At this time of year I am nurtured by fond memories of the Kuching Archdiocese. I remember the busy RCIA activities as large numbers of catechumens prepare to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter and recall especially the joyful applause as the newly baptised process into the Cathedral sanctuary, all dressed in white, at the Easter Vigil. All this is an expression of the youthful vitality, energy and growth of your local Church, a Church fully alive! By contrast, in the ten years since I returned to Ireland, I have experienced a Church in decline and have not seen even one adult baptism!
From the beginning, when Jesus commanded his followers to “Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples” (Mt 28:19) the Church has been by nature missionary. We are told that after the Ascension “the number of disciples kept growing” (Acts 6:1) and we read how St Paul travelled widely, enduring great hardships and even death to spread the Good News. In later centuries missionaries went forth to preach the Gospel throughout Europe, and then to Africa and Asia. Today, in Sarawak, that great missionary outreach continues through your own local clergy, catechists and the RCIA. Large numbers are involved each year, priests, religious, catechists, teachers and sponsors, in inviting and preparing catechumens for entry into the Church.
What we can easily forget is that this work of evangelisation is not just the duty of ‘specialists’ like priests, religious and catechists, but that it is the responsibility of everyone. Pope John Paul II warned that “No believer in Christ can avoid the supreme duty to proclaim him to all peoples” (Redemptoris Missio, 3). Through Baptism and Confirmation every Christian is commissioned to bear witness to the Gospel. Many may feel that they have insufficient knowledge of their faith to teach and guide others, but there are different forms or levels of evangelisation, beginning with the most basic and most essential: the giving of good example. Pope Paul VI emphasised this when he wrote, “The first means of evangelisation is the witness of a truly Christian life” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).
A story is told that one of his monks, Bro Andrew, asked St Francis of Assisi, “Please Father, teach me to preach eloquently like you”. Francis agreed and asked Andrew to follow him. They walked together through the streets, greeting and smiling at the workers, merchants and shoppers; helping an old lady carry her washing upstairs; sharing a loaf of bread with a poor beggar; listening to people’s complaints and problems, and praying with a traveller setting out on a journey. As they walked and walked, Bro Andrew was becoming more annoyed and finally asked, “Bro Francis, excuse me, but when will you teach me to preach?” The Saint smiled and answered, “Why Bro Andrew, we have been preaching all day”.
Preaching begins with how we live each day in our family, neighbourhood and workplace. We do this by simple acts of kindness and helpfulness, like visiting the sick and lonely, sharing with those in need and encouraging the downhearted. When we feel people may be ready we can respectfully ask if they would like to learn about the faith and if so, introduce them to the RCIA or a catechist. “Preach often; sometimes use words,” advised St Francis! Yes, every one of us is called to be a missionary and has the ability to be one, just like those simple, uneducated fishermen whom Jesus first called to be “fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). That is still our mission today.
Bro Columba Gleeson