God is Calling Families into Mission!
By Joseph Summers
Recently, one of our missionaries was asked by some one she respected whether or not lay people should be involved in missionary work. Shouldn’t they rather get jobs and take care of their families? While it is true that many lay people are called to sanctify the secular order by witnessing to Jesus at work, the grocery store, and everywhere else, all the laity are called to be engaged in the missionary work of the Church, and some by giving all to follow Christ where He leads. This is reflected in Pope Benedict XVI’s mission intention for September 2012, he prays “That Christian communities may have a growing willingness to send missionaries, priests, and lay people, along with concrete resources, to the poorest churches” (emphasis added).
While completely inconsistent with the teachings of the Church, the notion that lay people should not be missionaries is one that our missionaries face from time to time. We are occasionally admonished for not getting jobs, staying at home and focussing more on our families. As Catholic missionaries, we are striving to live a life that is consistent with Church teaching and embraces the awesome challenge of the Gospel! In an effort to encourage and instruct our missionary family, I wrote the following letter, which I now want to share with you all:
I wanted to speak to some of your questions and some of your concerns. Firstly, I am sorry for the interior struggles. I know sometimes we can get shaken by questions, or people who don’t understand our vocation. That is especially possible when that person is a well meaning family member, or someone we respect. That being said, we receive our call from the LORD not from men, no matter how well intentioned. I wanted to share some of my thoughts, and then I have attached numerous quotes from the Mission of the Redeemer (MR), the Vatican II documents (Apostolate of Laity, and Decree on Missionary Activity), and Scripture. I literally, had to stop myself from copying and pasting everything to you. I recommend you read the Vatican II documents, starting with the two mentioned above; they are so beautiful and rich, encouraging and affirming.
Now to some of your questions. Is every lay person called to be a full time foreign missionary? NO, but some most certainly are. Missionaries should understand better than anyone that not all are called to go to the ends of the earth. We understand what it means to evangelize and sanctify the temporal order. We ought to encourage those whom we serve to put GOD first in their lives, families, jobs, schools, and activities. We ought to encourage and challenge lay people everywhere to evangelize those around them. When we read the Church’s teachings, even the Mission of the Redeemer, we shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that the laity are being exhorted to glorify God in their daily lives. Furthermore, it is also not surprising that Pope John Paul II addresses religious, as most missionaries today are religious. However, the encyclical is addressed to the whole Church, all the People of God, we are all ‘on the hook’ for this generation that does not know JESUS:
“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” MR 3
Furthermore, Jesus’ Great Commission is a universal mandate. While we don’t know who, if anyone, besides the apostles was present, the Church does teach us that the call is for the whole Church (see excerpts below). If we reason that it is only for the clergy to go, then nuns and religious sisters ought not be involved in missionary work. If we think that only those unmarried should engage in Jesus’ missionary mandate, then surely the LORD could not have intended that Peter go, or some of the other married Apostles as well. They should have been attentive to their primary vocation and realized that it was unreasonable to put their trust in JESUS for His providence for themselves and their families. Peter should have recognized that he was responsible to provide for his wife and children, he should have known he ought to fish fish and not men. It would be wrong to project our modern day assumptions onto the whole reality of Church history. Throughout the ages, there have certainly been valiant clergy, celebate and married, and certainly great religious saints who have championed the cause of spreading the Kingdom. (I love them, St. Francis Xavier is my hero.) I know that there have also been laity, married and single, who have given their lives for this cause as well. It is evident in Scripture, “Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Acts 8: 3-4. Presumably most of them were lay people, like John the Baptist. “Reading the Acts of the Apostles helps us to realize that at the beginning of the Church the mission ad gentes, while it had missionaries dedicated “for life” by a special vocation, was in fact considered the normal outcome of Christian living, to which every believer was committed through the witness of personal conduct and through explicit proclamation whenever possible” MR 27.
We don’t go because it is safe and secure; we don’t go because we are assured financial stability; we go because we are called. Our kids need to see their parent’s so in love with God and Heaven, that they are willing to forfeit the things of this earth, more than they need to be enrolled in Catholic schools, go to soccer practice (I love soccer), and have fashionable clothes. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” (Matthew 6: 25-26) “But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).
If my own experience, and that of my siblings, means anything, I can share that for us growing up, I wouldn’t have traded one minute of my life as a missionary to have the life of the kids here. Not that you can’t be saints in the ordinary (of course you can), I just wouldn’t have traded it. My parents worked really hard, just not mostly for money. I saw them storing up treasures that thieves could not steal, and it shaped my life. Not all of us kids turned out as full-time foreign missionaries, it is a calling. All of us, however are grateful.
