The call to be missionaries of love

During his Apostolic Journey to the United States, Pope Francis will visit many historical landmarks and some of our most beautiful cathedrals and basilicas. However, the most important sites he will visit are those in which we will see the visit's theme, "Love is Our Mission" on full display: Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., Our Lady of Angels School in East Harlem and the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. While Pope Francis himself will show us what it means to be "missionaries of love," he will also point to the inspiring example and witness of Blessed Junípero Serra, O.F.M., whom he will canonize during his visit to Washington, D.C.

Blessed Junípero Serra was born in Mallorca, Spain in 1713, and entered the Order of Friars Minor at the age of 16. The young friar was particularly admired in academic circles for his adept teaching and preaching, so much so that he could have become a renowned teacher and preacher among the Friars and beyond. Despite his success, he felt the Holy Spirit calling him to a different mission, one that would take him far from home with the likelihood of never being able to return. It was the call to preach the Gospel in the New World, to peoples who had never heard of the saving love of Jesus Christ.

Blessed Junípero Serra traveled vast distances within the Americas to proclaim the Good News to countless populations of Native peoples. After his work in Mexico, he went on to found nine missions in California before his death in 1784. Of his mission Pope Francis has said, "What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth? Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel ad gentes, that heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty" (Homily, Pontifical North American College, May 2, 2015).

My dear brothers and sisters, each member of the Church, the Community of Disciples, has the same mission as this Franciscan friar who shared the Good News in America. Does this mean we are called to leave our homes and to travel to the world's remotest corners? Certainly not! But by our baptismal call, each of us has been commissioned to be a herald of the Gospel, bearing witness to the love and mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are so many people who long to know the love of the Lord. Some of these people, like those whom Blessed Junípero Serra encountered, have never heard the Gospel proclaimed to them, or have never heard it proclaimed in an attractive or compelling way. Yet there are so many other people, especially here in the United States, who have heard the message of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for a variety of reasons, have left the practice of their faith or have distanced themselves from His Church. In fact, a Pew Study released this month reported that 52 percent of American Catholics leave the Church at some point in their lifetime, and only 11 percent of those return to the Church. What can we do to encourage our brothers and sisters to return home to the saving banquet of the Lord in the Church?

The first step is to take care to live a life that bears witness to the joy of experiencing God's love and mercy in and through the sacraments, where we encounter the Lord Jesus. Next, we can invite others, even just one person, to join us in those sacramental moments. If we live in the "manner worthy of the call which we have received," as Saint Paul says, others will be compelled to ask, "What is it that makes that person so full of life? How is it that he or she is never robbed of joy?" We have the capacity, with God's grace, to live lives that fascinate, attract and inflame the hearts of those we meet.

Our homes, or "domestic churches," must also be primary places of missionary activity. The family is the place in which mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children learn how to love sacrificially, to extend mercy and forgiveness and to be generous without counting the cost. From our homes, we can then go out to our neighborhoods, parishes, cities and our whole country to invite others to share in the joy which we possess from encountering Christ Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, let us take this moment, in which the Holy Father will raise another inspiring model of Christian missionary activity to the multitude of saints, and consider with renewed zeal our own call to evangelize and to bring back those who are lost or longing for the Lord. Let us live lives with hearts aflame, ready to accept the Lord's call to be missionaries of love, a call given to each one of us.

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015