FAITH looks back: Mike and Linda talk in their own words about being lay missionaries After a nine-hour flight, our plane landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana. As we rested under the mosquito netting in the Salesian residence hall, we reflected on the decision-making process that led us to commit a year of our lives to a Salesian lay mission program in Sierra Leone, fulfilling our lifelong dream of volunteer service. When we began this discernment process, we found a publication entitled, Response, A Directory Of Faith-Based Volunteer Opportunities. It was exciting to read about the vast array of opportunities to serve. Our next step was practical. We went to visit a good friend who works as a financial adviser and asked for his help to make this dream a reality. We also got input from our children, family and friends.But, most important, we prayed. We asked God for signs that this dream was something we should pursue. During this time of reflection and discernment, we also made practical plans. We rented our house to some good friends who wanted to help us make the dream a reality. We met with an attorney and established a living trust. We met with family members and good friends who would offer support and advice to our children. We assessed the health and well-being of Linda’s 80-year-old mother, who was very supportive throughout our discernment process. In August 2002, we completed the orientation process at the Salesian retreat house in New Rochelle, New York. We met priests, brothers, sisters and other lay missioners who had volunteered in other developing countries. All the pieces were falling into place. We had experienced sign after sign that this was a good decision, that this dream was truly part of our life’s journey together. This time, at the end of our orientation, we prayed with 30 other lay missioners who were making a similar commitment. We were inspired and ready to make this commitment. We returned home to meet with family and get their blessings. Good friends hosted a prayerful “sending off party.” Our church community prayed with us and offered us support. Now, as we rested under mosquito netting and contemplating our last leg of the journey to Sierra Leone, we felt confident that our decision to serve as lay missioners would be one of the best decisions of our lives. And as it turned out, it definitely was.
by Mike and Linda Brown
Discerning through spiritual highs and lows The Confessions of St. Augustine is considered a classic in western literature. It’s a “before and after” story. Augustine writes beautifully of his call: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you ... you called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.” In discerning a vocation, it may help to ask, “Am I truly going toward someone or something, or am I running away?” For Augustine, it seemed to be both. Sometimes, people who experience the beauty and richness of the Catholic faith enter into the process known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). They are elated with their newfound faith, having found in Christ and in the church a meaning for life. Some Catholics, on the other hand, find themselves quitting the church for a time, considering it “freedom” from what seems oppressive. Then they return. In either case, whether you have found the faith for the first time, or through some conversion experience, you have begun to see what Augustine saw – the emptiness of a life without God. In the “spiritual high,” that can come with conversion, some have come to think that God was calling them to the priesthood or religious life, when what was really happening was a first-time awareness of an owned faith or owned spirituality. Wisely, the canon law of the church requires neophytes (those new to the faith) to wait two years before entering into formal formation. Some have suggested this two-year delay might also be a good thing for any young Augustines of our time. The question is, are you truly running toward, or are you running away? It is wise at this point to seek out a spiritual director and discernment. After all, Augustine’s famous line, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you” applies to all human hearts whatever our call in life.
by Fr. Matt Fedewa
Missionaries Christ’s hands and heart in the world When we read stories like Mike and Linda’s, describing their missionary trip to Sierra Leone, are we nudged by a twinge of guilt? We may wonder if we’re doing enough – being disciples enough. Are we supposed to become missionaries, too? The church, by its very nature, has a missionary spirit. We are all called to continue Christ’s own mission in the world. The word, mission, comes from the Latin for “to send,” and like the apostles, we are sent into the world at the end of every Mass – to be Christ’s hands, heart and voice in the world. The U.S. Catholic bishops, in Teaching the Spirit of Mission Ad Gentes: Continuing Pentecost Today, remind us that Jesus is the first of all missionaries, since he was sent to all of us by the Father. God sent Jesus as an outpouring of love and we are to reflect this love by encouraging everyone to “enable people to share in the communion which exists between the Father and the Son.” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio) Our ability to do this is rooted in our personal relationship with Christ – in this sense, every Catholic who has had a personal encounter with the Risen Lord has the heart of a missionary. So how do we do this? Some of us are, like Mike and Linda, called to travel the world preaching and teaching. Some of us are called to catechize within our own parishes. Some of us help by, as St. Francis said, “Preaching the Gospel always. Use words when necessary.” We preach the Gospel and act as missionaries when we gather clothing to give to the poor, when we tithe, when we send a check to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, when we donate blood. In living our Christian vocations, we can be missionaries in our own spheres, bringing Christ’s light to those who have not experienced it. We are given the gift of sharing in Christ’s own purpose in this world. This is why, when sent forth at the end of Mass, we proclaim joyfully, “Thanks be to God!” By Elizabeth Solsburg