Through mission education, Maryknoll helps U.S. Catholics recognize their vocation
By Deacon Matt Dulka
When John Watkins worked with the homeless in San Francisco and later became the Coordinator for Life and Justice in the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., he knew he was responding to a call to discipleship but did not think of himself as a missionary. “I saw it as work I do and that mission was something missionaries did overseas,” he says. After participating in Maryknoll’s local Mission Education Training Program, as well as a Maryknoll mission immersion experience in Guatemala, Watkins realized he was a missionary all along. Moreover, he began to appreciate that perhaps his most important mission work begins at home as a husband and father to two young boys. “I now see myself as a small participant in God’s unfolding mission of love,” he says. “The good news is that God is doing most of the heavy lifting. I don’t need to always be successful or perfect because it is not my work but God’s.”
John Watkins’ initial self-description is typical of the way many parish and diocesan ministers see themselves. They don’t necessarily make the connection between their local ministry and their overall mission. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis breaks down the distinction. He challenges all the baptized to see themselves as “missionary disciples.” Helping them realize and accept the invitation to participate in God’s mission is what mission education is all about.
The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers‘ founders put their first efforts into inspiring and informing U.S. Catholics about the call to mission through Maryknoll magazine. Readers responded and became partners in mission at home through prayers and financial help.
Although the methods and approaches have changed over time, mission education remains at the core of Maryknoll’s service to the U.S. Church. Currently, Maryknoll mission promoters in the United States are working with local church leaders to help form them as mission educators who pass on the “mission” to the next generation.
This is being done through workshops and training programs as well as opportunities to participate in mission immersion experiences where participants get firsthand exposure to mission. Properly formed parish ministers nurture effective “communities of missionary disciples” that are able to go forth in joy to share the Good News. For many, their missionary work will occur primarily in the home, the workplace, school and local communities. But, as Jesus taught, God’s mission must spread out in ever-widening circles to engage the whole human family, especially the poor and marginalized.
Mission education begins with a growing appreciation that God is love and that God brings forth all creation out of that love. God freely offers this love with a hope it will be accepted and shared. We have the free will to accept or reject it.
We learn from Scripture that God does not do this mission of love alone, but invites people—often unlikely characters—to participate. Abraham and Sarah seemed too old. Moses had physical and social issues. Many of the prophets were tapped from everyday life.
God’s ultimate commitment to the mission of love reached a climax in Jesus. He is the model for mission through his life of self-giving, especially in dealing with the poor, the sinner and the outcast. He gathered men and women and trained them to carry on the mission, which he passed on to them. On Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these disciples, the mission received a Church to continue the mission, which has been passed down to us. We share it in different ways.
In Redemptoris Missio, Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on mission, he spells out the various paths of mission: service; proclaiming the Good News; respectfully dialoguing with others of different religious backgrounds; engaging culture in light of Gospel values; working for just social, economic and political systems and praying to God, whose mission it is.
Pope Francis reminds us when we accept God’s love, we will want to share it with joy. People will take notice. Joy becomes the contagious catalyst of evangelization.
He likewise challenges us to look beyond our geographic understanding of mission to see it as crossing all types of borders: racial, cultural, economic, political and social. Mission involves conversion in our own hearts that radiates to even the stranger and enemy. Pope Francis says our conversion often occurs in our encounters with the poor. This has been Maryknoll’s experience of being evangelized by the poor we have served.
Mission education is the process of not only better understanding our call to mission, but also helping others learn more about their call to mission.
After his immersion experience in Guatemala, John Watkins said, “I now incorporate mission into every aspect of my ministry. My yardstick for success is not so much how many people participated but did the participants encounter Christ. I realized it wasn’t enough to provide catechesis and social justice actions if I wasn’t also creating opportunities for an encounter of God’s love.” Watkins is now working with Maryknoll to offer a local immersion experience for the Oakland diocesan seminarians.
Pope Francis says, “I am a mission on this earth.” Through its mission education efforts, Maryknoll strives to support the U.S. Church in living that realization.
Deacon Matt Dulka is the Western Regional Director for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers’ Mission Education and Promotion Department.
Article originally featured in Maryknoll Magazine