During college, I had a professor with a reputation for being extremely challenging. Upperclassman students would warn us as freshman: “whatever you do, don’t take him! You will work more in his class than you ever have before!” I vividly recall one chilly, December afternoon walking by this professor’s office and watching students storm out from it, visibly angry. “Not good,” I thought to myself. It would certainly be easier to continue to breeze by in my classes than to be challenged. My senior year, against all advice, I decided to enroll in this professor’s class. The warnings from the upperclassmen were correct. He was difficult and challenged me to grow in my craft like no educator before had ever challenged me. And for that, I am forever thankful. How can you grow without being challenged?
I am only the professional I am today because my professor was dissatisfied with the status-quo. He knew his curriculum would be difficult, but he believed that each of his students could achieve more, even though it was uncomfortable and challenging. He wanted us to excel rather than simply get by.
As I reflect on Pope Francis’ upcoming 81st birthday and give thanks to God for his ministry, I see some similarities between him and my professor. One of our Holy Father’s greatest gifts to the people of God is that he challenges us to be uncomfortable with the status-quo, with “maintenance mode.” In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis exclaims:
“In our day Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples’ echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis, much like my professor in college, presents us with a challenge because he knows that the Church’s potential is incredible, even if this shift to mission mode is not easy.
Convincing our colleagues and community to move from maintenance mode to mission mode, however, can be difficult. Some parish leaders I have encountered argue that their parish has always done something in a certain way and that if they changed it half of their parishioners would leave the parish. Nevertheless, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” (EG, no. 33). The only way that parishes will become missionary communities that are focused on going forth to form missionary disciples is by shedding their contentedness with the status-quo and aversion to conflict at all costs. Pope Francis continues, “the word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him ‘to go forth.’” Let us then turn to God and his Word in order to have the courage to go forth! Moving from maintenance to mission will be uncomfortable, but, as Pope Francis prophetically reminds us, is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ.
Please join me and the Catholic Apostolate Center team in wishing Pope Francis a very happy and blessed 81st birthday, which he will celebrate on December 17th!
For more resources on Missionary Discipleship, please click here.