First of all, I would like to thank Fr. Peter Baekelmans for the invitation to contribute a reflection to this year’s SEDOS Residential Seminar. The topic assigned to me is “The Importance of Fostering the Missionary Spirit.” I believe central to this topic is the expression “missionary spirit.” This will be the focus of this reflection, which will consist of two parts: (1) the first will be an exploration Fr. Antonio M. Pernia, SVD into the nuances of the expression “missionary spirit,” and (2) the second will be a consideration of some of the features or characteristics of this missionary spirit.
1. Nuances of the “Missionary Spirit”
Firstly, then, the nuances of the “missionary spirit.” I believe the expression “missionary spirit” contains three important nuances, among others—namely, first, (1) the person of the missionary; second (2) missionary spirituality, and third (3) “missio Spiritus.”
1.1 The Person of the Missionary
I believe the expression “missionary spirit” represents an important shift that has taken place in the understanding of mission over the last 30 years or so—namely, the shift from the stress on “missionary work” to the emphasis on the “missionary spirit,” or the shift from the stress on the “work of the missionary” to the emphasis on the “person of the missionary.” This shift, then, places the focus on the “person of the missionary.”
I think it can be said that this shift was triggered by the famous statement of Pope Paul VI in his 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN),[ See Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_p-vi_exh_19751208_evangelii-nuntiandi.html.] no. 41: “Modern
man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Pope John Paul II echoes the same insight in his 1990 encyclical, Redemptoris Missio (RM),[ See John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_-redemptoris-missio.html.] no. 42, where he says: “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.”
From both statements, I believe we can see a shift of emphasis from the work of the missionary to the person of the missionary—that is, from the missionary as teacher to the missionary as witness. This is a shift of focus from what the missionary does to what the missionary is. A shift, in other words, from “doing” to “being.” Spanish speakers have nice expression for this. They speak of the shift from “hacer” to “ser”—del hacer al ser[ See, for instance, Dora Gil, Del Hacer Al Ser (Malaga, Spain: Editorial Sirio, 2019).
]—del hacer como misionero/a al ser misionero/a.
As we know, both popes regard mission or evangelization as a “complex process made up of varied elements” (EN 24), or as a “single but complex reality which develops in a variety of ways” (RM 41). EN enumerates seven elements (EN 17-24), while RM lists eight ways (RM 41-59). In both lists, “witness” figures as the first of the elements or ways (EN 24, 26; RM 41).
In view of this, I think it can also be said that, while “missionary formation” in the past centered on equipping the missionary with various skills needed for his or her work as a missionary, today missionary formation focuses on developing the attitudes required of the missionary as witness. While in the past, the accent was on the effectivity of one’s work as a missionary, today the stress is on the credibility of one’s witness as a missionary. While in the past, the emphasis was on missionary work, today the accent is on the missionary spirit.
1.2 Missionary Spirituality
This shift of emphasis has naturally led to an interest in “missionary spirituality.” In fact, the three main missionary documents of the recent popes dedicate a chapter or section to a reflection on missionary spirituality—that is, Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (76-82), John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio (chapter VIII), and Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (EG)[ See Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html.
] (chapter V).
(1) Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (76-82)
In no. 76 of EN, Paul VI says: “Let us now consider the very persons of the evangelizers.” He places his consideration of the person of the evangelizer in the context of humanity’s thirst of authenticity and search for truth and honesty, especially among the young. And so, he exhorts bishops, priests, deacons, religious, families and the laity: “our evangelizing zeal must spring from true holiness of life, and, as the Second Vatican Council suggests, preaching must in its turn make the preacher grow in holiness, which is nourished by prayer and above all by love for the Eucharist” (EN 76). And he adds:
… the world is calling for evangelizers to speak to it of a God whom the evangelizers themselves should know and be familiar with as if they could see the invisible. The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile (EN 76).
