by Fr. Patrick Gonyeau
How would you respond if Jesus appeared and spoke right to you: I want to live through you today.
From its opening lines calling the Church to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by the joy of the gospel (known through encountering Jesus), to the closing chapter (Spirit-filled Evangelizers) that leaves readers riveted, this document is serving as Holy Spirit imbued rocket fuel for any takers interested in truly embarking on the New Evangelization, personally and communally.
One of the eager recipients of this rocket fuel has been the Archdiocese of Detroit, under the leadership of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron.
On the heels of November's Synod 16, in a city on the rise, home to the anointed Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in the heart of an archdiocese whose humble yet bold chief shepherd has called for a total DNA change in the Church from maintenance to mission, the pump is being primed for God's glory to be manifested in new splendor, as the archdiocese rises up with the true love, vigor, and devotion of a joyful band of missionary disciples.
Best of all, we're not just dreaming and talking in theory. The renewal has already begun. The good Lord wants his Church to hear, Keep coming, dig in and give me your whole heart, striving eagerly to live in my love and will and you will know my joy and glory.
With the pump primed, let's look at some key practicalities we can implement in our daily lives to continue to bloom, as Archbishop Vigneron says, as a joyful band of missionary disciples.
Joyful: Give Your Heart Daily
Can you imagine the tension that must have been present at the Last Supper? After three years of traveling with Jesus throughout his public ministry, the apostles must have been amazed, bewildered and, yes, fearful. They heard Jesus tell them multiple times that he would be handed over to the gentiles, be crucified, suffer, dieand then rise from the dead. They had witnessed miracle upon miracle and experienced his power when he sent them out to preach, drive out evil spirits, and heal (Mk 6:7-13). They had experienced his love and compassion as they traveled endless hours with him and he spoke to their heart—both individually and as a band of brothers and the original fathers of the Church.
Jesus began to explain the new reality that would come into being for his apostles and future disciples. In chapter 14 of John's gospel, we read that Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit was coming, that Jesus would not leave them orphans, and that they would soon experience a greater intimacy with God than ever before: On that day you will realize that I am in the Father and you are in me and I in you (Jn 14:20).
To further illustrate the new level of intimacy the apostles (and future disciples as well) of Jesus would have with God, Jesus explained that I am the vine and you are the branches (Jn 15:5a) and By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples (Jn 15:8). Jesus then instructed the apostles to remain in his love and that by keeping his commandments they would remain in his love.
Upon telling them of this new reality that was to come, which would be dependent on their whole-hearted commitment, Jesus revealed, I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete (Jn 15:11). The apostles knew the joy Jesus had and displayed! No more attractive joy and love had ever graced the earth than the joy and love of Jesus, because his was a divine joy and a divine love in perfect communion with his Father and the Spirit and free from all sin.
At Pentecost, all of the apostles (except for Judas) would be imbued with that joy through the Holy Spirit. But first . . . they scattered when Jesus was arrested. At some point, the apostles had a choice to make: keep running or turn back.
By the time the apostles arrived in the Upper Room at Pentecost, they had turned back to their fate as disciples of Jesus. They were locked in the Upper Room with fear until the Holy Spirit utterly transformed them. From then on, they were all in.
This isn't to say they wouldn't make mistakes in their apostolic mission, but it is to say that their hearts from that day forward would be given over fully to Christ and his mission. However, this commitment surely had to have been made repeatedly by the apostles as they encountered persecutions abroad.
How did they stay committed? How do we follow suit?
He Really Is With Us
The apostles received incredible promises from the Lord before he took physical leave of their presence at the Ascension. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his apostles that whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me, and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and reveal myself to him(Jn 14:21). After his resurrection, Jesus likewise told his apostles, Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt 28:20b). The Lord's promise to his apostles, and us as well, which we do well to take to heart, is that he really is with us.
At every moment of the day, Jesus is right there waiting to encounter us. As Pope Francis notes, Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms (EG, no. 3).
The true joy of being a disciple of Jesus flows from not just choosing to acknowledge and encounter Jesus (as critical as this is), but choosing to go all in with Jesus by giving him your whole heart unconditionally every day. That's a life changing encounter with Jesus! We remember that the rich young man went away sad in the gospel of Luke because he didn't go all in with
Jesus when Jesus asked him to do so.
Some of the most joyful words to flow across the lips of a disciple of Jesus are, I'm all yours Lord, do with me what you will! In his will we find true joy.
A major aspect of living as a joyful
missionary disciple is the daily renewal that comes with giving your whole heart (which is to say your whole life) to Jesus without any compromises. Let us beg for the grace to do this in all authenticity every day. If we do so, we can be sure we'll be bearing the fruit of joy in the Lord that is both the Father's glory and some of the most potent evangelization bait he provides!
