June 19, 2018, 8:12 pm
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Become my missionary disciples

JESUS said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

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In today’s Scripture readings we find two descriptions of Christ’s ascension. Saint Luke’s Acts of the Apostles notes that “as they [i.e. the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (1:9). Saint Mark’s Gospel simply says: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven” (16:19). Christ’s ascension should not be understood as an isolated event; it is intimately connected with Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Indeed, the Lord’s passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and the Pentecost all coalesce into the Christian understanding of the Paschal Mystery.

As the Acts describes the ascension scene, two men in white pose an interesting, even curious, question to the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up into the sky?” (1:11). At first glance this may appear to be a silly question, but it has a deeper meaning.

The real question is: Why are you standing here staring at the sky when Jesus has given you an important mission to accomplish? Jesus had told the disciples: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus commanded his disciples: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Expressed in blunt terms, the message is: “Don’t just stand around. Get busy. You have a job to do, a mission to accomplish. Go and announce the Good News. Spread the joy of the Gospel. Become my witnesses!”

On this feast of the Ascension, we can turn to Pope Francis’ words and writings to understand this missionary dimension of our faith. A unique expression that Francis frequently uses to describe Jesus’ followers is to call them “missionary disciples.” The term appears nine times in Evangelii Gaudium (EG, Latin for “the joy of the gospel”). Written in 2013, Evangelii is Francis’ masterful presentation of the Church’s missionary challenge in contemporary times; it bears a close reading for its numerous profound insights.

Pope Francis writes: “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples….Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus; we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary-disciples’” (EG, no. 120). Truly, a “missionary disciple” is both a disciple (a follower of Jesus Christ) and concomitantly a missionary (one who carries Christ’s message to the world). For Francis, you cannot have one without the other; both are intimately linked!

In Evangelii Pope Francis asserts that the Church herself is “a community of missionary disciples” (no. 24). Again, “the Church is herself a missionary disciple” (no. 40). To be an authentic Christian community, we must follow “the approach of a missionary disciple” (no. 50). Thus, in the Church, our parishes, schools, and communities, we can draw strength and inspiration from one another: “Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples” (no. 173).

Friends, on this feast of our Lord’s ascension, may we feel anew the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel in and through our daily lives. We cannot just stand around, looking heavenward. It is time to get busy. We have a message to announce. We are on fire; we are Christ’s “missionary disciples”!

***

– Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM
– (May 13, 2018)
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