Paul VI warns against the danger of a lack of fervor, which is manifested in “fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope.” He, therefore, exhorts agents of evangelization to “always nourish spiritual fervor” (EN 80). And, in what seems to be a good description of the “missionary spirit,” he says:
Let us therefore preserve our fervor of spirit. Let us preserve the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow. May it mean for us—as it did for John the Baptist, for Peter and Paul, for the other apostles and for a multitude of splendid evangelizers all through the Church’s history—an interior enthusiasm that nobody and nothing can quench (EN 80).
(2) John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio
Chapter VIII of RM is entitled “Missionary Spirituality” (RM 87-91). The center of this chapter seems to be John Paul II’s statement that “the true missionary is the saint” (RM 90). Here, he develops a missionary spirituality based on the insight that the call to mission is derived from the call to holiness. Every Christian is called to mission because every Christian is called to holiness. As he puts it: “The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission” (RM 90). He adds:
The renewed impulse to the mission ad gentes demands holy missionaries. It is not enough to update pastoral techniques, organize and coordinate ecclesial resources, or delve more deeply into the biblical and theological foundations of faith. What is needed is the encouragement of a new “ardor for holiness” among missionaries … (RM 90).
In this chapter of RM, John Paul II lays out what may be considered as the “characteristics” of missionary spirituality. Five such characteristics may be discerned—namely, a true missionary is one who is: (1) Led by the Spirit (RM 87), (2) Centered in Christ (RM 88), (3) Marked by Apostolic Charity (RM 89), (4) a Person of the Beatitudes (RM 91), and (5) a Contemplative in Action (RM 91). John Paul II emphasizes particularly the last point, and says:
… the future of mission depends to a great extent on contemplation. Unless the missionary is a contemplative he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way. He [or she] is a witness to the experience of God, and must be able to say with the apostles: “that which we have looked upon … concerning the word of life, … we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn 1:1-3) (RM 91).
Thus, he appeals to every member of the faithful, saying: “Dear brothers and sisters: let us remember the missionary enthusiasm of the first Christian communities. Despite the limited means of travel and communication in those times, the proclamation of the Gospel quickly reached the ends of the earth” (RM 90).
(3) Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
In no. 78 of EG, Pope Francis laments the fact that for many in the Church—including consecrated men and women—”the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization. As a result, one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervor (EG 78).
Pope Francis elaborates on this insight in Chapter V of EG, where he says that “we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity …. There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission” (EG 262). Thus, Pope Francis encourages a “spirituality of encounter”—a spirituality of going forth from one’s comfort zones and encountering “the other” in the peripheries of society (see EG 259, 272). This is a spirituality that is not separate from one’s mission engagement, but rather one that arises precisely from one’s mission. As Pope Francis puts it: “If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries” (EG 272).
According to Pope Francis, what we need today are “Spirit-filled missionaries”—that is, “evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” (EG 259). He says:
Spirit-filled evangelization is not the same as a set of tasks dutifully carried out despite one’s own personal inclinations and wishes. How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction. Yet, I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for he is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel (EG 261).
For Pope Francis, at the heart of missionary spirituality is the experience of the “joy of the Gospel” (evangelii Gaudium). For every genuine encounter with Jesus is an experience of joy. The Gospel, therefore, is an invitation to joy. And so, proclaiming the Gospel is also an experience of joy. He says: “Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary” (EG 272). Only a Spirit-filled missionary who manifests the joy of the Gospel can evangelize by attraction (see EG 15).
1.3 Missio Spiritus
The interest in missionary spirituality has led, in its turn, to a re-consideration of the role of the Holy Spirit in mission, resulting in the understanding of mission as “missio Spiritus” or the “mission of the Spirit.” Indeed, ever since John Paul II’s assertion in RM that the Holy Spirit is the “principal agent of mission” (RM, chapter III), echoing Paul VI’s statement in EN that the Holy Spirit is the “principal agent of evangelization” (EN 75), “missio spiritus” has become a common expression in missiology.[ See for instance, José Cristo Rey Paredes, Accomplices of the Spirit: The New Paradigm of Mission (Quezon City: Claretian Communications Foundation, Inc., 2018); Bård Mæland, “A Free-Wheeling Breath of Life? Discerning the Missio Spiritus,” International Review of Mission, Volume 102, Number 2 (November 2013), 137-147; Amos Yong, “Primed for the Spirit: Creation, Redemption and the Missio Spiritus,” International Review of Mission, Volume 100, Number 2 (November 2011), 355-366.]
