Aparecida Chapter One: Missionary Disciples

brazil-popeWe continue our examination of the Aparecida document.

Last week we saw the broad outline of the document:

Part One: The Life of Our People Today

Part Two: The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples

Part Three: The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples

The goal is to bring our life into union with Jesus. That requires knowing Jesus, but it also requires knowing ourselves. Aparecida puts this in terms of “today” and “our people.” Who are we? What does our life look like “today”?

What is the culture that we live in? Aparecida challenges us to think seriously about this question. We must, on the one hand, know our culture so as to distinguish ourselves from it. Not everything the world tells us can match with our faith. If we are to take that seriously, we have to be aware of what the world is telling us.

On the other hand, we also have to be aware of our “world”, not only as something outside of us, but as something inside of us, the place we live. If we are to bring our lives to Jesus, we need to think seriously about where our lives are, what precisely we are bringing Jesus into.


Thus before the main part of the document considers “The Life of Jesus Christ,” Part One investigates “The Life of Our People Today.” It views this topic under two headings:

Part One: The Life of Our People Today

1. Missionary Disciples

2. The View of Reality by Missionary Disciples

The second chapter, which we will consider next week, surveys the “reality” around us. But Aparecida challenges us first to approach that question in terms of who we are as disciples of Christ. We do not want just a “View of Reality.” We want “The View of Reality by Missionary Disciples” – and that means first thinking about what it means to be a missionary disciple.

The word “missionary” is of course strategic. It points in two directions. On the one hand, it reminds us that we go out into the world. It means little to call ourselves disciples of Jesus if we do not share in his salvific mission. A disciple who is not missionary is no disciple at all. When we “view reality,” we view it not just as a given, not just as the world we are stuck with, but as the world Jesus comes to save. We view ourselves as those who are called to go out into this world.

On the other hand, to think of ourselves as “missionary disciples” also means remembering that we are sent “from” somewhere. We do not merely go out into the world. We are sent by Jesus. This is how we are meant to look at the world: not as the place for our experiments, but as the world to which Jesus sends us, and to which we are called to bring his salvation.


Chapter One considers this missionary discipleship under three headings:

1. Missionary Disciples

a. Giving Thanks to God

b. The Joy of Being Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ

c. The Church’s Mission Is to Evangelize

We begin with gratitude. We are thankful for the life Jesus has given us: both natural life and our supernatural rebirth in grace. We are thankful for the world in which he has planted us. We are thankful for the mission he gives us in that world.

Mission must be rooted in gratitude. It is our awareness of the goodness of Jesus that leads us to evangelize. It is our awareness of his goodness that gives us the freedom for mission, because we know nothing will be lacking to us. And it is our awareness of his goodness that drives us to mission, to long to do express our gratitude in action.


Correlated to this gratitude is joy: the joy of being a disciple, and the joy of being a missionary. Mission fails without joy. It fails because if we do not bring joy, no one will want to follow us. And it fails because if we do not have joy, the real joy of Jesus, we will run out of steam.

We find that joy both in being disciples and in being missionaries. It is here especially that we find the connection between mission and discipleship: both are about being filled up with Jesus, transformed, and conformed to him. We receive from him – but we receive transformation, so that we then become active sharers in his mission.


Finally, “the Church’s mission is to evangelize,” to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. True missionary discipleship does not turn us into activists, except in the sense that we bring Jesus Christ to the world. “Woe to me,” says St. Paul, “if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Because if I do not share, I do not possess.

Where is Christ calling you to share his joy? Why don’t you?


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