Maryknoll Vocation Ministries is a service to the Maryknoll Society.
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Vocation Prospects abreast of discernment and Church issues.

August 31, 2011

Who, Exactly, Is Called to Mission?

Sem. Jonathan Hill, M.M.
Growing up as a Southern Baptist in the Deep South, every so often a missionary would stop in at our little country church and share with us his story, the story of his work “out there” in the mission fields.  To us kids who had never been far from home, the mission was this glorious place with palm trees and jungles, where savage natives in minimal attire would dance around campfires whooping and hollering, imploring their gods for this or that.  The missioner would then swoop in, tell them about Jesus, and convert them all over time.  He was a man of extraordinary ability, who learned foreign languages and lived in foreign cultures, usually in conditions that we would consider quite extreme.  He had great ability way beyond our own, and had us in awe.  He was our superhero.

After high school, I decided that I wanted to be a superhero, too.  I felt strongly a tug by God to give it all up for Him, to live the life of total service, to be a missioner.   However, I felt extremely inadequate.  I didn’t feel as if I had anything of value to offer.   What gifts could I actually give?  I finally decided to take a leap of faith and enter in where I could.  Serving in several countries as a volunteer as I was working towards my degree, I began to notice several things.  The missioner took on a new light.  They were ordinary people, living out their lives in extraordinary ways.  They were men and women who willingly gave up their lives in the comfort of their own culture and language, in order to endure the hardships and frustrations of taking on a completely new and different variety, all for the sake of spreading a Gospel of love.  And yet, they seemed to just be ordinary people. 

When I became Catholic, my heart still yearned for mission.  Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult to find.  Yet mission in the Catholic Church took on a new meaning.  I began to see a focus more on lived spirituality than on words alone.  In Maryknoll, I saw a complete conversion of a person into the culture that he or she was serving.  I found a commitment to a lived Gospel that sought out people of every race and religion, creed and color.  The eyes of the missioner were focused on seeing what Jesus saw when he walked the earth, people in need of healing, of love, of compassion.  The work the missioners were doing was extraordinary.  And yet, the missioners themselves were exceptionally ordinary.  They were people with physical ailments, with speech impediments, with all kinds of problems and issues.  And yet, here they were, serving God in mission.

I was beginning to see a pattern.  In the Bible, we see that God chooses the weak as His messengers and leaders.  Moses spoke poorly, and yet God chose him to lead His people to freedom.  David was an adulterer and womanizer, and yet he managed to become one of the greatest kings in history and ancestor to the Messiah.  Peter was a lowly fisherman and disowned Jesus three times (!), and he was still chosen to lead the infant Church.  The Bible is filled with such examples.  If God chose such lowly people then, why not today?  He doesn’t choose the brightest and the best.  He doesn’t need the person who has completely mastered sin, selfishness, and sacrifice.  He wants you.  He NEEDS you.  He chooses YOU.

Sem. Jonathan Hill, M.M.


Fr John Eybel said...

I especially like the way you described your change of perception, first, of the missioner (from superhero to a human being like others), and second, of the people served (to how Jesus would see and have regard for them).

Fr. Steve said...

"I began to see a focus more on lived spirituality than on words alone"--Exactly! Proclaim the Gospel always--if necessary, use words!

Adam Gonnerman said...

Very good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.