A “Me First” Mission

This blog post corresponds to the mission priority of Encounter

It’s not often in Christian theology that we hear encouragement to live “me first.” This is one of those rare exceptions.

Fear not – this is not a heretical blog post about the virtue of selfishness. It’s about one of the six core mission priorities set forth for our Be Missionary Disciples pastoral planning process, the priority of “Encounter.”

In the Be Missionary Disciples website the mission priority of “encounter” is described as:

To continually experience our own conversion and bring others to experience the same through evangelization, revealing the truth of the Gospel and witnessing to others how we ourselves have encountered Christ.

Many more than a few blog posts can be written about the various elements of this mission priority. To keep this as a blog rather than a dissertation, let’s focus on a part of one element: our own conversion and encounter with Christ precedes and animates our evangelization and witness to others.

I must be converted first. I must encounter Christ first. Me first.

A quick look back through Church history shows this is well practiced. St. Paul went to the desert for three years before beginning his preaching and converting. St. Ignatius had the members of the society make 30 days of Spiritual Exercises, in addition to the years spent in formation. Even Jesus himself took time for encounter before venturing to the apostolate, going off by himself to the desert to pray to his Father. These are just a few of a plethora of examples.

Continual, Daily Encounter. 

The great evangelizers of the Church did not just take time for their conversion and encounter at the start of their missionary career; it was a habitual, daily “me-first.”  The tireless apostle St. Teresa of Calcutta achieved much in her lifetime and brought many to know Christ. How did she do it? In her words: “My secret is a simple one: I pray.” In retreats and lectures to priests and religious, Archbishop Fulton Sheen exhorted them to pray a daily holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, citing it as essential in his own life and ministry. Throughout the country, Focus Missionaries, lay young people who do the work of evangelization on college campuses, make prayer the priority of their schedule, each day praying a holy hour, rosary, and attending daily Mass.

But I am already so busy.

When dedicated time for mental prayer fades from (or maybe never appeared in) our daily schedule, the reason we give is usually the same: there’s just not enough time, I’m running out of hours in the day. Fr. Hillary Ottensmeyer, OSB has a response to that:

“Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will never find time to pray.”

The Church gives us another reminder of the importance of a deep prayer life for the work of evangelization by naming St. Therese of Lisieux the co-patron of missionaries, a cloistered nun who never went to the missions; her missionary impact was accomplished on her knees.

Challenge Accepted?

I recently encountered a ministry with a “1% Challenge.” The challenge is to give 1% of our day to Jesus in mental prayer. Translated to minutes: 15. The goal: a daily encounter with God.  They offer tips on daily prayer which include resources and some practical advice on scheduling prayer time.

I encourage all of us to take us this 1% Challenge as the most important New Year’s Resolution we will make. For better success, invite a few people to join you in the challenge, and check in with each other to hear how prayer time is changing your heart and your ministry.

One percent might seem too short after a while – 2% is probably available in our day too! As we invite Christ to invade our hearts and transform our ministry in this new year, may we see the importance of making our personal prayer time a daily priority – first my encounter, then my witness.

How have you experienced the power of daily mental prayer in your life and the work of evangelization?

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