When was the last time you went on a mission trip? For many of us the experience of going on an expedition beyond the geographical borders of our neighborhood is relatively uncommon, especially during COVID-19 times.
Generally, the notion of embarking on mission conjures up foreign lands and exotic places. Beyond these wild imaginings, however, we can reference high school or college years when the opportunity to embark on relatively short-term mission trips was more realistic. We know that many young people are open and involved in this kind of social experience; some even choose a gap-year mission, taking some time away from formal studies to discern next steps in life.
From a faith perspective, contemporary mission talk can evoke images of religious sisters and brothers joining missionary communities — perceived as reserved for the few and exceptional who feel this particular calling. For those who are not in a religious community, entry into missionary lands and projects has typically included listening to periodic reflections from religious missionaries who share their stories and solicit spiritual and financial support for the work and common projects of the missions.
Similarly for the more engaged Catholic, missionary knowledge and activity often involves intentionally connecting to parish or diocesan missionary groups that allow for a more personal connection and nurture a missionary spirituality. Often, this missionary spirituality leads to domestic or local volunteer work and, in some cases, joining Catholic relief efforts abroad.
Regardless of our personal entry points into these different spiritual and cultural missionary experiences, a missionary spirituality is part of our Christian vocation. As Catholics, each one of us, by virtue of our baptismal identity, shares in the Church’s mission and vocation of announcing the reign of God. Far from being a mission for the few or exceptional, this missionary calling and spirituality is for us — just as we are.
Trusting in the Spirit of God as the authentic source of our missionary spirituality and its corresponding gifts, we embark on a lifelong process of conversion and service (1 Corinthians 12: 4-12. 28-30). Guiding us along this missionary path and spirituality is the conviction and assurance of knowing that we are empowered by God’s grace: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
How we respond to this ongoing missionary vocation will certainly involve our own personalities and gifts. Whether we see our missionary identity in the image of St. Paul, who ventured into long journeys to unknown lands, or in the likeness of St. Peter, whose stability and human shortcomings kept him close to the Lord, we can rest assured that God’s love will welcome our gifts for the edification of the people of God. The good news is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the common work of the mission.
In distinct and various ways, we as followers of the Lord participate in this missionary vocation of transforming the world in the grace and light of Christ. Like the previous generations before us, it is up to us to share without reserve our mission in Christ with others, especially with those who are marginalized or rejected: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 19-20). We pray that like St. Thérèse of Lisieux our encounters with the Risen Lord will increase our missionary spirituality and zeal.
F. Javier Orozco
First published February 24, 2022 in the St. Louis Review