Recently, I had the opportunity to join missionary leaders from across the country at the Missio Convocation hosted by the Pontifical Missions Society of America. These leaders came from a wide variety of backgrounds including Focus Missionaries, men and women religious, parish and diocesan leaders, many from Hispanic communities, as well as those who have served in long-term volunteer experiences around the world. We discussed the realities of today that seem to revolve around social media and technology raising awareness of issues across the globe, the art of busyness and being over committed, as well as the difficulties of simply making authentic friends. We listened to each other’s thoughts on how we can work within these parameters of life and bring the Joy of the Gospel to those around us. The struggles of parish life, church systems and structures, and personalities in leadership are very real and often get in the way of active participation from parishioners. Naming these realities brought focus to our conversation.
While a number of the participants had participated in oversees mission opportunities both long and short term, I have not had this experience and wondered where I stand in this mix of missionary action. Though I have worked with high school students rebuilding homes, fixing stairs, and cleaning yards, I never quite considered that ‘missionary’ work. I might have been on mission to get a job done but I would not consider myself a missionary. However as I wrestled with this, the thought kept coming to me that being a missionary does not necessarily mean going to a poor far away country or a rough and tumble ghetto in another state. If that is true, then, what does it really mean to be a “missionary” and to live with a “missionary heart?”
As I reflect on situations and circumstances that God had placed before me I notice that quite often I may dip a toe into being missionary but my courage lacks conviction and I fail to go all the way. While I might offer a beggar on the street corner a bottle of water, I will not engage them in conversation or ask them their name even though I see them every day.
It was not until conversations at the Missio Convocation that I realized I was missing the mark in these everyday encounters with others. It brought to mind remarks that Bishop Brennan had once shared at a meeting about connecting with people in a practical missionary way. He reminded us to pray for them, fast once a week for them, offer up something that is a sacrifice or our personal suffering for them, and ask the Lord for a “desire and the courage to speak to them simply” about our personal journey of faith. “Speak to them simply” – this continues to sit on my heart as together we work as an Archdiocese to build Missionary Disciples. We do not have to have grand experiences in other countries or faith stories worthy of keynoting a large gathering. We are called to speak simply. We are called to use the experiences that God has offered to us as a way to connect others to Him.
As my time at the Mission Convocation came to an end, my small group of Lay Ecclesial Ministers from around the country concluded that we must equip ourselves in prayer to do what we can with what we have and share that with others joyfully. This simple but effective approach was embodied just days later by Sr. Margaret Ann from Miami-Dade county who got out her chain saw and started cutting up the debris blocking the street after Hurricane Irma came barreling through. She did not wait for emergency crews. She just grabbed that chain saw from the school where she is the principal and did with she could with what she had.
With a missionary heart, go and do what you can with what you have. That’s all the Holy Spirit needs to transform the world.