Another thing on this point that has stuck with me since I heard it at a men’s retreat I played music for a couple years ago, is that, as a man and father, I am primarily responsible for getting my family to heaven, not providing their needs. Who is ‘The Provider,’ not me, but the LORD. Now I take delight in working hard, cooperating with Him to supply my families needs, but it is always the LORD who provides. I am called to be obedient to His plan and will for me and my family.
As regards Saint Paul and others supporting themselves through work, I think that is a wonderful blessing if a missionary has a tent making skill that would help to sustain him in ministry. You should notice though, that even in the scripture you referenced, 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul says “Not that we do not have the right.” (vs 9), recognizing that by right, the church ought to have supported his ministries. Also, if you study the New Testament, you will see numerous examples of various churches supporting Paul and the other Apostles in their ministry. “Did I make a mistake when I humbled myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? I plundered other churches by accepting from them in order to minister to you. And when I was with you and in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs” (2 Corinthians 7-9).
We can see that Jesus sent his missionaries knowing that He would provide for their needs and that, as messengers of the Kingdom, they were worth supporting: ‘After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.’” Luke 10:1-7.
Jesus commissions the 72 (these were not only the twelve Apostles!). Some may later have become deacons, or even priests, but they were not all. Of course, it would also be reasonable to assume, that many, maybe most, like Peter, were family men. Jesus shows that the work they are about to undertake, is the very work that He is about. They are Laborers and as such they deserve their wages. Pope JPII prophesies that the moment has come to commit all of the energies (resources) to the mission of evangelizing humanity. If the Church doesn’t exist for this very purpose, then what is she about. We as missionaries need to know that what we are doing is ESSENTIAL, VITAL to the life of the Church. We should humbly and gratefully acknowledge the support of those uplifting us in this ‘greatest of duties’. We ought to also recognize that we are offering them a great blessing in pleading their support. Their resources to build God’s Kingdom are a worthy investment, and they will be blessed, especially when their support requires sacrifice. Furthermore, and this is just a hunch, I suspect FMC uses money as well as, or better than, most major Religious Orders in announcing the Gospel and serving the poor.
Families, not only can be missionaries, they MUST respond if the world is ever to be evangelized! The Protestants have no problem with this idea, Catholics strengthened by the grace of the Sacraments should be leading the way! What is necessary for the world to KNOW HIM, is that I lay down everything, me and my family, to make a way for the KING of KINGS. We must fall in LOVE with JESUS again as a Church; we must be filled with the HOLY SPIRIT and proclaim that JESUS is LORD to the GLORY of GOD the Father!
Now, the only reason you particularly should be a missionary, is that JESUS is asking you to be, and if HE is, then that is enough.
I have added a few more quotes below to help in affirming your vocation.
“To intensify the apostolic activity of the people of God,(1) the most holy synod earnestly addresses itself to the laity, whose proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church has already been dealt with in other documents.(2) The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it. Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church. Our own times require of the laity no less zeal: in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified. ” Vat II, Apostolate of the Laity, 1.
“The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption,(1) and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members. For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate.” Vat II, Apostolate of the Laity, 2.
“In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.” Vat II, Apostolate of the Laity, 2.
“In many places where priests are very few or, in some instances, deprived of due freedom for priestly work, the Church could scarcely exist and function without the activity of the laity. An indication of this manifold and pressing need is the unmistakable work being done today by the Holy Spirit in making the laity ever more conscious of their own responsibility and encouraging them to serve Christ and the Church in all circumstances” Vat II, Apostolate of the Laity, 1.
“The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world.”Vat II, Apostolate of the Laity, 3.
“Therefore, this sacred synod, while rendering thanks to God for the excellent results that have been achieved through the whole Church’s great-hearted endeavor, desires to sketch the principles of missionary activity and to rally the forces of all the faithful in order that the people of God, marching along the narrow way of the Cross, may spread everywhere the reign of Christ, Lord and overseer of the ages (cf. Ecc. 36:19), and may prepare the way for his coming.” Vat II, Decree Ad Gentes, 1.
“The Synod Fathers also recommended that, possibly through the use of existing academic structures, centres of formation should be established where laity and missionaries can be trained to understand, live and proclaim the word of God.” Verbum Domini, 75