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When two people meet

· How the Christian mission is born ·

All throughout the stages of vocational discernment, seminary formation and permanent formation, the purification of one’s motivation for ordained ministry must be faced with courage. Personal, social and cultural factors that influence one’s calling need to be addressed. Jesus Christ, whose mission the Church continues, is the model. He was consumed by mission. He was passionate about his mission. For Him mission is not only work to be accomplished but the flowering of His intimate relationship with the One He called Abba, the One who sent Him. He does only what he sees Abba doing. He seeks not His own will but the will of the One who sent Him (cf. Jn 5:19, 30).

For Jesus, mission means being sent by the Father — not going where I choose to go, where I choose to stay, where it is convenient for me, where I have charted a career path. If bishops and clergy are continuously formed after the missionary heart of Jesus, they will fulfill God’s mission, rather than aspire to a position. Without a consistent prayer life nurtured by humility, bishops and clergy might lose the sense of being sent by God for God’s purpose. They would send themselves, promote their goals and build up their kingdoms. Let us not forget that Jesus was sent to preach the Good News to the poor. Hence “prompted by the Holy Spirit, [the Church] must walk the same path which Christ walked: a path of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice to the death” (Ad Gentes, n. 5).

Due to pastoral solicitude, bishops and clergy desire to give exemplary service to their dioceses, parishes or places of ministry. There is a danger though that they could become so focused on their immediate local communities that they would not bother to know the needs and realities of the wider Church. Nor would they allow the conditions of other Churches to affect their local ecclesial life. With insufficient knowledge, they lose interest in and a sense of responsibility for other Churches. Their pastoral ministry and the local Churches they serve become self-referential. They are neither challenged nor enriched by other Churches. Disastrous consequences may come about — e.g. pastoral care becomes dissociated from mission; local Churches become isolated enclaves thereby losing their full identity as Church; the Universal Church becomes an abstraction. A necessary component of the bishops’ and the clergy’s missionary formation is the continuing theological reflection on the mutual interiority between the local Churches and the Universal Church. Being self-referential or self- contained weakens the Church. Being other-oriented, being concerned for other Churches as our own, living in communion with other Churches, doing or acting well locally for the good of the universal community all make mission and pastoral care mutually inclusive. But this requires a solid ecclesiological study of the relationship between the Universal Church and the local Churches, the missionary aspect of the collegiality of bishops and the missionary formation of all the baptized according to their callings and states of life. Bishops and the clergy must awaken, animate and form the laity for mission (Ad Gentes, n. 21). They also must be at home with a participatory and collaborative approach to the local Church’s missionary engagement.

In Jesus, mission means entering the human condition, getting to know and understand human frailty by uniting himself with it. The mission of bringing the Gospel to peoples requires understanding their worlds through Christ-like solidarity aided by social, cultural and anthropological studies. But as we missionaries go to these worlds, we witness these same worlds coming to us as well. Peoples or nations are in constant movement. Migrants, refugees, displaced peoples, social media, digital technology, etc. have blurred boundaries. There is no exclusively missionary sending Church as there is no exclusively missionary receiving Church. Only God sends. God comes as well. We are all sent. All of us receive. Bishops and clergy need to understand the new worlds they are sent to and that are coming to their worlds. Experiential learning and compassionate understanding are needed as we enter into the increasingly complex and ambiguous phenomena we face. A stance of listening, learning, dialogue, patience and readiness to be surprised would enable them to discern the active presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the main agent of mission.

Jesus’ mission of preaching the Good News, gathering a new People and witnessing to the power of God’s Kingdom happened mainly through his direct encounter with persons. The opening lines of the first letter of St John describe the mission “methodology” of the Apostles: they begin with their personal encounter with Jesus which they in turn share with people they encounter so that in faith, these people may encounter the person of Jesus (1 Jn 1:1-4). Mission work nowadays has benefited from rationalized visioning, planning and organizational structuring. In our fast paced and fast changing world, systematic approaches to mission are indispensable. Bishops and the clergy need to learn and develop new skills for the sake of local and worldwide mission. But bishops and the clergy must also realize that when circumstances do not allow for the implementation of our plans and organization, the mission of evangelization can and must continue through simple human encounters.

Meeting people even in unexpected or unplanned moments and places could be fertile ground for mission. A person-to-person encounter does not entail much financial expense either. Mission does not have to depend on the availability of financial resources all the time. Where two persons meet, there mission happens. Bishops and the clergy must harness all their relational skills and grab all opportunities for human encounters in the promotion of mission. The very person of the bishop and the clergy should be the contemporary incarnation of the mission of Jesus.

Luis Antonio G. Tagle

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 22, 2018

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