Making Church Matter

More Thoughts on Missions

August 21, 2010
Missionary activity renews the Church,
revitalizes faith and Christian identity,
offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive.
Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!
It is in commitment to the Church’s universal mission
that the new evangelization of Christian people will find inspiration.
John Paul II/Redemptoris missio

This has been a summer of some significant movement forward for us when it comes to our mission efforts as a parish church.  

We traveled to Haiti to take the first steps in establishing a mission and learn more about the vast distress and needs of the people there.  We sent our fourth mission group to Nigeria, where they were able to lend support and provide assistance as well as check up on the good work that is being accomplished because of our “Advent Conspiracy” program last Christmas. If you have not been keeping up with their amazing blog, you can check it out here on our web site. We met this summer with the Executive Director of Catholic Charities here in Baltimore,  Nativity parishoner Bill McCarthy, to explore ways that we can expand our service and outreach right here in our city of Baltimore with the leadership and direction of Catholic Charities. We would like to find a way to focus our efforts in a “strategic partnership”  in Baltimore. Also this summer Brian Crook took on the role of Mission Director, a new position on our full time staff.  

For me, it seems the correct vision for mission activity needs to be rooted in the Lord’s commission to the apostles:

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, 
and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 
Acts 1.8

That’s three specific commissions: Jerusalem is where they’re at, Judea and Samaria are their part of the world, but places they would not necessarily go to, and the ends of the earth are places they don’t even know, places completely disconnected from their experience and background and realm of concern.  For us Jerusalem is Baltimore, Judea and Samaria can be places like the Mississippi Gulf or Haiti, and Nigeria is just about exactly on the other side of the planet.  

In previous times, missions were conducted by missionaries.  Both Catholic and Protestant men and women of a heroic and adventurous bent would devote their lives to this kind of service.  They are an inspiration.  But these days, there are few of them left and like much of the ministry of the Church, it can no longer be delegated to a select group of clergy or religious.  That is actually a good thing, in my opinion, because it presents all of us with the challenge that comes with our baptism.  All of us are suppose to be on mission for the Lord, serving as his witnesses in the world.  

It seems to me that one of the important ways our parish church can best serve our parishoners is by making service and mission opportunities accessible and readily available to individuals, couples, families, Small Groups and groups of friends.  Even for those who are new to faith or just giving our church a try, service projects can be a great way to get involved and go deeper.  We don’t have to devote our whole lives to it, like the missionaries of old, today modern transportation means we can witness and serve for an afternoon, a weekend, or during summer vacation. But it does no good for me to preach about service, if it is not practically available and accessible to you. That is what Brain and I and our volunteer leaders will be working on in the months ahead.

The value of this effort is obvious in the assistance it can provide to people in need.  The water project in Nigeria is a striking example of that.  But there is value in it for us even beyond the good work we accomplish and the good feelings service projects might stimulate. Pope John Paul taught that there are actually several spiritual values that come our way when we are obedient to the Lord’s command to witness: it renews our Church, it revitalizes our identity as Christians, it stimulates fresh enthusiasm and new incentives, it strengthens our faith.  

That’s a big return on our investment.

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