“God’s Mission, Jessica Kunz, and the Call to Missionary Evangelization”, by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

As Christians, one of the transitions that we have to make is the transition from being a disciple to being an apostle. A disciple is one who is called to follow the Lord. An apostle is a disciple who is sent out to proclaim the Lord and his message of the Kingdom of God.

As Christians, we are called not only to be in intimacy with the Lord but also to proclaim the Lord and his message of love, peace and reconciliation to others. We are called to share and proclaim what we have experienced. By virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we are called to be missionaries. Indeed, it is not enough that we receive the Lord and the Christian faith, we are also mandated to share the Lord and our Christian faith with others.

When I was serving at the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and St. John’s Catholic Chapel, the Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, I worked with some American priests and the so-called FOCUS Missionaries. FOCUS stands for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

FOCUS Missionaries are college graduates who give at least a minimum of two years of their lives to serve as Catholic Lay Missionaries on university and college campuses across the United States. Some have been serving as FOCUS Missionaries for a good number of years.

After an intensive training, FOCUS Missionaries are sent to help spread the Gospel on campuses through one-on-one evangelization, Bible studies, personal and group accompaniment and other missionary activities. I personally witnessed the great and transforming impact of these modern day missionaries on university and college students.

One of the current FOCUS Missionaries serving at the University of Nebraska is Jessica Kunz. I first knew her when she was in college at the University of Illinois. She became actively involved in our Newman Chaplaincy Community and activities and was influenced a lot by other FOCUS Missionaries. I remember going with her and other college students on a mission trip to Mississippi to serve the victims of the Hurricane Katrina. After college, she volunteered to be a FOCUS Missionary.

Jessica Kunz recently shared: “I was raised in a Catholic family, was active in my home parish and attended 14 years of Catholic schools. Entering college, I knew a lot about God, but did not really know Him.

Then she narrated what led her to join the Newman Center and the impact it had on her. She said: “With some encouragement from my parents, I lived at the Newman Hall, a part of the Newman Center at the University of Illinois my freshman year. Little did I know that the people and community there were about to rock my life.”

Jessica continued: “I ignored the invitation to bible study my freshman year but could no longer resist the desire to attend, and eventually immersed myself in the Newman Community. Through FOCUS bible studies, conferences, retreats and one-on-one mentoring with student leaders and missionaries, I developed a relationship with Christ.” (Source: http://teams.focusonline.org/unl/missionaries/).

Jessica Kunz, in her own way, is now doing her share in the task of missionary evangelization. She has transitioned from being a disciple to being a missionary apostle. She has been truly evangelized; now she can help in evangelizing others. As she put it, the Newman Community rocked her life. She is now helping rock others’ lives by helping them become closer to the Lord.

Today’s Gospel periscope is about Jesus’ mission and the call to missionary discipleship. It is very clear from the beginning that the said mission of proclaiming Christ and Kingdom of God is intended for all peoples and for all places and that the Lord needs and calls collaborators in this task.

Jesus did not only send into the world his core group of 12 apostles. He called others to be sent. In the Book of Genesis, according to the Greek version (Septuagint), seventy-two is the number of people in the whole world (Gen 10). Therefore, the appointment of the seventy-two other disciples in the Gospel passage is symbolic. It is symbolic of the need to preach the good news to all peoples and it is symbolic of the many followers needed to help in this mission.

Christ’s mission, which is God’s mission (“Missio Dei”), is as wide as the world. There will always be a need for more workers in this huge field of the mission. In fact, even for the produce that is already ripe for harvest, there are not enough workers. Indeed, there will always be a need for disciples to be sent. There will always be a need for people like Jessica Kunz who are badly needed to help in the evangelization even on a full time basis. Yes, God needs you and He needs me to continue His mission in the world.

Some say that although the Philippines has been Christianized and sacramentalized, there is still a great need for it to be truly evangelized. The gospel values still need to permeate all areas of life. The task of evangelization continues to be great and may even be greater in the face of many values, ways and systems that contradict authentic Christian and gospel values. We find so much corruption, division and poverty in a country that used to pride itself as the only Catholic country in Asia before the separation of East Timor from Indonesia.

Jesus’ injunction to pray for more laborers in the vineyard must be understood not only in terms of praying hard so that God may send more laborers. While we need to do this, the injunction must also be taken as a reminder for us to be truly connected to and grounded in God especially within the context of prayerful and loving relationship. It is a call first to be disciples, followers and lovers of the Lord, for we can only share with others what we have and have experienced.

In her years at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois, Jessica Kunz really fell in love with the Lord. I witnessed the times she spent in personal prayer, in the daily celebration of the Eucharist and in retreats. I heard a good number of her confessions and had great conversations, interactions and collaborations with her. I witnessed how she allowed God to draw her closer unto Himself so that the time would come for her to be drawn to proclaim this Lord to others and to draw others to God. Indeed, there can never be a true disciple, a true apostle and a true missionary without a good life of prayer, without a deep relationship with God, the Master of the harvest.

The gospel also contains reminders on the behavior of God’s missionaries. As God’s disciples and apostles, we must expect difficulties and hardships along the way. We are to travel light and without attachments in any forms that can bog us down in their primary missionary pursuit. We must have a sense of urgency and should not allow any distractions by other concerns, including familial and social amenities. We must be heralds of God’s peace. We must accept with gratitude and joy any hospitality and acceptance accorded us. We must also be ready for any forms of rejection and be prepared to move to another place where the message of God’s Kingdom may be welcomed.

Our primary message as missionary disciples is the Lord’s own message: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Anthony Hoekema describes God’s Kingdom as “the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of His people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.” This Gospel message has to be proclaimed whether it is accepted or rejected.

Jessica Kunz has been deliberately and devotedly doing her share in the call to spreading the Gospel. How are we doing our share in embracing and proclaiming the mission of the Lord in our own ways – in the home, in the workplace, in the school, in the community, in the parish and in the society?

About Fr. Robert and his reflections