11. Missionary Vocation: Walking with people to the fascinating encounter with the Risen Pilgrim
Missionary theology is a theology that is lived on the road, through dialogue and listening, in history and in a nation that feels moving on with the power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. Walking we better understand people and the poor: we are pilgrims along with other pilgrims. To listen is to share and is already evangelization, it is to give voice to all, giving everyone respect and value; it is to build good relationships through an open, honest and unbiased dialogue; it is to remain in the history, assuming the reality of this present time while remembering the past and planning the future; it is to live the sharing which reaches its maximum expression in Jesus’ Eucharistic gestures. Theology of mission is all this and, if it is lived well, the missionary himself will also be evangelized. From evangelizers to evangelized, because everyone can say a word of the Gospel.
Ana Simoni – Neiva Chiossi
If you want to deepen
11. Missionary Vocation: Walking with people to the fascinating encounter with the Risen Pilgrim
(Ana Simoni – Neiva Chiossi)
Since Vatican II, the people of God began to realize that the whole Church is missionary and that she has no other reason for being that the mission, that is, being sent to all peoples. The document Evangelii Nuntiandi enunciated this issue with great force and since then each Pope and every bishop reiterated that the Church’s reason for being is the evangelization of the world.
Missionary theology is a walking theology. Normally, when speaking about mission, going out somewhere comes to mind. Yes, mission is a path, is moving, but not necessarily from one geographic location to another. First, it is a path that is made from the heart. A path that leads to the encounter, and not only a n encounter at the end of the road, but all along the missionary walk there will be many encounters, as well as many disagreements.
The missionary vocation, by its very nature, is a call to walk with the people and to cross paths with the risen pilgrim who brings us to read with fresh eyes the old realities. The Word of God leads us to a fascinating encounter with Jesus in sharing. This reflection invites us as Family of St L. Murialdo to pay attention and discern the realities blocking our vision, and the mediations lighting and opening our eyes under the tender and transforming presence of the Master.
The text of Luke 24:13-35 calls us to a missionary journey, and the first step is to come close and listen: to look at reality beyond what meets the eye, step on the same ground, go the same way, listen, listen and listen. However, for a member of the Family of St L. Murialdo, listening has to be accompanied by a vision of faith, in order to put the spirit of faith along the way as L. Murialdo did, accompany the people updating their history, remembering with them the divine presence and so being able to celebrate, share and be sent back to the mission, with a burning heart and without fear of the dark.
In the text, Jesus appears unrecognized, gets acquainted and walks with the disciples, hears their cries, reveals them the meaning of the Scriptures, breaks the bread and, once recognized, disappears. This is a challenge for the Murialdine missionary project.
Fr. Edegard Silva Junior, a La Salette missionary living in Alagoinhas – BA, dialoguing with a group of religious from the region about the text of the disciples of Emmaus spoke of six theologies (meaning here “theology” as experience and practice more than science and theory) on which we will briefly reflect: Theology of the Road, Theology of Listening, Theology of Dialogue, Theology of History, Theology of Sharing and Theology of Mission.
1. Theology of the road
The Latin American ecclesiology coined the term “Walking Church”. It has a very broad meaning: we are a church on the way, and the way is done walking!
In the Gospel, Luke shows Jesus always on the road, and in the text on which we are reflecting it is said that the road leads from Jerusalem to the little village of Emmaus, which is about ten kilometres away. Let us imagine that road, probably so similar to those we walk in so many Murialdine missions, dusty roads, hard ground, fields, wells and rocks. Plus, our roads are many, the roads of the Church, of the Family of St L. Murialdo… and it is in this diversity of ways that we get together with the hopeless and oppressed walking people.
The missionary learns from Jesus that s/he must come gently, stand alongside and accompany the steps of those who are already on the road. Jesus starts walking with them in the same direction, albeit in the opposite direction it should be, and does not condemn them for it. They had abandoned Jesus, but Jesus does not abandon them.
As a mere stranger, a foreigner, an “ignorant” of things from there, he comes close with an attitude of humility and some curiosity. It is walking with people that we learn the importance of opening up to the stranger, the different one. Yes, we have to be concerned about the situation and life of people, what makes them suffer, what prevents them from living their freedom. This was the attitude of Jesus with those two disciples: he showed interest and accompanied their talk and walk.
2. Theology of listening
The text does not even mention the word listening, but the attitude of Jesus is very clear: as He gets close and walks next to the two, He also is in an attitude of listening. They talk and he listens, being interested, curious, as one who is learning, knowing the history at this time.
