to spend time with the other person. We can do this by reading stories about Jesus in the Gospels, speaking and listening to Jesus through prayer, and receiving Jesus in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Being a disciple also means making Jesus a priority in our lives, even giving up things that get in the way of our relationship with him. This can be difficult, no doubt, but throughout the Gospels, Jesus promises he will walk patiently with us.
What about the word missionary? Many hear that term and immediately think of people like St. Mother Teresa or St. Francis Xavier, who devoted their lives to serving in foreign lands. They were certainly great examples of missionary disciples. However, we do not need to go overseas to be missionaries.
Put simply, a missionary is someone who is on mission. As Christians, our mission is to bring Jesus to others. Each of us, by our baptism, is called to bring Christ to the world. This is why, at the end of Mass, the priest or deacon invites us to, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” In other words, our mission is to share with the world what we have experienced through the Gospel and our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
To summarize, we can say that a missionary disciple is one who emphasizes the importance of following and sharing Jesus with others and inspires, equips and forms others to be disciples and disciple makers. A missionary disciple is a friend of Jesus who calls others into friendship with Jesus; or as I sometimes say, “Become a friend of Jesus. Make a friend. Introduce your friend to Jesus.”
I hope this explanation is helpful in providing a better understanding of what it means to be a missionary disciple. I look forward to sharing more with you in my next few columns where I will highlight specific ways in which people in our diocese are growing and living as missionary disciples.
May God bless all of us as we work to live as missionary disciples!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.