What would you give to convert one soul to Christ? This weekend a young married couple I know are attending a retreat during which they will find out where they are to be sent for two weeks of missionary work somewhere here in the United States. They will go with just the clothes they have on—no food or money—and they will rely on the generosity (please God) of parishioners and others for their wellbeing as they go about the task of evangelization; of taking the good news of the Gospel to others.
What would you give to convert one soul to Christ? Yesterday I baptized a beautiful newly born baby girl. Her young parents are in the process of moving from the area to become teachers in a Catholic school on the other side of the country; one which has a vibrant life of faith, with the reverent celebration of the sacraments and good formation in the virtues for the students. They have not yet bought their first home, and yet in a few days they will nevertheless pack up their belongings and their daughter and head to their new lives; setting out to build a home and a family in which Christ is truly the head of the household, and to teach young people about the joy of knowing the Lord and living by his precepts.
And so I ask again: what would you give to convert one soul to Christ? I do not ask this in some perfunctory way, as a rhetorical phrase simply designed to keep your attention, but as a serious challenge; one that should move each of us to question the relative comfort of our own situation and ask, how are we contributing to the missionary life of the Church? How are we living the commission given to us as disciples of Christ to go out into the whole world and proclaim the good news.
Let me be clear: we are not all called to a radical setting-aside of our daily lives for this work. Though the Church calls men and women to apostolic poverty, and the life of celibacy and obedience, most of us are not asked to lay down the tools of our trade and engage exclusively in such activity. And yet we are all called, all of us, to have that sense of detachment from the things of the world that enables us to co-operate in this work. We are all called to sit lightly to the material gifts which bring us comfort and ease of life, and even the bonds of family and friendship, and to allow them to be used to bring about our own sanctification and to attract others, through that, to the way, the truth, and the life which we identify uniquely in the person of Christ.
When we look around our churches and parishes, our own effectiveness in this task should be clear. Do we see people here whom we only ever see in this place, or do we recognize people from other parts of our lives—our places of work or study; our colleagues or neighbours? Are the people with whom we worship every Sunday just that and nothing more? Even if we know them all by name, how many of the people in the pews are here because (in some way, at least) of our personal example, or our invitation to come and to worship the Lord; to come and to meet Christ?
The truth is that for many of us, the answer to these questions is rather bleak. And yet the mandate of the Lord in today’s gospel is that this work of kerygma—of offering others the treasure of the gospel—is an essential part of our life in Christ and thus our life in the Church, which is characterized by the same apostolic mark given to the Twelve apostles. The mission given to apostles by Christ is, by virtue of our baptism into his life and our incorporation into his mystical body the Church, given also to us. In the words of Saint Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours”.
Thus without our participation in the missionary activity of the Church—a participation which is the duty not simply of bishops, or priests, or religious; of those who consecrate themselves to Christ and the Church in a specific way, but all who share the grace of baptism—(without our participation in the missionary activity of the Church) we cannot be fully alive in Christ, cannot be fully conformed to his saving life, and cannot hope to grow in his likeness and win the crown which, by his passion, death, and resurrection, he has won for us.
We return to the question with which we began: what would you give to convert one soul to Christ? The answer that we must give is not that we must give up every thing, although some are called to do just that, but that we must each give up our selves. In the same way that baptism represents our death to the old lives of sin and birth to the life of Christ in God, so by extension our co-operation in the missionary live of the Church—in her work of evangelization—is itself sacrificial; it is itself the setting aside of our selves in favour of Christ. For some that sacrifice is of material comfort or wealth; for others it is the sacrifice of risking humiliation or rejection in order to invite others—our friends and family and work colleagues—to come to know the person of Christ and his Church, whether by our words or actions. Whatever our state of life, whatever our economic capacity, age, or position, that same call to live and proclaim the life of Christ is ours. We will all—no matter our place on earth—be called to account for our participation in that life when, one day, we stand before the judgement seat of our heavenly Father. Let us pray God for the grace to be his missionaries here in this life, giving of ourselves to Christ that in so doing we might gain the rest he offers us in the next.