Missio Spiritus is generally regarded as a more specific version of Missio Dei or “God’s Mission.”
The Pentecostal theologian, Amos Yong, presents an attempt at a theology of Missio Spiritus in an article in the International Review of Mission, entitled “Primed for the Spirit: Creation, Redemption and the Missio Spiritus.”[ See Amos Yong, ibid.] Based on this article, I think it can be said that missio Spiritus underlines the notion of mission as God breathing the breath of life into our world.
The Ruah Elohim, the divine breath, which hovers over the primeval waters, infuses the dust of the ground with life and thereby constitutes all of created reality. It hovers over Mary and descends on the Incarnate Son, whose life, death and resurrection inaugurate the reconstitution of reality estranged from the Creator by sin. It is poured out on the Church so that it may be poured out on all flesh toward the final reconciliation of all things with God and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, “God’s dwelling place among the people” (Rev 21:3).
It is interesting to note that the classical doctrine of the Trinity[ See, for instance, Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980), 355; Edmund J. Dobbin, “Trinity” in The New Dictionary of Theology, ed. By Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins and Dermot A. Lane (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1987), 1046-1061.
] speaks about the Son proceeding from the Father, and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. The procession of the Son from the Father is called “generation,” while the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son is called “spiration.” The Son is “generated” or begotten by the Father, and the Spirit is “spirated” or breathed forth by the Father and the Son. Missio Spiritus can therefore be considered as an extension of the “spiration” of the Spirit by the Father and the Son. Missio Spiritus is the Father and the Son breathing forth the Spirit into the world.
It would seem, then, that it is not enough to say, as Pope Paul VI did in EN 75 and Pope John Paul II in RM 21, that the Holy Spirit is “the principal agent of evangelization or mission,” as if mission were something external to the Spirit. Rather, in the light of Missio Spiritus, it would seem more appropriate to say that the “Holy Spirit IS mission.” So, mission is God sharing the gift of his Spirit. In other words, it is God sharing his breath, his very life, his very self.
Summarizing this first part of our reflection, I think it can be said that the “missionary spirit,” which needs to imbue the person of the missionary, refers to the fervor (Paul VI), the enthusiasm (John Paull II) and the joy (Francis) of proclaiming the Gospel. Such is the spirit of mission because the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of mission, or even, because the Holy Spirit is mission.
2. Features of the “Missionary Spirit”
Coming now to the second part of this reflection, I would like to elaborate on this missionary spirit by attempting to indicate some of its fundamental features. And I would like to do so by considering the implications of today’s mission paradigm which is the understanding of mission as “missio Dei,” or God’s mission.
2.1 Missio Dei
Missio Dei, as a modern missiological concept, can be traced back to the work of Karl Barth in the 1930’s, particularly to a paper he read at the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932, in which he articulated the idea of mission as an activity of God himself.[ See David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis Books, 1991), 389-393; Eddie Arthur, “Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church,” [posted 06-2013], www.wycliffe.net/missiology?id=3960.] Since then, Missio Dei has become the new paradigm of mission, whereby mission is seen not primarily as an activity of the Church but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God, and mission is a movement from God to the world. The Church is viewed as an instrument for this mission. Thus, the classical doctrine of the Trinity, whereby the Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit, is expanded to include yet another “sending,” that is, the Father, Son and Spirit sending the Church into the world. And so, the Church, instead of being the “sender” is the one “sent.” Thus, there is Church because there is mission, and not vice versa.
In Catholic theology, the idea of Missio Dei is contained in the documents of Vatican II. In particular, Ad Gentes, Vatican II’s “Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church,” traces the origin of the mission of the Church to the sending by the Father of the Son and the Holy Spirit in order to bring about God’s universal plan of salvation (AG 1-2, 9).[ Vatican II, Ad Gentes, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_ad-gentes_en.html .
