How to live as ‘missionary disciples’

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Vigil Mass for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the Annual Multicultural Mass/Mission Sunday at St. Agnes Church in Arlington.

If we really have heard the incident described in today's Gospel reading and if we are truly honest in admitting our reaction, most of us would applaud, not condemn, James and John for their ambition. After all, they were fishermen and were only trying to get ahead. "Right on," we say, "what's wrong with a little ambition!"

And if we stayed long enough in pondering Jesus' response to James' and John's request, we would discover that Jesus is opposed, not to ambition, as such, but to misguided or misplaced ambition. It is as if Jesus is saying to James and John - and to us: "There's nothing wrong with ambition as long as you are ambitious about the really important things. I do not fault you for being ambitious. After all, I choose you precisely because you have an inner drive, an inner motivation. I do fault you for being ambitious about the unimportant and the superficial."

It seems to me that the Word of God is challenging us to take a real look at our ambition and to ask: for what are we ambitious? What is our goal? Our purpose?

Of course, we are ambitions about getting ahead so that we earn a decent living and enjoy life a bit. But, should we not be ambitious for something more? Something deeper? Is there not a basic rock-bottom kind of ambition within which all other ambitions take on a certain perspective?

We are the followers of Jesus. Should we not be imitating His kind of ambition? And what was that? He tells us clearly: "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus' basic ambition was service to others - living life in such a way that others were enriched and enlivened by God's love. That was his basic ambition. Is it ours?

Somehow, this does not sound like worldly wisdom - it is not! In fact, it is counter-cultural, it goes directly against our contemporary trend with its emphasis on "Number One" and "Getting Ahead" at any cost. But, then, the Christian way of life is always counter-cultural.

The question remains: as followers of Jesus, do we have the same basic ambition He had: to serve and to give our lives in ransom for others? That does not mean necessarily that we grovel around and berate ourselves, but it does mean that we give of self to others in countless concrete ways.

A fundamental way to be like Jesus Christ in giving our life as a ransom is to be "a missionary disciple." As Pope Francis reminds us in his Apostolic Exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel," "In all the baptized, from the first to the last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization." How do we do the work of evangelization? The Pope tells us: "In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19) … The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized … Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: We no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries,' but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples" (cf. No. 119 and 120).

Today is the beginning of World Mission Sunday. In his message to us this year, Pope Francis emphasized the central teaching of the Second Vatican Council's document on the Church's Missionary Nature entitled Ad Gentes and promulgated 50 years ago by stating that the missionary dimension belongs to the very nature of the Church. "Being a missionary is not about proselytizing or mere strategy; mission is part of the 'grammar' of faith, something essential for those who listen to the voice of the Spirit who whispers 'Come' and 'Go forth' (cf. 2015 Message for World Mission Sunday).

So, then, every one of us who is baptized is a missionary disciple. Our deepest ambition must be, like Christ's, to give of ourselves, in proclaiming the Good News of God's saving love and in inviting everyone we meet, especially by our daily witness of life, to come to Jesus, the One Savior of all peoples!

This evening, within our diocesan church, we are lifting up in gratitude the multicultural dimension of God's People, who make up this diocesan church. Look around this congregation; we see our sisters and brothers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, each with its own particular set of gifts and talents, and all of whom are united through Christ Jesus with one another. How did our ancestors come to the faith, to answer the call of Jesus Christ: "Come to Me"? At some point in each group's history, men and women, on fire with the ambition of proclaiming the Good News of salvation, came from other lands. Their fundamental goal was to bring the One Savior to a people who had not yet heard of Him, to invite them to come to this Jesus, so that they too could be filled with His life and inherit eternal life won by the Savior on the Wood of the Cross.

You and I are reaping the fruits of those earlier "missionary disciples!" And, in God's Loving Providence, we are now - ourselves - missioned to pass on the treasure of our Catholic faith, to become and to remain ourselves "missionary disciples" on fire with the love that comes to us from the Heart of Christ and which He wills us to pass on to others, especially to those who have not yet heard how merciful and loving Our God is! We do that, rooted in the one holy, catholic and apostolic faith of the Church, yet doing so with the particular gifts that are woven into our individual ethnicity and culture. Thus, together, we form the One Christ, alive within His Body the Church, the Sacrament and Sign of Universal Salvation!

We find this, no doubt, a different, indeed a strange sort of ambition. But it is the kind Jesus had and it is real. So, let us be ambitious - ultimately for enriching the lives of others by being "missionary disciples." Let us be ambitious to serve and to give life, yours and mine, as a ransom for others.

Will it be worthwhile? In the end, yes; take a good look at Jesus: He died yet He lives and because of Him, we live. Yes, be ambitious the way Jesus was. And if we try to be, our lives in the end will be successful in the only way that counts.

A good summary for this reflection on becoming ambitious in the way Jesus was is found in several lines from a Weston Priory song, "Wherever you Go." And so, I end with them:

"When the time of our particular sunset comes, our 'thing,' our accomplishment, won't really matter a great deal; but the clarity and care with which we have loved others will speak with vitality of the great gift of life we have been for each other" - and, I would add, in living, on fire, as missionary disciples!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015