The Purpose of the Missionary Work
It is striking how much the Constitutions of the Redemptorist Congregation are shaped by the language of the Gospel. Again and again the constitutions directly refer to the New Testament. On the one hand, this is not surprising; the New Testament is the basic text of our Christian faith. But it also means that our constitutions always remind us, that Redemptorist life (and the life of our partners in the Redemptorist family) is based on a call from Jesus Christ himself.
What we do is: listen to his message, receive it and continue its proclamation.
Constitutions 11 and 12 speak of the meaning and purpose of our work, the missionary activity. So the headline reads: “The purpose of the missionary work”. That’s the question: What are we doing as missionaries at all? What is it about?
Precisely at this important point our constitutions start to speak again in the language of the gospel. It says there: We are entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation”. And it is even said: this is a real gift; a gift that we of course should not only keep to ourselves, but pass it on to others. We should bring the good news of salvation closer to people and announce a “favourable time”, a “time of grace”.
Words of St. Paul echo here.
We are tasked to invite people to convert so that they believe in the gospel, in the good news. “Convert and believe in the gospel”: These are the first words of Jesus himself, as they are handed down in the Gospel according to Mark.
Our mission has its roots in the New Testament, and ultimately in the life and message of Jesus himself.
The purpose of the missionary work is then expressed in a more reflective way: Our proclamation should lead people to “a radical choice regarding their life, a decision for Christ”.
It means: we should invite people to personally engage in Jesus Christ and to be addressed by him. Not we Redemptorists are the most important partners on the way for people; Jesus Christ himself is the most important partner on the way through life. He is the way, the truth and the life.
„To know Jesus is the best present anyone can receive; for us to have found Him is the best thing that has happened to us in our lives and to make him known with our word and our works is our pleasure.”
So says the Aparecida document of the Church in Latin America.
Whoever wants to live as a Christian has heard in some way the voice of Jesus Christ. Something about his life, his words touched him, fascinated him. He heard the call from Jesus.
The radical choice of a Christian is: I want to answer this call. I want to get to know Jesus Christ even more, to understand him even better. I want to get serious about a life as a disciple. With my life I want to give an answer to the call I heard.
That´s the first important point in the part of our constitutions I speak about: To invite people to a radical choice.
It is a very basic decision; it affects my entire life.
And it remains a constant process of learning, a constant process of conversion. In the course of my life, I am always put in a new and previously unknown situation. I am faced with new challenges, experience crises and also times of particular clarity, experience encouragement and questioning. In all the different situations in my life, I want to answer Jesus’ call.
As best as I can.
I will be never perfect. That is why it is important to be ready to convert. Therefore, we Redemptorists in our preaching should encourage people to convert; strengthen them “firmly and gently to a continuing and total conversion”. As the Constitutions say.
This accompaniment, the encouragement and strengthening of others, is really important. Nobody lives his life alone. No man is an island.
That´s the second important point in the part of our constitutions I speak about: We are on the way together. Therefore Constitution 12 speaks of the community of the faithful, of the Church.
On the one hand, the decision to become a Christian is a very individual, personal decision. It is a radical choice that nobody can make in the place of someone else. Everyone has to make this decision for themselves – and then find ways to express it in his live, to realize it. On the other hand, we need the community of other believers. We need each other to go on well. Again our constitutions:
“And therefore the object of their whole missionary activity is to raise up and develop communities that will walk worthily in the vocation to which they are called…”
I found this idea said impressively in a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He says:
“God wanted, that we should seek and find his living word in the witness of the sisters and brothers, in human mouth.
That is why the Christian needs the other Christian who says God’s word to him.
He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and despondent; because he alone can’t help himself.
The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of the sister and the brother. That one is uncertain, this one is certain.“
We need each other to walk the path of faith. That is why the “purpose of the missionary work” in our constitutions also includes an invitation and introduction into the ecclesial community. Whoever heard the call of Jesus and who has decided to respond to him with his life must not remain alone.
And right in the next sentence, the constitutions speak of ecclesial communities – in the plural form – that need to be built up. It’s about living and keeping this community alive in many different places. We live in very different places in our world; but we all belong to the one church of Jesus Christ.
There are particularly intensive and effective expressions of God’s presence in our church: the sacraments. In this context, our constitutions mention the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrament of the Eucharist. Through these sacraments the individual Christians are strengthened in their faith, through them also the church community is built up and strengthened. So the celebration of the sacraments is an essential part of the Redemptorist missionary work.
At the end of Constitution 12 there is a sentence that I find very challenging. It says: „In this way the Christian community becomes the sign of God’s presence in the world.” Sign of God’s presence in the world!
Isn’t that far too good to be true? It’s really challenging.
It’s an ideal, of course. And each of us knows how much the Christian community sometimes contradicts this ideal. We notice this very quickly when we look at our concrete communities – that means: at our own lives. We don’t have to look far to find examples where things don’t go well; where something is really wrong. And yet this idea remains a challenge: the Christian community as sign of God’s presence in the world.
It helps to get back to the beginning: there was talk of the ministry of reconciliation.
I am convinced: that’s a real sign of God’s presence among us humans: when reconciliation happens. When people who stood against each other speak to each other again. When trust grows between strangers. When an individual no longer lives in conflict with himself, but is reconciled with himself. When wounds begin to heal.
If we – Redemptorists and partners in the Redemptorist family – can make a contribution to reconciliation, that´s good. Then Christian community becomes a sign of God’s presence in the world. This is also understandable for people who live in a secular society and who have not heard and understood so much about religion and God, and perhaps do not think so much of it.
It is clear to us as Christians that God himself works for reconciliation and calls us for reconciliation. This is our belief: He works among us – and we are witnesses of the redeemer.
Autor: Johannes Römelt CSsR
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