By Father Scott Traynor
The Gospel according to Saint Matthew concludes with the disciples receiving the Great Commission from Jesus.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16–20)
Each of us, by virtue of our baptism, has received this mission from Jesus. In our families, with our friends and co-workers, and in our communities, each of us is called by Jesus to be on mission to help others encounter Jesus and His love. That means we must grow step by step in our relationship with Him and His Church, to know Him, love Him and to be equipped to help others do the same.
And we don’t do these things on our own. Jesus is with us. His power is at work in us to make a real difference in the lives of others.
Sometimes we can feel like we’re imposing on others when we speak about our faith. You know, polite people don’t speak about religion and politics, right? It might help to consider this passage from Pope Francis in “Joy of the Gospel”:
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. (n.1)
Do I want my family and friends to be set free from sorrow, emptiness and loneliness, to have an endless source of joy come alive in their hearts? Of course I do, and so I am motivated to take up the Great Commission of Jesus in my daily life and to live the adventure of missionary discipleship as a member of the Church.
What is missionary discipleship?
Missionary discipleship means encountering the love of Jesus Christ, growing in relationship with him, and inviting and helping others to do the same.
Missionary discipleship: a call to encounter Jesus
Pope Francis writes:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. (“Joy of the Gospel” n.3)
What an encouraging and uplifting invitation. Every moment of our day is an opportunity to encounter Jesus. Every day I can hope for a new experience of his love. No one is left out. No one is overlooked. “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”
Missionary discipleship: a call to invite and help others
When I receive a blessing from God, God calls me to share that gift or blessing with others. From the day of our baptism, we are commissioned by God to proclaim His love and goodness to others.
… [T]he first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another…at every level and moment. (“Joy of the Gospel” n. 164)
Missionary discipleship: a call to every Christian
Each of us needs help from our fellow Christians to take our next step in relationship with Christ and the Church, and each of us is in a position to be that help for others.
Pope Francis writes:
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. (“Joy of the Gospel” n. 120)
Missionary discipleship is a call from God given to every Christian. Think of a movie or book you really enjoyed. How natural is it for us to invite others to see that movie or read that book? Since every Christian is called to missionary discipleship, we all have the responsibility to assist others to experience God’s love and to help them take the next step in relationship with God and his Church. Parents have that responsibility for their children, pastors for their parishioners, teachers and catechists for their students, each one of us for our family members, friends and co-workers.
And each of us can take great leaps forward by mentoring and formation both to grow in our relationship with God and to grow in our ability to help others do the same.
How everyday missionary disciples changed my life: Father Scott Traynor’s story
When I was in college at Iowa State University, I was blessed to become friends with some very committed Christian men and women. At the time I was quite indifferent in the practice of my Catholic faith. Well, these friends, many of whom were non-denominational Evangelical types, had a gift that really grabbed my attention. The gift was joy. Christian joy.
I mean joy that came from their faith in Jesus Christ. Real and abiding joy that wasn’t just a cheery or optimistic personality, but a joy that was deeper than the ups and downs of life. It was a joy that was steady and vibrant (to borrow from marriage vows) in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, day in and day out.
That joy grabbed my attention because it was a sharp contrast to the boredom, cynicism, aimlessness, sarcasm and insecurities I was familiar with in myself and many of my other friends. Their Christian joy was vibrant technicolor in contrast to flat gray. It got my attention.
I began to ask my Evangelical friends, “There is something different about you. Why is that? Where does that come from?” I wanted to know, because I wanted what they had.
Almost to a person, my question was met with a question, “Scott, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” I didn’t know how to answer because at the time I didn’t really have any idea what that would even look like.
Can I really have friendship with Jesus? How does that happen? How does that start, and how does that grow? I certainly had no idea as a sophomore in college. But thanks be to God for those good and faithful friends. They met me where I was and simply encouraged me to take a little step.
They suggested things like, “Take some time, talk to Jesus like you would talk to a trusted friend.” “Jesus wants to speak to you! Take 10 or 15 minutes and read something from the Gospel. Ask Jesus to help you hear him speak in your heart. Tell him what you think and feel as you are reading His Word.”
I started to do those things very sporadically and usually only when I was having a really bad day. But bit by bit, that habit began to grow and it started to make a real difference in my life.
The summer after my sophomore year in college, I needed something to do for the month of July. In June I was undertaking my summer training for Navy ROTC, and in August I had commitments as the president-elect of my fraternity, so July was open. I ended up volunteering at a Young Life Bible Camp called Camp Castaway in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
Each week for the four weeks of July a new group of 150 juniors in high school from all over the country converged on Big Pelican Lake for an amazing experience. Camp Castaway had great camp activities: water skiing, parasailing, a zip-line tower from the bluff to the lake below, ropes courses and much more. So during the day, there was a lot of high energy fun, and in the evening was a powerful presentation of the basic Gospel message through great talks, dramas, songs and personal testimony.
