The Cross of Missionary Discipleship

September 8, 2019

The Gospel is very clear about the need for an individual response to follow Jesus.  In this translation from Luke, it tells us we must carry our own cross and come after the Lord, following in His footsteps.  This is personal.  This is not something anyone else can do for us.  To follow Jesus we have to be immersed in the reflection of what it means to be a missionary disciple.  From the Bishop’s pastoral letter to the visioning of the Diocese, we have all been invited to reflect on our own personal responsibility to missionary discipleship.  With the Words of the Gospel, our journey must start with our own personal crosses.  We all have them, but where do they lead us, and what do they teach about us?

I have always had a thirst for seeing the mission of the faith at work.  I remember in the 1980’s hearing that there were more Catholics below the equator than above, yet more clergy north of the equator than below.  That very sentence propelled me on a journey and hunger to find out why.  If the clergy are so vital to the life of the Church, it seems to flourish better with fewer of us.  It is a lifelong search for me.  It still continues.  It is probably why I have been captivated by the mission of the Oikos Sisters in the Philippines, where once again many do the work of the Lord and many entrust the labor of the Gospel to the non-ordained or the non-professed.

While we have heard and will continue to hear a lot about missionary discipleship, it is not without the cross, not without sacrifice.  To get in touch with the cross of becoming a missionary ourselves, we must look deeply into the fight of what prevents us from yelling God’s name from the mountaintops, in our workplaces and in the halls of our schools.  The fear of being labeled or being shunned, the fear of being an outcast rises to the polarization of the message in the moment.  So often what others think and our need to belong makes the cross so heavy on our hearts that we cannot lift it.  I can remember shopping at the grocery store in my clerical collar and having someone very angry at the Roman Catholic Church get into my face and tell me what a disgrace the Church is and how it ruins peoples’ lives.  I took the criticism, I took the pain this person was unleashing.  Others stopped to listen as he got louder and it became a bit of a scene.  As this person’s wife tried to get him to stop, I tried to say I understood that the pain he was feeling was real, but he threw up his hands and stomped down the freezer aisle.  I was blindsided, shocked and stunned.  I remember telling myself, don’t wear your clerical collar to the grocery store anymore.

It is not easy to stand up, take up our cross and follow Jesus.    It is not easy to bring the mission of Christ’s light into the darkness rattled with anger.  There is heaviness in being a Catholic.  Yet it is to propel us to a greater love; it is to expand us to a greater understanding.  Before anyone can know our journey, we must first be a listener of theirs.  This listening must be our first priority, coupled with listening to the Lord.  We are compelled to listen to the Lord.  To get in touch with this we must find our way back to Scripture and reflect on what Jesus is personally telling us.  He has a message in His Holy Word that is uniquely for us.  As often as we pray the Words of Scripture, the more Jesus will reveal His true self to us and help us carry the cross with unrealistic burdens.  The Jesus I know will take up the cross with us; the Jesus I know will help me steady my legs under the weight of the cross.  The Jesus I know will make sure I get back up after I stumble.  The statement we make is the statement we make to our own hearts.  It is personal and I choose the Lord.

Reverend  John J. Ouper