The Call of Mission, Our Response
by Genevieve L. Mougey, M.Div.
In March 2010, I spent ten days in Guatemala with the Q'Eqchi people of the Petang Region. My trip was a short-term mission intended to be a relationship-building mission.
In March 2010, I spent ten days in Guatemala with the Q’Eqchi people of the Petang Region. My trip was a short-term mission intended to be a relationship-building mission. (It was the first time I had spent anytime outside of the United States on a mission trip.)
The intent of the mission was not to help people less fortunate, build a school, or bring medical aid. Rather, the point was to spend Holy Week with my brothers and sisters praying, playing, and learning from them about their culture and the impact that our common faith brings to their daily lives.
I learned several things in my time with my friends in Tierre Blanca and some of the outlying villages. More than anything, I learned that people desire to be heard and to learn. The children were enthralled with me (and my curly hair), much as I was with them. Language barriers meant little to the kids—for laughter is a universal language. We spent much of our time playing bato, bato, gonzo—Duck, Duck, Goose.
Mission and Relationship
One of the most important things I learned in this experience was that fun is a part of mission. Mission is about entering into relationship with others—a task accomplished as much through everyday experiences of shared games and laughter as through teaching and service. There certainly are times for such relationships to be serious, but those times will be filled with many opportunities to share in the light of laughter and fun.
The first introduction that many of us have to the idea of mission is the notion that we are calling others to conversion, bringing the word of God to those who have yet to be introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, our understanding of mission is situated alongside evangelization and our baptismal call.
Mission realizes the basic desire to engage with others in bringing about God’s goodness to transform the world and to live in the delight of God whose Good News we have heard proclaimed. We extend this message through further proclamation, with profound respect for the cultures with which we engage. We seek to embody and act out of our own sense of responsibility to liberate others in the reality of Jesus and his salvation for all people.
Mission is not about being prepared or having all things in order. Rather, it renews or awakens our sense of living and being in community, being in relationship, being present. Mission is about forgiving and seeking Christ in each of the people we encounter—including ourselves.
Mission and Baptism
As a little girl, I read the stories of the early Christian martyrs who helped define the Church. I learned about how the early Christians, remembering their own Baptisms, did some very stunning things—such as affirming their belief in Jesus as Savior in front of a crowd of people that jeered at them and eventually killed them. As a young child, I couldn’t help but think, “I want to do that!”
Now I don’t remember my own Baptism, but the effect of the Spirit’s movement in my life has been unmistakable. That same movement of the Spirit is at work in mission. The early Christians defined for the Church what our lived mission identity is. They were in mission in their home communities—preaching, being engaged in the community, promoting our common faith, and attempting to clear up misconceptions. Some moved beyond their home communities and spread the word of God in different countries, where they were sometimes welcomed, sometimes not. These early Christians often entered mission at great personal cost: loss of family, loss of material gain and support, and sometimes loss of life; but what was clear in all the loss was the very real answer to the call to be in mission. Mission is not about an easy application of far-away principles. Rather, mission encourages us to live a gospel-centered life.
And so a frequently asked question is: “How can we be in mission today?” In response, the first point to remember is that we are all in mission by virtue of Baptism. Our membership in the Church calls us to be in mission constantly. Mission should be seen as integrated into daily life, expressed in our day-to-day relationships as well as in our efforts of outreach, preaching, and sacramental celebrations.
We are all asked to put aside our own agendas and to evaluate what we are doing to make Christ known to our brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods, our communities, our states, our country, our world. This can mean very simply that by our actions we bring to others the awareness of everlasting life in Christ. Our Baptism calls us to the mission of Christ.
Mission: Our Identity
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The mission to baptize, and so the sacramental mission, is implied in the mission to evangelize, because the sacrament is prepared for by the word of God and by the faith which is assent to this word: ‘The People of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God….The preaching of the Word is required for the sacramental ministry itself, since the sacraments are sacraments of faith, drawing their origin and nourishment from the Word’” (n. 1122, emphasis in original). In other words, mission is a part of our identity! It is a significant part of our Christian lives.
Mission and Daily Life
The Second Vatican Council states that the Church is missionary by its very nature (see Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, n. 2). Readings from the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter and Pentecost Seasons highlight all the missionary activities of the early Christian Church, and the Scripture readings during Ordinary Time through the summer months share letters from Paul and narratives about Jesus’ own mission of healing, teaching, and preaching. The Gospels and most of the First and Second Readings have integral connections to mission. We cannot escape God’s call to mission.
Our life, our mission, is to live this example of the early Christians. That is why we don’t have to go to distant lands to be in mission. We are called to be in mission in our own communities. “Our faith challenges us to reach out to those in need, to take on the global status quo, and to resist the immorality of isolationism” (Called to Global Solidarity). Are we isolating ourselves in our own neighborhoods and communities? If so, we must reach beyond this isolation and recognize the mission to be invested in all our brothers and sisters.
Mission is not about going away and living in a different country or a different part of this country. Rather, mission is about being engaged here and now in our own communities. Sometimes that is called “volunteering,” a civic term that certainly is adequate. But as Catholics, we have the opportunity to tie all our activities back to our faith and to express our faith as rooted in our sacramental identity.
Our answer to the call of God in our Baptism is to be in mission. All that we do to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters, wherever we find ourselves, is part of our experience in mission—now, together!