Jesus’ listening, as it should be lived in our family of St L. Murialdo, is not an outward show listening, but a listening with body, with life, being welcoming and non-judgmental, an unconditional listening. Let others speak, and feel the listener’s attention. This is one of the first attitudes of a missionary, if s/he does not listen, neither should talk. To be at the service of listening initially we need to be available for such an attitude. More than an activity, it is a “way of being,” of respecting and caring for the other. For this, we must have empathy; it helps us to read with the other’s eyes and makes interesting the subject.
Jesus had the patience to listen to a story he already knew, listening to the outburst of the two, who were discouraged, full of fear, insecurity and uncertainty. At that time how good it is to have someone listening to us! Luke presents us Jesus in loving listening, as the Pedagogy of Love suggests: listen with your heart.
Jesus’ listening opened the space and authorized his speech. This is what happens to us, when people feel that we listen to them, they also hear what we have to say.
Maybe one of the secrets of our missionary vocation hides in listening. To listen is already to evangelize. In this way the community strengthens and grows, opens to listen to each other, to listen to the “pilgrims” who walk with them, to listen to God.
The “Pilgrim Jesus” spoke only after the two disciples were emptied of their disappointments and sorrows. This is essential in the mission: first listen and once welcomed the other’s discourse, then we can talk.
3. Theology of dialogue
The road of Emmaus is a path of dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is listening, speaking, asking questions and the disciples are involved in this process. This is a very Murialdine way of living the mission. Getting in dialogue with people is, in turn, to appreciate their reality, share our realities, learn from them and teach what we know. Dialogue should not diminish the person, the relationship is horizontal, and both are subjects. This is a challenge for the mission, whether in the countryside, in the city, in institutions, in the street or in the parish… To dialog! With whom the FSLM is called to dialog today? Within the same FSLM: How much we dialog? How we are talking with the world? And what about our dialogue with the Lord?
The wise educator Paulo Freire taught us that the key element of any relationship is dialogue. Dialogue is a feeling of love made action, made loving dialogue, as Jesus did and as, indeed, our beloved L. Murialdo did. Dialogue becomes a condition for the encounter with the Risen One in this missionary trip. To dialogue it is necessary to get in the other’s position, without authoritarianism, with the awareness that true dialogue cannot diminish the person; on the contrary, it helps to free him/her.
So it was in the Emmaus story, dialogue went interspersing with the disciples’ uncertainty, fear and blindness. Dialogue was developing and was creating the relationship. This is a theology that accompanies our missionary path: dialogue with those walking by your side, with society and with the Church.
4. Theology of history
The text of Luke presents Jesus remembering: He picks up the history, the steps of the journey of the people of God–the Exodus, the liberation, the prophecies, and the cross… He even urges the disciples to pay attention seeing their difficulty understanding this story.
How important it is to know the history of the region, the people, and to recognize God’s action in this history in order to help them see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” When people are very sad, hopeless and discouraged, eyes grow blind. It is our task, with the eyes of faith, to help lighten the darkness they are living, enveloped in God’s presence and aided by the information the people themselves offer us. It is not just a retelling of history, but rereading it with spirit of faith.
Martinho da Vila (a Brazilian musician) sings the need to sit around the fire to share knowledge, “the kids around the fire, will learn things of dream and truth, they will realize what is to win a flag and know what the cost of freedom was.” In fact, how we got excited as children, in our family, listening to the stories our parents told us, some true and some fiction, but full of teachings… Like the disciples… at this moment the heart starts lighting… it burns… Today our children and young people are in need of a theology of history/
This is an important point also for the “Education of the Heart:” after being near to young people, listening to them, talk with them, when we already feel on the same path, when they already feel us as their travel companions, we find more harmony and openness to propose new paths, think and live different values, doing a new reading of reality and assuming a new rhythm in this walk that sometimes becomes difficult.
Theology of History will only take effect if it is preceded by coming near, listening and dialoguing; then ours will not be mere words, as we often do in order to “teach” and put into the minds of the young what we believe is correct, but rather they will be a gesture of love, a way to help them plan their future. As in the Emmaus story: they were returning to their little world, Jesus helps them walk forward into the deeper meaning of Scripture, the mystery of the Messiah and his fascinating victory: the Resurrection.
5. Theology of sharing
The Pilgrim Jesus–that stranger who walked with the disciples, accepted their outbursts and spoke with them–it is no longer a stranger; now there is trust in this relationship, so he is invited to stay with them, to come into their home and sit at their table.
We know that hospitality, both in the first and second Testament is of fundamental value. In the preaching of Jesus, it even appears as an element of salvation (I was a stranger and you welcomed me); but also in many other texts, in the letters, we find recommendations and insistence on hospitality. Once the guest is welcomed, he becomes sacred.
The invitation of the disciples shows that they are aware of the precious custom of hospitality, but more so, it means that there is in their hearts the desire to welcome him. Jesus expected the invitation, but hints to walk ahead. He does not impose, wants to be desired in order to be welcomed, he longs for this invitation. In mission there is no place for imposition, rather it has to be a mutual desire.