] This idea has come to be known as “the Trinitarian origin of Mission.” The fundamental insight of missio Dei, therefore, is that the origin of mission is God and not human beings or the Church. Mission is there not because the church has mandated it but because God is a Triune God.
The Triune God is communion and communication, interaction and dialogue, between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And this inner communication or dialogue overflows into—or better, embraces—creation and history. Mission, then, is the Triune God’s ongoing dialogue with the world and with humanity, a dialogue that invites and draws humanity into full communion with the Divine community. Mission is the overflow into the world of the intra-Trinitarian dialogue and communion between Father, Son and Spirit.
Our call to mission is a call to participate in this ongoing dialogue. Thus, we say mission is God’s first and foremost. We, missionaries or the church, are called only to share and collaborate in this mission which is God’s.
2.2 Implications of Missio Dei
Missio Dei, as the new paradigm for mission, requires, among other things, the following attitudes of the missionary: (1) contemplation, (2) dialogue, (3) humility, (4) collaboration, and (5) joy.
Missio Dei underlines the fact that our participation in God’s Mission is fundamentally an encounter with mystery—the mystery of the Triune God who calls all of humanity to share in his life and glory, the mystery of God’s salvific plan for the world, the mystery of the presence of Christ and the action of the Spirit in the world. Thus, the very first challenge in mission is to seek out, discern and strengthen the presence of Christ and the action of the Spirit in the world. But it will be impossible to discern if we do not approach mission in contemplation.
The missionary, then, evangelizes not primarily by doing things for the people but by being with them and enabling them to do things themselves. The missionary’s mission method will be marked not by frenetic activity but by contemplative presence among God’s people. The missionary will not be tempted to explain away the mystery of God, but rather try to lead people into this very mystery through signs and symbols in respectful dialogue. He or she will give priority to being missionary over doing missionary things.
Thus, one expectation of missionaries today is the development of a contemplative spirit in mission. We need to abandon the idea that contemplation is the opposite of mission. We need, rather, to promote the idea that contemplation is a constitutive dimension of mission. For, in fact, contemplation entails not just an “ascending moment” of gazing at God’s face in prayer, meditation, adoration but also a “descending moment” of gazing at the world with the eyes of God. And how different would our world be if we all learned to see the world with the eyes of God. For under the gaze of God’s eyes, enemies become friends, separating walls become open doors, strangers become brothers or sisters, borders become bridges, diversity leads not to differences and conflict but to harmony and unity.
Understanding mission as Missio Dei, or the Triune God’s ongoing dialogue with the world, changes our view of mission. It corrects the notion of mission as a one-way traffic, where everything is done by the missionary for the people. The missionary is the evangelizer, the people the evangelized. The missionary is the bearer of good news, the people the recipient of the gospel. The missionary is the subject, the people the object. The missionary is the preacher who proclaims the truth, the people the ones needing conversion. The assumption was that the people are completely devoid of any spiritual treasure, and therefore have nothing to share in return.[ “We are not the ‘haves,’ the beati possidentes, standing over against the spiritual ‘have nots,’ the massa damnata.” David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 484.] This is the reality that is evoked by a purely “Ad Gentes” under-standing of mission.
This way of viewing mission operated out of medieval theology where the Church believed herself to be the one and only bastion of truth. Other religions were regarded as in error at best and demonic at worst. And the Church saw it as her moral obligation to conquer, dominate and replace these religions. Missio Dei, however, makes us realize that there is no situation that is completely devoid of God’s Spirit. As documents of Vatican II affirm, other religious and cultural traditions contain “seeds of the Word” (AG 11) or “rays of the Truth” (NA 2). They are not entirely evil or totally in error.