Mission and Community
Remembering that we are invested in mission as part of our common Christian identity, we can apply more easily the implications of the call and responsibilities of our Baptism. “Global solidarity” is no longer a mere notion or an abstract idea. Rather, it becomes concretized in our actions, our willingness to be engaged in the world.
However, we are not called to mission as individuals. Rather, our whole communities are to be in mission together for the world. “Catholic communities of faith should measure their prayer, education, and action by how they serve the life, dignity, and rights of the human person at home and abroad. A parish’s ‘catholicity’ is illustrated in its willingness to go beyond its own boundaries to extend the Gospel, serve those in need, and work for global justice and peace. This is not a work for a few agencies or one parish committee, but for every believer and every local community of faith” (Called to Global Solidarity).
The language of responsibility can be intimidating and misunderstood. We have the potential to reach out beyond our own understanding and put into practice the reality of the Reign of God. Being in mission, identifying ourselves as missioners, is a natural outcome resulting from a comprehensive understanding of Baptism and Christian life as a calling, a vocation to mission.
Answering the Call of Mission
How do we form our mission identity and participate in mission from an early age? How should/does that look? Is it something that just happens organically in our lives and through our worship?
No, it does not just happen. As with all aspects of our Christian life and identity, we must be intentional about answering the call to mission—for being missioners is as much about call and vocation as any other aspect of Christian living.
Pope Benedict notes that a “vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structures can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility” (Caritas in Veritate, n. 17, emphasis in original).With that in mind, there is a nuance to be added: Everyone is called to participate in mission, but some missioners are called to be in mission outside their home communities. This should be determined only after deliberate discernment with a sponsoring organization (preferably one with a strong discernment and application process).
What does this mean to us, here, today? How do we share this understanding of mission with our students? Here are some ideas that can be expanded and reconfigured based on the needs and ages of your students.
Pray the World Mission Rosary for those who are serving as missioners away from their home communities. This is a great way to remind all who gather for prayer that those who are in mission are those who choose to be in right relationship with God and their brothers and sisters in the world. Each decade of the Rosary is prayed for a continent or section of the world.
This prayer upholds in grace those on active mission to communities other than their own, and it fosters a greater understanding of the universal Church and how our prayers connect us with the Communion of Saints in time and space. It makes tangible our connection to our brothers and sisters in the world.
For more information go to onefamilyinmission.org/society-propfaith/world-mission-rosary.html.
Talk with your students about what mission means and looks like to them. Explore the idea that there are those who come to the United States to be in mission here as well.
For more resources and information about how young people can be in mission, go to catholicvolunteernetwork.org or pallotticenter.org.
Stop using the terms service projects and service hours. Rather, call such experiences mission projects. As young people become more familiar with the term, they are more likely to integrate mission into their daily lives and thus be aware of how mission is an ongoing aspect of their Christian identity.
Chart the mission work that your class has been doing throughout the year. This should go beyond the day-to-day activities of helping parents. Rather, the chart should note how students have engaged in mission in their home communities through activities such as supporting a local soup kitchen or food pantry, reaching out to those who are elderly and in need of assistance, contributing to the natural beauty of their neighborhoods, etc.
Read Scripture. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good start (Luke 10:25-37). On the board, list all the characters in the parable. Identify each character’s willingness to be in mission, then have students determine when they have been each of the people in the parable. “Have you been the scholar of the law asking Jesus who is your neighbor? Have you been the priest? The Levite? The Samaritan traveler? The innkeeper? The victim of the robbers? The robbers?” Once students have identified their roles, have them share with a partner (or the whole class) how they were or were not answering the call of God to be in mission.
Genevieve Mougey is originally from North Platte, NE. Currently living in Washington, D.C., she serves as the Associate Director of Operations for the United States Catholic Mission Association. Genevieve attended the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, graduating with a Bachelor’s of Arts, and St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, graduating with a Master’s of Divinity from the School of Theology and Seminary. Her theological interests are in baptismal identity, mission, and solidarity.
Christ in the Margins. Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1984, 2003.
Encountering the Other. Jean Vanier. Mahwah, NY: Paulist Press, 2005.
Called to Global Solidarity. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington, D.C.
Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Pope John XXIII, 1963.
uscatholicmission.org: Here you will find a link to the network arm for Catholic missioners in the U.S. and abroad. It includes quarterly newsletters along with other helpful resources for those wishing to learn more about mission and global solidarity.
columban.org/missioneducation: The Columban Fathers have a profound desire to promote mission education and tools and resources. Located outside Omaha, NE, the Columbans provide practical down-to-earth understandings and implications of mission.
maryknoll.org: The Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, and Lay Missioners have been at the cusp of U.S. mission for over 50 years.
maryknollogc.org: The Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns is located in Washington, D.C., and serves Maryknoll missioners by providing analysis and advocacy on justice and peace issues that affect the communities where Maryknollers live and work.
glenmary.org: The Glenmary community provides a lot of knowledgeable resources for mission work in the United States. This is a fun website to explore.
jctr.org.zm: The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection is a research, education, and advocacy team that promotes study and action on issues linking Christian faith and social justice in Zambia and Malawi. JCTR began in 1988 as a project of the Zambia-Malawi Province of the Society of Jesus and is similar in orientation to other Jesuit social centers around the world.
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