We've probably all heard it. Mass attendance is dropping. The Church is getting smaller. The second largest denomination in the United States is ex-Catholics. Insert your favorite Catholic woe-ism or paltry stat here.
Now don't get me wrong. These things should be concerning to us especially when Jesus made his mission to us very clear: "Go, therefore, to all the nations." But the way we respond to this news is often telling. One response I’ve heard is that we're going back to being an "early Church.” Now, I think this analogy has some interesting conclusions - some helpful and some not. One that I find helpful is the missionary character of the early Church.
The premise is that everyone who was a believer was also a missionary. They were all spreading the Good News actively. There was an urgency that compelled these early believers to share what they had been given. So, for bearing fruit today, the missionary aspect of the early Church seems like a good place to start.
But let's dig a bit deeper. So often today as soon as I hear the word “missionary,” I think of a foreign country. That gets my planner and provider personality fired into critique mode and I quickly identify 20 reasons why this is probably a bad idea or at least a difficult one. But then here come those words of Jesus again: "Go". So, what do I do? Planning mode. Let's figure out the best strategy to accomplish this task with the least obstacles, pain, and suffering as possible. Now that I have my sweet strategic plan, I can go be a missionary.
See, this same process is often used by missionaries to foreign countries AND those local missionaries engaging in the New Evangelization alike. But, does this really get us back to the missionary impulse of the early Church? I'm going to say, "Probably not." And here's why:
You see, the early Church was missionary by nature, not by strategy. They themselves had seen the miracles and heard the teachings of Jesus or were brought to believe by those who had. They were convicted of what they saw and heard and couldn't help but share it and verify it by their life of faith. They didn't say, "If we go do this" or "If we all just say this" then people will be converted. They lived a life in the Church and in the Holy Spirit and that compelled them to give witness by word and deed wherever they went.
Today, I help run VIA Missionaries - a missionary initiative of the Youth Office. Yes, there's strategic planning involved, calendars to consider, and meetings to attend. But my biggest hope is that maybe, just maybe, we can be the leaven of a missionary Church, not just in our "VIA Missionaries,” but in the parishes and individuals of our Archdiocese - communities that are missionary by nature.