This summer, twenty-six men and women from the Archdiocese of Hartford joined over 3000 others from all over the United States in Florida for the first gathering of US Catholic leadership in our 200+ year history. The focus of the meeting was to “form leaders who will be equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples.” Source: USCCB website.
But what does it actually mean to be a missionary disciple? Is it just for “religious” Catholics, or does that apply to me too?
For an answer, let’s turn to one of the best sources for learning about our faith: prayer. How we pray is often the surest sign of what we believe. So, how did the US Conference of Catholic Bishops ask us to pray when the Convocation convened in July? They invited all the faithful to implore God to “move us to welcome the word of life in the depths of our hearts and respond to the call of missionary discipleship.” http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/get-involve...)
So, being a missionary disciple has something to do with welcoming Christ, the word of life, into our hearts, minds and souls. That’s the disciple part. It also has something to do with being a missionary.
(Who, me?) That means that if we truly follow Jesus, truly live with Christ in our hearts, then the love of God “spills over” into our now and our every day. Missionary disciples are Christians who have known Christ and who seek to help others share in Christ’s life-giving gift of himself to humankind. Pope Francis explains it this way, “every baptized Christian is a missionary disciple to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (The Joy of the Gospel, No. 120). And the more (and more frequently) we encounter God’s love, the more urgently we feel the need to live actively as a disciple of Jesus and to proclaim the joy of the good news (gospel) by how we live, act and (when necessary) speak. This is the gist of being a missionary disciple.
Now, most Catholics have known from earliest catechism days, that Christ is fully available to us in the seven sacraments--most especially, in partaking of the Eucharist. Through baptism we join our lives to Christ, and through our lifelong participation in the sacraments Jesus enters us (and the Church) more intimately, deepening our identity as missionary disciples.
But did you know that, for Catholics, the Bible is also an indispensable way to encounter Christ? We even name Christ the “Word of God,” the same name we give the Holy Bible, our Sacred Scriptures. In fact, from ancient times, the Catholic Church has understood that Eucharist and Scripture are equally “the flesh of the Lord.” In the fourth century St. Jerome put it this way, “This is the true good that is reserved for us in this present life, to nourish ourselves with his flesh and drink his blood, not only in the Eucharist but also in reading sacred Scripture. Indeed, true food and true drink is the word of God which we derive from the Scriptures.” (Saint Jerome, Commentarius in Ecclesiasten, III: PL 23, 1092A.)
So all Christians (yes, you!) are called to read the Bible, reap spiritual maturity and to rise to new life in Christ Jesus. As Pope Francis recommends, “In this sense, we ought to let others be constantly evangelizing us.” (The Joy of the Gospel, No. 121)
This is what the Hartford Catholic Biblical School strives to do. We are a community of believers, studying the Bible in a systematic way that allows us all to mature as missionary disciples, students, teachers, and administrators alike. All adults are welcome, regardless of religious background or faith tradition. Contact us at (860) 242-5573, or browse our offerings on the website. (You can start here.)