Easter people and missionary disciples: A joyful community drawing others to Christ
By Mikaela Pannell
When it comes down to it, being Easter people and being missionary disciples go hand in hand. Both of them are rooted in joy and a desire to spread the Good News of Christ.
Deacon William Radio, permanent deacon at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls, observes that the original disciples of Christ truly came into their calling during that first Easter season. “After the Resurrection, that’s when they really learned how to be disciples … I think that’s a really kind of direct connection between those two terms.”
It was after Jesus rose from the dead, and the joy of experiencing his resurrection, that the Church exploded and spread.
Father Chuck Cimpl, senior priest for the diocese, agrees. “Their discipleship was really all centered on the Resurrection and their joy in wanting to go share that with others.”
As disciples in the 21st century, our call is the same. “That’s of course what missionary discipleship is about—the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Father Cimpl says. “If we want to be lifelong missionary disciples, we have to be in tune with the Good News, and in order to do that we have to be attentive to what’s good.”
He also points out that because we’re living in a century completely different from the first Christians, the way we act as missionary disciples looks different from them. For example, social media can be used as a good means of spreading the love of Christ, as well as lending support to our fellow believers. We also have some really beneficial tools like podcasts (think “Bible in a Year” or “Catechism in a Year”) or radio stations like Real Presence Radio that help us to spread the Good News far and wide.
Text or chat groups where fellow believers share pieces of encouragement can be very important, especially if you have family or friends who live far away.
“Jesus didn’t work with just one person. He always called people together,” Father Cimpl says. “Sometimes we have to gather people around us, especially people who can challenge us, but also people … who can help us.”
Easter people are made for community and for drawing others into the Body of Christ.
Deacon Radio echoes the importance of support for others on the walk of missionary discipleship. “I think it’s very important that we encourage, we compliment each other on the gifts that each of us has, and that we just walk with each other, because that’s what Christ is doing with us.” Bible studies and men’s/women’s groups allow a faith community to foster support and encouragement of one another.
So how does being an Easter people help us to be better missionary disciples? What gives an Easter people their zing?
The answer is joy!
“Joy is a foundational part on which we build on in our lives.” Father Cimpl says.
That joy comes from knowing and being known, loving and being loved, by Jesus himself. It comes from following our God, who is eternally faithful to us, even when we don’t always return the favor to him.
Deacon Radio expands further, saying, “He is faithful. You know, when we think of the term ‘faithful,’ I think we usually think of ourselves and if we’re being faithful to the teachings of Christ and the Church. But I think sometimes we forget the fact that Jesus is faithful to us and he never abandons us. He never gives up on us, and with all that being said, if we really stop and think about those things, reflect on them, pray about them, how could we be anything but joyful?”
The thing about joy is that it is contagious.
“People notice, and they will want to know what’s behind all of this. They will want to know more,” Deacon Radio says. “That’s how we lead others to Christ, by dedicating ourselves and our lives to serving Christ … because we’ve been saved, we are loved by a Savior who is never gonna abandon us. If we appreciate the way that Jesus lived for us, if we truly appreciate that, then we should want to live that same way for him.”
Father Cimpl also points out that joy and happiness are different, although they can often be confused. “Joy has more of an endurance to it; it’s longer lasting. It’s not just something fleeting like sometimes happiness can be.”
He has seen this lived out by the faithful people of our diocese at various points in his time as a priest, particularly when tragedy strikes. “When I have to be with people in pretty tough moments, you just sense a difference in those that have a foundation of joy. Even in very sad things.”
No matter how closely we’re following Christ, bad things will happen in our lives. What does a missionary disciple with the attitude of an Easter people do with that?
“We have to give up blaming others or our circumstances for the way life is,” Father Cimpl says. “Bad things happen to everybody. People have hurt us, we’ve probably hurt others. It all depends on what we do with the hurt. No one is dealt a perfect hand. We have to try to keep going forward, giving up complaining or making excuses. And so we trust in God’s help for us, God’s grace.” As with the original Good Friday, there is the most beautiful outcome if we keep the faith.“We know that the outcome can be resurrection,” Father Cimpl says.
He also gives a good reminder: “It doesn’t have to be great big things we’re trying to do. It’s just in the little ways that we’re around people and that we try to be the best we can around them.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower) are good examples of living as joyful missionary disciples. Neither of these saints is known for massive acts of valor or bravery but rather for living out simple lives with immense joy.
As both Mother Teresa and the Little Flower proved by the difficulties they faced, being a missionary disciple isn’t always easy.
“Being a disciple means that we are continually expanding and pushing the edges or our comfort zone,” Deacon Radio says. “It isn’t like one day we just wake up and decide we’re gonna be a totally different person. It’s expanding the things we are comfortable doing, things that we’re willing to do out of love for Christ and our neighbor.”
But with joy that is rooted in the Lord, anything is possible.
“The most important thing any of us can do is pray.” -Deacon Radio
“Visiting an elderly relative or neighbor, or giving a religious article or offering a Mass for someone—those are the ones I think are focused on better relationships with our fellow man and our neighbor. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ is to lead others to him through our relationships with them.” -Deacon Radio
“It’s a matter of what we’re beginning our day with and ending our day with.” -Father Cimpl