“He has revealed to mankind who he is. This definitive self-revelation of God is the fundamental reason why the Church is missionary by her very nature. She cannot do other than proclaim the Gospel, that is, the fullness of the truth which God has enabled us to know about himself.”
John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio 5
When we think about missionary activity, we tend to have many conflicting ideas. First, there is the stereotype of the aggressive believer who “imposes” their faith on others. Whether it be Christians or Atheists, we can all imagine the militant person who defends their view with a limited perspective that tends to characterize their opponents as “stupid” or other such reductions. Encountering such a person is always a conflict in which the goal is merely to “one up” the other. Most people connect being a missionary with such a person.
On the other extreme, there is the idea of the lukewarm Christian whose faith is so private that it remains hidden. Such a person is so lukewarm and uncommitted to pursuing truth that you are left wondering if they hold any convictions. This kind of person often seems passionate about nothing that actually matters. This person may actually call themselves a Christian, but their lives convict them of something completely different.
It is not my wish to condemn others, so I present these portraits not so much an analysis of people I know, but rather an idealized caricature of extremes into which we all fall from time to time. In my own life, I often fluctuate between the overzealous believer and the lukewarm observer. Sometimes I am so convinced of the rightness of my faith that I fail to listen to the person with whom I am talking. Instead of responding to what they say, I tend to stereotype their position and respond to what I think they are saying. In this context, conversation tends to devolve into competing monologues.
But I also fall into the other extreme. I am so worried about offending others or I am so committed to avoiding any kind of disagreement that my conversation becomes trite and mere pleasantries. Being authentic to who I am as a Christian must be something in between these two extremes.
In the coming articles, I want to explore what it means to be a missionary. I would argue that being a Christian leads naturally to become a missionary. This is not because mission is an activity of the Church, but because it is at the heart of what it means to be Christian. If we are Christians, then we should proclaim the person of Jesus Christ both by the holiness of our life and by the nature of our conversation. Our faith should transform us in such a way that to know us is intertwined with knowing Christ.
That is what being a missionary is all about. We should not simply want people to agree with our positions or hold the same views as us. We should want others to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ because we are convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer to all personal and communal problems. We should proclaim that the solutions to the world’s problems involve a deep and loving communion with Jesus Christ, and that by promoting this communion, we are contributing to the good of the world. We should recognize how knowing Christ has brought us great joy and peace. In response to this gift, we should want to share his love with others.