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Why We Have Lay Missioners

A Reflection by Peter Mueller, FMS Full-Time Domestic Volunteer

It’s coming up on mission appeal season here at FMS. That’s the time of year when our returned missioners go to parishes all over the U.S. to make presentations about their mission, in order to spread the word about the good work being done on mission and to solicit donations for our program. Most dioceses have a formal Mission Cooperation Plan to allot parishes to the many mission groups that request to make appeals.

In setting these up, I’ve been again and again reminded that the majority of people in mission work are clergy or religious. Many of the forms don’t have options for “lay mission organization” (I write it in), and some dioceses expect that all presenters be priests or religious.

All this leads me to a little reflection on the role of laity in mission.

There are some who think that the age of clergy and religious is ending, that there is an irresistible movement towards an entirely lay church. There are also those who think that mission, particularly international mission, is the exclusive province of priests and religious.

Both are wrong, I think. Firstly, there will always be a need for priests and religious. Lay and religious people complement each other; each serves as a reminder to the other that we live in the world but are not of it. As religious life bears witness to the need to focus on God and not the things of this world, lay people, according to Vatican II, “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God”.

Secondly, lay mission is not a new thing, and lay missioners are not intended as replacements for clergy and religious order missioners. Lay missioners are rather the fulfillment of the mission community; they take their rightful place next to their religious brothers and sisters, a sign that the call to mission is truly universal. The example of a committed, observant lay person is a powerful one in communities where an active faith life is thought to be “just something that priests do”.

In his apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, John Paul II emphasized, echoing the Second Vatican Council, that, “the call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.

And just as Christ said, “do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill”, so may the lay missioner say, “I do not come to replace the priests and religious, but to complete the character of mission”.

The great lesson is that everyone is called, regardless of their station of life. Every one of us has been sent out to labor in the Lord’s vineyard. To quote Christifideles Laici again: “A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.” This is what our missioners will try to convey in their mission appeals, as part of their on-going, “life-long mission to North America”.

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We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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