Thus, mission is now understood as a two-way exchange of gifts between the missionary and the people. Consequently, missionaries must be ready to give and receive, to evangelize and be evangelized, to speak and to listen. They must be prepared to change and be changed, to form and be formed, to invite to conversion and be converted themselves.[ This idea is also sometimes expressed as “mission in reverse”, i.e., “we need to be evangelized by the people before we can evangelize them; we need to allow the people among whom we work to be our teachers before we presume to teach them,” See Claude Marie Barbour, “Seeking Justice and Shalom in the City,” International Review of Mission 73 (1984): 303-309, as cited in Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today (NY: Orbis, 2011), p. 59.] This is the implication of the newer understanding of mission as not only “Ad Gentes” but also “Inter Gentes.”
Dialogue is no longer simply an option that we are at liberty to do or not do. Rather, it is now a missiological imperative that we cannot do without. As a 1984 document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue states, dialogue is “the norm and necessary manner of every form as well as of every aspect of Christian mission …. Any sense of mission not permeated by such a dialogical spirit would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teachings of the Gospel.”[ See Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, The Attitude of the Church towards the Followers of Other Religions, 1984, No. 29, https://www.cam1. org.au/Portals/66/documents/Dialogue-Mission-1984.pdf .]
Missio Dei entails that the missionary is never the “owner” or “master” of the gospel, but only its “steward” and “servant.” And so, the gospel can only be shared as a gift and never as one’s possession.
This seems to have been one of the problems with mission in the past. Coming largely from Christian Europe, missionaries in the past preached the gospel as if the Christian faith was their possession, dictating thereby the terms by which it must be understood (doctrine/dogma), lived (morals/ethics) and celebrated (liturgy/worship). Coming, likewise, from what was assumed to be a “superior” culture and from economically developed and technologically advanced countries, missionaries in the past often evangelized from a position of power and superiority. And apparently, this assumed superiority gave them the right to impose the Christian faith on peoples who were considered “culturally primitive,” “religiously pagan,” “economically poor” and “technologically backward.”
Today, then, the missionary is called to evangelize from a position of powerlessness, lowliness and humility.[ See David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 484.
] He or she will not seek power—economic, cultural, technolo-gical, or even media power. The only power he or she will need is the power of the Word and of the Spirit. And that power is the power of love, which is manifested in self-giving. The ultimate reason for humility in mission is that mission is God’s and not ours. Put differently, the Kingdom of God is an eschatological reality. And, even if we are called and sent to work for it, we do not know how, when and in what form God’s Kingdom will finally emerge in the world. And so, another expectation of missionaries today is the development of the spirit of humility and powerlessness in mission.
Seeing mission as Missio Dei makes us realize that our call to mission is a call to share in God’s mission, which implies a call to collaborate with God, first of all, and with all others who are similarly called by God. Missio Dei implies that mission is larger than what each individual or each congregation can do. It is even larger than what all of us together can do. Collaboration, then, is not just a strategy for mission. We collaborate not just because we want to be more effective in mission. Collaboration, in fact, is an essential characteristic of mission. To be in mission is to collaborate. Collaboration is a statement about the nature of mission. By collaborating we are saying that mission is God’s in the first place and that the primary agent of mission is God’s Spirit.
The work of the Spirit whom we share in mission is multiform.[ See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iuvenescit Ecclesia, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Regarding the Relationship Between Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts in the Life and the Mission of the Church, No. 1, www.vatican.va/roman…/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20160516_iuvenescit-ecclesia_en.html; John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, No. 15, w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/…/hf_jp-ii_exh_-06111999_ecclesia-in-asia.html.] In the Church, one manifestation of this is the diversity of charisms which the Spirit distributes “as He wishes” (1 Cor 12:11) among the People of God for the building up of the Body of Christ in order to enable it to carry out its mission. Often these gifts of the Spirit are embodied in different ecclesial groups—institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, traditional Church organizations, and the newer ecclesial movements or “new communities” with a predominantly lay membership. Together these ecclesial groups manifest the multiform richness of the ecclesial communion for the sake of mission.[ See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iuvenescit Ecclesia, No. 2.]
