Sunday, June 5, 2005

Why be a missionary?

I realized last week I am in Taiwan because I can use certain gifts from God here that I can use nowhere else. God has equipped me my whole life with certain aptitudes, ways of speaking, experiences and unspeakable spiritual blessings that only germinate here, now, in Taiwan. The same is true, I'm sure, for countless other gifts which find there habitat to flourish only in the right missionary setting. In the USA, I had the same gifts, and I shared them with people as best as I could; but they simply never took root in people there as God intended them to take root in people here. Further, as a missionary, I was not called here simply to share my gifts with "people," but to share particular gifts with particular people. As I told one Taiwanese person last week, "YOU are why I am here."

We must always be sensitive to the dual nature of vocation. It is part, a serious call to help the least of these, to offer your life for people in need of the light of Christ. This is the, let us say, humanitarian dimension of missions: to help someone else find God.[1] The less discussed dimension of missions is its, let us say, divinizing power (a la theosis). By offering yourself to another, you quite literally open yourself up to God transforming you in his image. As St. Paul told the Christians in Colossus (chapter 3):

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. ... 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Missions is the call to be sent as Christ was sent and therefore to suffer as he suffered. As St. John tells us (chapter 20):

19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Receiving the Spirit of the crucified Messiah means following the Spirit in Jesus’ sufferings, not only to all peoples but also to all the heights of holiness. As St. Paul says in Romans 8:

12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[g] And by him we cry, "Abba,[h] Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

My point? My actio for this fides et cogitatio? Answer the call to missions. Be sent. Get sent. Take the risk. Open yourself up. Do a summer mission. Do a holiday mission. Support a missionary. Not only are there very real persons in need of the gifts God has given you and you alone, but also, by getting sent, you will discover seeds in yourself that I can all but guarantee you will never blossom where and how you are now.

Pray also for me that I may continue to tend the gifts God gave me for this very soil. The more seeds I discern blossoming in me here the more they tend to intertwine as one massive knot of thankfulness.

I leave you with chapter 15 of St. John's Gospel.

1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

[1] (I take it as obvious that the primary goal of missions is, in a very real sense, to help God find all people, which is in turn to bring the greatest glory to God.)

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