The camper’s week culminated in an invitation to welcome Jesus Christ into their heart as Lord and Savior in response to his great love Jesus has for them. Camp Castaway staff volunteer for a month, so we got to serve a different group of campers each week for the four weeks. My particular job as the sound and light technician allowed me to be with the campers for all of their activities each day.
Together with the program directors and the video ladies, our workgroup met for Bible study and faith sharing several times a week. We decided to work our way through Ephesians. This was a completely new experience for me to read Scripture with others and talk about our questions, insights and inspirations together. The witness of those four wonderful believers greatly increased my love for the Word of God and my desire to grow in friendship with Jesus in my daily life.
It was during the third week at Camp Castaway that I was blessed with a great grace. On a Monday morning I woke up with these exact thoughts, “God has a plan for my life. That plan is how I am going to be most happy. And I have never asked God what that plan is, and I should, and I want to.”
The more I thought those thoughts that morning, the more my heart was filled with real joy. By lunch I may have been levitating! When I talked to my Castaway friends about this certainty God placed on my heart, they encouraged me to take a year, do some mission work and ask God what that plan might be. By the end of the month I was convinced and joyfully eager to do just that.
With the help of those encouragements (to make a long and miraculous story short), when I got home in August, I found out about, applied to and was accepted for a year of mission work with the National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries. NET is a Catholic Youth Retreat Ministry which trains 18 to 30-year-olds to put on retreats for junior and senior high students in the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Australia. After five weeks of training, the NETers are formed into teams of 12 (six men, six women) and travel in a van from diocese to diocese, staying with host families and conducting retreats for the year.
NET was a transformative experience in my life. During training we had daily Mass, adoration and beautiful praise and worship together. I made my first confession since my actual first confession in second grade. I fell in love with the teachings of my Catholic faith. They came alive for me in a way that had never happened growing up. I learned so much and was so amazed to be surrounded by 120 other young adults who were on fire with their faith.
During training we were given a simple vision and good tools of how to share the faith we had with the young people we would have on retreat. I was so blessed to have wonderful teammates and grow in deep friendship with them as we traveled. And then wow!—to see how powerfully God would touch the hearts of the students on retreat as we shared our testimonies, talked about God and his merciful love, and invited those young people to open their own hearts to Jesus. It was an amazing and life changing year of grace and blessing.
In February of my year on NET, as I was praying one day after retreat that God would bless our host families with great priests, I first heard God’s call in my own heart, “I want you to be my priest.” With the help of my teammates, priests I met along the way, and other great disciples, I was helped to take the next steps in responding to that call and last month celebrated 20 years of ordination as a Catholic priest for the great Diocese of Sioux Falls.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit! I tell you those stories to try to show what missionary discipleship looks like in real life. My college friends were missionary disciples to me, witnessing to God by the joy of Christ in their hearts, and encouraging me to read Scripture and talk to God like a trusted friend.
My Camp Castaway friends were missionary disciples to me, believing in the power of Scripture, confident that God speaks to us today through the Bible, inviting me to take time to visit with them about what I experienced as I prayed with Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and to make that a regular part of our week. To hear the great personal testimonies and effective teaching about Jesus and the basic Gospel message had a powerful effect. All these things were the work of missionary discipleship that helped me to hear and respond to the truth in my heart that God has a plan for me and following that plan would bring me much greater happiness than anything I would come up with on my own.
The NET staff and my teammates on NET showed me the clear path to the Church by sharing daily life together for a year, having the opportunity each day on retreat to give as a gift what I had received as a gift, to pray and live together for a common purpose proclaiming the Gospel, and inviting young people to trust and respond to Jesus.
These were key moments of missionary discipleship that drew me much closer to God, brought about greater conversion in my life and prepared my heart to embrace God’s vocational call in my life. They equipped and motivated me to help others do the same.
These missionary disciples were just being the faithful people they were in everyday normal life but taking that extra step to invite, encourage, witness and share their faith with me. I am so grateful they took that extra step. How greatly God blessed their generosity.
Wherever you find yourself today in relationship with God, two things are certain:
- God has more for you to receive—to grow in a lived experience of His love for you, His presence with you and His power at work in you.
- And you have the opportunity to help someone around you to take a next step in their own relationship with God and His Church by giving as a gift the gift you have received. More than we imagine to receive. More than we imagine to give.
Jesus, bless each one of us to say a generous and trusting “yes” to the adventure of missionary discipleship today and every day “so that your joy may be in us and our joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)