The work of the Spirit in the world is also multiform. A manifestation of this is the phenomenon of cultural and religious pluralism in the world. Plurality and diversity in the world may be regarded as the fruit of God’s creative act, reflecting God’s own being. For the God we worship is not a solitary monad but a koinonia of three divine persons.[ See Peter C. Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue (New York: Orbis Books, 2004), p. xxi.] Today religious pluralism is regarded not just as a “matter of fact,” but as a “matter of principle,”[ See Jacques Dupuis, S.J., Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, p. 201; Peter C. Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, p. 65; Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, pp. 7-8.
] that is, it is not just an accident in history, much less the result of human sinfulness, but part of God’s salvific plan for the world. So, just as the Spirit adorns the Church with a diversity of charisms, so also the Spirit adorns the world with a diversity of religions and cultures.
This fact of the multiform character of the Spirit’s action in the Church and in world necessitates collaboration and dialogue—among the different ecclesial groups in the Church, and among the various religions and cultures in the world.
In an ecclesiocentric view of mission, where mission is seen as a response to the “mission mandate” given by the Risen Lord to the Church on the day of the ascension (see Mt 28:18-20), there is a tendency to regard mission as a sacrifice and a burden—particularly, the giving up of home and country in order to go too far-away lands, the giving up of a life of comfort, and the readiness of live a life of deprivation and hardship in conditions of life often called “primitive.”
Among some missionary congregations, like my own, the start of one’s missionary life is ritualized in a mission-sending ceremony which includes the rite of the giving of a “mission cross.” While the “mission cross” actually has a more profound meaning, in the minds of many it symbolizes the sacrifice and hardship that the missionary is expected to undertake in mission. In such ceremonies, often a passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians is read, where Paul lists the difficulties he underwent in his mission of preaching the Gospel:
… with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; … (2 Cor 11:23-25).
Generation after generation of missionaries have similar stories of difficulties and hardships encountered in mission. Volumes have been written about the great sacrifice offered by missionaries for the mission. However, seeing mission as Missio Dei makes us realize that mission is not just a burden and a sacrifice but a privilege and a gift. Mission is God’s mission, and our call to mission is a call to participate in God’s mission. And participation in God’s mission cannot just be a burden and a sacrifice. It must be, above all, a gift and a privilege.[ When St. Joseph Freinademetz, the first SVD missionary, learned that he was going to be sent to China, he wrote to his family saying: “Thank God … that the Lord has given us the grace of having a missionary in our family … I do not consider this as a sacrifice that I offer to God, but as the greatest gift that God is giving me”. And again, from China he wrote: “I cannot thank the Lord enough for having made me a missionary in China….” In 1887 he said: “When I think of the countless graces that I have received and continue to receive until now from God … I confess that I could cry. The most beautiful vocation in the world is being a missionary.” See Giuseppe Freinademetz, Lettere di un Santo, a cura di Pietro Irsara (Bolzano: Impressa, [no year]).]
Missio Dei shifts the motive for mission from a need on the part of those being evangelized (that is, the need of the so-called “pagans” to be saved from eternal damnation) to a need on the part of the evangelizers (namely, the need of the disciple who has experienced the Gospel as good news to share it with others).[ As Pope Paul VI says in Evangelii Nuntiandi, No. 80: “… [people] can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame—what St. Paul called “blushing for the Gospel”—or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it?”
] This seems to be the “logic of good news.” If something is really good, then it needs to be shared with others. As Pope Francis puts it, the real wellspring of mission is the experience of the Joy of the Gospel (see EG 1-13). So, mission as sharing in Missio Dei cannot just be a sacrifice and a burden. It must be a privilege and gift, an experience of joy, joy in the Spirit (see Gal 5:22).
To sum up this second part of our reflection, I think it can be said that mission today needs to be carried out under the paradigm of Missio Dei or God’s mission. This new paradigm calls for missionaries to be more contemplative, dialogical, humble, collaborative, and joyful in their mission. These too, I believe, are the features that characterize the “missionary spirit”—contemplation, dialogue, humility, collaboration and joy.
Gift from Orbis Books
to Sedos Library
To conclude, allow me to quote what Pope Francis says in no. 273 of EG:
My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing …. But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs.
“I am a mission on this earth,” Pope Francis says. Herein lies the importance of fostering the missionary spirit.