Breaking and sharing. “When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Emmaus not only resumes the multiplication of loaves and the Last Supper, but is also a very special way of referring to the Eucharist. It is clear here that the gesture is not just a ritual, but an experience.
The house and the table are sacred places for celebrating the encounter. Pope Francis tells us that we are called by God to promote the culture of encounter. There is here a strong call to mission: to create and be committed in a culture of encounter. So it was with Jesus, with L. Murialdo, with many brothers and sisters who preceded us and are faithful witness of the missionary vocation: they participated, were committed and loved each other. There is no way to be a true missionary disciple without affective bonds with people, with those God has placed in our path. These ties are built along the way, but you need to “get into the house,” “sit at the table with them” and “share the one bread.”
This is the time to celebrate the path, to share life and love. This is where our eyes open: in sharing! Sharing has the power to break down barriers, increase spaces, create links and build communion. They shared the road, disappointments, anxieties, shelter and bread; “…then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but Jesus vanished from their sight.”
In one of the testimonies described by a Bible Group it is said that they were praying on the text of the disciples of Emmaus and the coordinator asked everyone, “and where did Jesus go after he went out of sight of the disciples?” …All were silent, as if searching for the answer, then a very simple lady said, “Well! He went inside of them!” Exactly! That’s what happened! That’s what happens! Hence, nothing can scare the disciple, because inside he has an insuperable power. Those who were full of doubts, sorrows and fears, become bold missionaries safely walking even on dark trails, since their interiors are illuminated by a profound experience of Jesus.
6. Theology of mission
“That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.” They return at night, staring into the darkness. They come back filled with missionary zeal. This gesture inspires our missionary vocation in the Family of St L. Murialdo. The encounter with the Risen One spurs to mission.
With heart on fire for the new reading of Scripture, fed by the shared bread and fascinated by the presence of the Risen Christ, the two disciples become strong and overcome any obstacle. The new discovery generates a change in their lives. The inner darkness disappeared and the night outside is no more scary. Therefore they feel the urge to return to Jerusalem, and there they immediately go, reversing that path of fear and sadness they had done. Now there’s courage, joy and determination.
The late Fr Comblin, in an article that spoke about the “Aparecida Draft,” said, “According to the Aparecida Draft, everything will be mission-oriented. The practical realization of this project will require the entire 21st century. This project of the Bishops will require an attitude change and a behaviour change. Mission will be the priority and it will leave in the background taking care of the small minority attending parishes. Priestly formation will be radically changed. The religious will have to return to their original vocation and stop being administrators of parishes or institutions.”
Today, Pope Francis insists on a Missionary Church. In 2013 WYD he addressed the religious who are in relationship with young people (it seems so appropriate for FSLM): “…Let us educate them to mission, to go out, to leave. Jesus did the same with his disciples: He did not keep them glued to him, like a hen with her chicks. He sent them! We cannot stay locked up in the parish, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! It is not merely opening the door to welcome, but rather heading out the door to seek and meet. Let us definitely think the pastoral from the periphery, from those who are farther away, from those who do not usually come to the parish. They also are invited to the Lord’s Table.”
Like the disciples of Emmaus, the hearts of the missionaries should always burn with joy and hope, motivating us to embrace mission with a healthy optimism, with the joy that comes from within. This is a fundamental prerequisite for the missionary. Optimism and joy can infect our brothers and sisters, encouraging them to embrace mission with enthusiasm and strongly face difficulties and the risk of failure.
A burning heart will obtain that other hearts will burn. The contemplation of Emmaus scene helps us, as missionaries of the FSLM, to overcome the negative and paralyzing feelings that narrow our horizons and prevent us from perceiving the possibilities offered for the present and for the future. The Resurrection is bearing fruit in our lives!
We cannot omit still pointing out something very important: when the missionary starts walking with the people, he is going to find new things with them. At first, as evangelizers, we want to present Christ to them, enabling them to experience the presence of the Risen One. In fact, this is a way of the missionary vocation, but this is a two-way road, and the missionary is also fascinated by the presence of Christ in the road, he meets Him while meeting with the people, he himself lives the experience he wanted for others. Therefore, in the mission, wanting to present Christ to others, we ourselves meet Him again and renew our commitment to Him, and we get excited again about mission.
Finally we can say that only those who are able to hear with their own ears, to see with their own eyes and, someway, to touch with their own hands the beauty of the fascinating encounter with the Risen Christ will be able to announce it to others.
Let us hope that in the way the Family of St L. Murialdo makes with the people of God we may increasingly experience a Pilgrim Christ, loving and merciful, and walking with us!
Hna. Ana Simoni Daros Deon (Feira de Santana – Bahia)