Living as Missionary Disciples — by Bishop Robert J. McManus

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Being Urged on By the Love of Christ

Bishop Robert J. McManus

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

From the time of the Lord Jesus’ great commission to the apostles until our very day, the mission of the Church continues the salvific mission of Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments. In the theologically rich words of Blessed Paul VI, “The Church exists to evangelize.”

In recent years, the Church’s work of evangelization has been repeatedly highlighted by the popes. St. John Paul II coined the phrase “the new evangelization,” exhorting all the baptized to bring the good news of the Gospel to all, thereby introducing others
to the person of Jesus Christ, and Pope Francis has frequently described all those Christians engaged in the task of evangelization as “missionary disciples.”

During his public ministry, Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs to proclaim the dawning kingdom of God. At the end of every celebration of the Mass, the priest or deacon sends forth the faithful with the commission “Go forth, proclaiming the gospel with your lives.” This is no mere ceremonial nicety. Having encountered the crucified and Risen Lord in the proclamation of the Word of God and the reception of the very Body and Blood of Christ, the faithful are sent forth to share the joy of the Gospel with all those whom they encounter. As Jesus instructs us, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Matthew 10:8).

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following words: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with … a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction” (DCE, 1). Passing on the Christian faith, indeed the very act of evangelizing, is to seek out and to introduce the person of Jesus to people who either have never encountered the Christian message or who may have embraced it at one time but have abandoned it. Speaking to a group of ecclesial ministers just months after his election, Pope Francis described the pursuit of introducing Christ to others with these words:

“The Good Shepherd left the 99 others and went out in search of it, he went off to look for one. But brothers and sisters, we have one sheep. We have lost the other 99! We must go out to them. This is an enormous responsibility … to go out and preach the Gospel.” 

Such words should be the inspiration and driving force for missionary disciples.

In the pastoral life of a parish, there are a number of ways to embrace and live out the universal Christian vocation to be a missionary disciple. One prominent evangelizing ministry in any parish is the ministry of catechist. As St. John Paul II so memorably taught in Catechesi Tradendae, catechesis is the work of introducing Jesus to others and of accompanying them as they set out on their life-journey of knowing and loving Jesus better.

Pope Francis frequently challenges missionary disciples to go out into the peripheries where others may not have heard or may have forgotten the message of Jesus and his Church. Here in the United States, we are told by pollsters that only 25 percent of American Catholics attend Sunday Mass regularly. This is a pastoral crisis, because “you cannot love what you do not know.” It is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we encounter the Risen Lord in the most intensive way, by hearing his Word and receiving his Body and Blood. The Eucharist is a privileged event in the life of the Church for evangelizing and catechizing the Christian faithful. Briefly stated, the celebration of the Eucharist is “the house of formation” for missionary disciples.

The catechist is entering the periphery of the life of the Church when he or she catechizes, whether those people are children or adults. So many Catholics have drifted away from the regular practice of their faith that they now constitute what might be called “a diaspora of religious wanderers.” The ministry of a missionary disciple is to search out these wanderers, and, once found, introduce them to the person of Jesus, the message of his Gospel, and the teachings of his Church.

It is true that “you cannot give what you do not have.” Therefore the ministry of catechesis, the ministry of living as a missionary disciple in service to passing on the faith, demands a commitment to growing and maturing in the knowledge and practice of one’s own faith. Every catechist should have in his or her personal library the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most importantly, every catechist must be a “person of the sacraments,” especially the Eucharist and Penance.

One of the most poignant parables of Jesus in the Gospels is the parable of the pearl of great price (see Matthew 13:46). When the person finds the pearl of great price, he sells all he owns to purchase this valuable jewel. Our “pearl of great price” is the gift of our Catholic faith, and a most challenging but rewarding Christian vocation is to transmit the faith to others. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis puts it this way:

“The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us on for an even greater love for him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?”

To live as a missionary disciple is to be urged on by the love of Christ and to witness by our lives that we are committed to passing on to others, beginning with our own families, the joy of the Gospel.


MOST REVEREND ROBERT J. MCMANUS is the fifth Bishop of Worcester, Massachusetts. Ordained as a priest in 1978, Pope John Paul II elevated him as an Auxiliary Bishop of Providence in 1999. He was later installed as Bishop in Worcester on May 14, 2004.


This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April-May, 2018.


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