Talk to SDC Members in MALTA on Wednesday 2.10.2019

by Peter Baekelmans, CICM

In the mission document of Vatican II we read that bishops are to “make the mission spirit and zeal of the People of God present and as it were visible, so that the whole diocese becomes missionary” (Ad Gentes, n. 38). But how can we do this as an individual?

What is a “missionary spirit?”

With Vatican Council II (1962-65) the Church entered into dialogue with the world, with the problems and movements of society. The view on mission also changed from a one-way out-going activity to a “mission in dialogue”. Terms such as: inculturation, acculturation, and de-culturation refer to this dialogical attitude in mission. But Jesus was already Jesus a “dialogical Jesus”: with the Samaritan women at the well (John 4),
with the Canaanite women (Matthew 15), and with the sons of Zebedee (Mark 10). Now, this “dialogical spirit” is the right attitude to do mission today. But dialogue for what reason?

In the latest gathering of European missiologists in Sankt Augustin, Germany, a “dialogue of salvation” was spoken of. What is salvation for us Christians? What is it for other-believers? What is it for those without any faith? Being open to what the other is seeking (health, success in life, partner, education, enlightenment), accompanying the person in this, and at the same time offering our view on salvation (being one in Christ’s love), is a great way of doing mission. At the conference, the idea of mission in Europe today as a mission to heal the wounds of society (mission to vulnerability) was also stressed: listening to the wounds we all carry, wounds of the past (Nazism, Shoa) and the present (sexual abuse, immigration), and giving meaningful answers through our faith. To do that mission, we also have to be aware of our own wounds and weaknesses (mission in vulnerability). The interior missionary spirit is thus on many levels a spirit of dialogue.

How can we cultivate this missionary spirit, this dialogical attitude, in ourselves?

There are many ways. Here we will give three examples:

  1. The Bhagavad-Gita teaches a three-fold path to salvation: the way of devotion (bhakti), the way of knowledge (jnana), and the way of selfless action (karma). These three ways have a universal aspect and each one of us has a tendency in mission to take up one of these three. But of course, in reality they do not exist purely by themselves but are always intertwined. These three ways can suggest a
    first answer about how to cultivate this inner missionary spirituality: through study, prayer, and work. If you want to go on mission, you must prepare yourself by studying the people you are sent to, their culture, language, and religion, you have to pray a lot to let God work through you, and you have to work without being too attached to who, but more to why you did it.
  2. At SEDOS we have developed an on-line workshop called “Fountain of Dialogue”.
    When you meet a poor person, or a person in distress, or a person in need, we should not withdraw but open ourselves up to him or her: first listen with the heart (Month 1: meditation), then voice our heartfelt feelings (Month 2: prayer), in order to find out how to help the person (Month 3: dialogue).
  3. Dominican Father Jean Druel, in the context of interreligious dialogue, says that dialogue is not the same as polemics (discussion), nor proselytism (aiming at conversion), nor “discours identitaires” (talking without listening), but a way to open oneself to the truth of the other. During dialogue one has to be aware of the level one talks. Is it a scientific, dogmatic, symbolic way of speaking, or sentimental expression? For instance, when I as a Catholic, say that Jesus is present in the Eucharist Bread, another person should not react by saying “But that is just a piece of bread!”. Feelings are not always scientifically correct…

How to cultivate the zeal for mission?

“The Christian zeal for evangelization must be grounded in Charity and Christ’s love.” (Ad Gentes, n. 12) This means that our love for Christ is the basis of our zeal for mission, and that it becomes concrete in our acts of charity. We can say that to cultivate this zeal we should meditate, pray, and enter into dialogue, because all this helps us to let the Holy Spirit work in us and through us. It is the Holy Spirit that pushes us to go “ad extra” (to go abroad), “ad gentes” (to go to the people), “inter gentes” (to be among the people), and not just accept what is or is not. It is like flame that wants to burn. Because we need to be humble in our zeal for mission. We have become missionaries to make the world more holy, but also to make ourselves more holy. My Jewish Master taught me that human beings cannot give faith, only God can. This precept helped me greatly in my missionary life not to feel disappointed. It makes us be humble in the way we deal with people. We sow the seed, but God will reap it when, where, and how. He wants. We only do his Will. However, my Hindu Teacher explained that we can set up the right environment for a miracle to happen. As a lay person, you do that in your own work environment. My mother always told that my father was like a priest behind his desk in the shop. People did not only come to buy things, but wanted to share their experiences in life. In the centers of the Society of Christian Doctrine this kind of healthy environment is encouraged. Let us look at our own life to see if God can be more present there so that we, as an individual and the Church as a whole, can become a sacrament in this world: namely become a way for God to be present among people.