I'll never forget a dear cashier at the grocery store saying, Well you're in a good mood today, and then rejoicing when I told her the reason why was Jesus. Giving your whole heart to Jesus every day allows us to experience what Pope Francis expressed in the introduction to The Joy of the Gospel, With Christ joy is constantly born anew. A heart wholly given over to God is a cheerful heart, and as the Book of Proverbs tells us, A glad heart lights up the face (Prv 15:13a). That's not just a nice countenance the Word of God is talking about, that's the Light of the World.
Missionary Disciples: No Longer I
Prior to being named the Archbishop of Guam, Archbishop Michael Byrnes served as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit. In a talk given at the Lay Ecclesial Convocation in Detroit in the fall of 2016, Archbishop Byrnes spoke that learning to become an everyday evangelist is like learning how to fishthere's going to be some awkward moments.
Regaling the audience with hilarious stories of his own fishing woes on an Alaskan fishing trip, the Archbishop brought home a clear point in his talk that makes all of the awkward moments totally worth the effort. Archbishop Byrnes said, Jesus wants to encounter the people around you through you.
Ponder those words for a few moments. They are truly life-changing if we take them to heart.
How would you respond if Jesus appeared and spoke right to you: I want to live through you today. And yet, this is our reality as disciples of Jesus! We truly share in the life of Jesus. As St. Paul famously expressed it, Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).
It is through cultivating our intimate union with Jesus that evangelization (announcing the Good News of God's love made present to us in the person of Jesus) begins to flow forth with delight, for we are sharing in the will of Jesus and the love of his Sacred Heart that desires the salvation of all. As Pope Francis puts it, In union with Jesus, we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves, in the end, what we are seeking is the glory of the Father (EG, no. 267). The reality of what God revealed through St. Paul (that Jesus lives in his disciples) is brought about in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit given at baptism.
As the Church teaches us, The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial [meaning one with and of the same substance] with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 689).
How to Keep the Fervor
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis
emphasizes that it is the Holy Spirit who continues to shape our lives as missionary disciples. With the apostles as our God-given example of a band of joyful missionary disciples, the pope advises us to cultivate our relationship with, and dependence upon, the Holy Spirit as missionary disciples:
At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God's wondrous deeds . . . the Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place. Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our messages empty (EG, no. 259).
As with the first disciples of Jesus, dependence upon the Holy Spirit and seeking to live under his influence is critical to remaining in Jesu—on the vine and bearing fruit.
In addition to cultivating our relationship with the Holy Spirit, it's a given that solid times of prayer (along with feeding on the divine life of God poured into us through the Sacraments) must be the heart of discipleship. As the pope notes, Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless, we lose our energy as a result of weariness and difficulties and our fervor dies out (EG, no. 262).
The Band: No Lone Rangers
As this reflection on becoming joyful missionary disciples closes, I'd like to echo the words of Archbishop Vigneron from Ash Wednesday 2017: We don't do this alone. As joyful missionary disciples, we must have brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we can grow, converse, and share the movements of the Spirit in our life.
God gave us the Church, a familial realitynot the lot of lone rangers.
Practically speaking, I can't think of a more fruitful practice (outside of reception of the Sacraments, Eucharistic adoration, and delving into the Word of God) than getting together with another disciple (or several) to talk about what the Lord is doing in my life, to pray and grow together, to sing and praise together, to talk Scripture together, to study the faith together, to go evangelize together.
As the famous passage goes, As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man (Prv 27:17). Families, God willing, are built-in bands of joyful missionary disciples! And still, finding good faith-building relationships that help disciples at all stages of life, from moms and dads to children, to grow together as disciples, is a great idea.
Some readers may even remember the Christian Family Movement from not long ago. Currently, many parishes are beginning to offer discipleship groups. Additionally, many parishes that offer Alpha, ChristLife, and other faith studies (from Bible studies to the studies of the saints), offer these studies in formats designed to promote small group dynamics that allow disciples to grow together through the gift of authentic interpersonal sharing.
The iron sharpens iron quote above is so true; I've learned so much from my brothers and sisters in the Lord in small groups and faith-centered friendships over the years. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to help us find practical ways to ensure we're not lone rangers but growing together as a band of joyful missionary disciples.
Blooming in Our Midst
I hope this reflection has inspired you, and that maybe you've underlined a few things to help you on the journey. I admit to experiencing waves of exhilaration when writing this reflection; it started, and will end, with prayer.
Sometimes the language might have seemed too much, too optimistic, maybe describing more than what appears to be seen. Ultimately, I think my language falls far too short of sufficiently describing the beauty of the springtime of the Church that is blooming in our midstif we have eyes to see it, ears to hear it, hearts to feel it, and the rocket fuel to get in on it!
Fr. Patrick GonyeauFr. Patrick Gonyeau (2013) is associate pastor of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, St. Moses the Black, and Our Lady of the Rosary Parishes, and is a regional evangelization coordinator for the Archdiocese of Detroit.