From Source to Source: On Missionary Work

This piece arose out of a very important conversation I had with Colin Miller about the Source of All Hope mission in Baltimore, MD. The ideas flow entirely from his vision for the mission (he is its founder). I can only hope to have approximated what it means, in my own words. It is a shared reflection on how to minister to those outside the Church in the power of the Eucharist.

FROM SOURCE TO SOURCE

I

The crucial question for the missionary Christian is how to make Christ present to the other. This presence is an existential reality, something felt in the heart and soul first of all. Therefore, evangelization is not first about getting others to adopt this or that proposition or belief (e.g. “become a Christian”) but rather to give them an experience of God’s love in Christ. The evangelist can trust that, once someone experiences God’s love, they will be well on their way to belief in God and Christ.

For the Catholic Christian, the highest intensity of Christ’s presence in the world is the Eucharist. We are beyond blessed to partake in this mystery. But the missionary must ask: How does God’s love pass from the Eucharist, through us, to the other? (And especially to the poor, who may not know Christ at all.)

It would appear that we are dealing with three modes of Christ’s presence in the world: Eucharist, communicant, and non-Catholic other. According to the universal commission given to the Apostles–spread the Gospel to all peoples of the world–our evangelical hope is for these three modes of Christ’s presence to merge in communion. Our aspiration should be for the christification of the world: for everyone to be where Christ is, for everyone to be “eucharistically transformed,” so that God is “all in all.”

First, there is the “intensive” presence of God in Christ in the Eucharist: that is where he truly dwells. But it is not enough for him to sit on our altars: what we need is for him to dwell in us, so that we are his house on earth–just as Paul says, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). By partaking in the Eucharistic meal with earnest devotion and sincere inner participation, we are assimilated (bit by bit) into God’s “extensive” mode of presence in the world. This is just another way of saying that God extends himself into the world through us, who are members of Christ’s mystical Body. (Clearly, Christ needs us to be good, faithful disciples who are able to act with him at the head; otherwise, his Body is less than it could be and delayed in its work.)

From our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, we move on to our encounter with Christ in the poor, the downtrodden, the other no-matter-who. Our hope is to transmit the love of the Source to others. We are Christ’s quasi-mediators in the world– “quasi-” because, ultimately, it is God acting through us when we reach others with Christ. The more we adore and abide in communion with him, the “better” we get at allowing God to act (this is sanctification). We grow more and more into accordance with God’s good will. And by relinquishing whatever we are outside of Christ (which is nothing), Christ comes into us that much more abundantly. He raises up our creaturely nothingness into his Spirit, grants us a share in his salvific plan. That is where he fills us with true living water, which will become in us “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn 4:14).

In the missionary encounter, God’s presence and love is somehow (we don’t exactly know how!) transmitted from the Source and Summit of the faith to others; and we are somehow the relay-point, the deliverer of the message, the vessel or extension of that presence and love. Our formation is so important because the more we are entrusted to God and in consent to his will, the more we are emptied and free of whatever gets in the way of the transmission. The better the formation, the more Christ can work through us to reach the world.

However, there is a third, “elusive” mode of Christ’s presence in the world, the one most easily overlooked, yet perhaps the most important for the Source-work.

The picture painted so far is only half complete, for it is not only the missionary that brings Christ to others: others also reveal Christ to us. For Christ is in them. Whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him (Mt 25:45). Therefore we can never look at the evangelical exchange as a one-way street, as if we were “dispensers” of grace. Moreover, experience shows that we rarely feel like we’re the one “gracing” someone else; rather, it is almost always the other who shows God’s grace to us. That is as it should be, since we are all on an equal playing field as children of God and servants of Christ.

Nonetheless, in this encounter between two human modes of Christ in the world–one person fed by Christ’s broken body, the other person broken like Christ’s body–, there is an imbalance, and that is the imbalance we seek to remedy through our ministry.

II

Flowing out from the Church ought to be a force of integration, restoration and wholeness that is nourished by direct Eucharistic communion. Then, on the recipient side of that flow, there is Jesus’ “I thirst,” which manifests itself (directly?) in the pained, confused, heartbroken people we meet on the street. We discover in the broken person a likeness to Christ’s broken body when he took on our sin; we minister to them as if (because?) they are Christ. Direct Eucharistic communion gives us the strength to do this: to bear with Christ in the broken other. This is how the Church receives as much from broken humanity as she gives it: she learns to love as Christ loves. For Christ desires communion among all in his name.

Jesus’ body, broken for us each day in the Eucharist, enters into our broken bodies to make us whole. Then, we work to pass his gift of wholeness on to other broken bodies, who do not have the Eucharist directly. We find Christ on both ends, but differently. The eucharistic Source of Christ finds a recipient in us, so that we can become a kind of source of Christ for other recipients, in whom we also discover and in some sense receive Christ. The flow of graces goes from source to source, until we are all one in the Source—until all of us broken ones are healed by the broken body of Christ and united in his rising.

In that process, of course, we will confront the worst sorts of suffering, loneliness, and pain. We will feel broken again, and need the Eucharist again. We will share the other’s brokenness, just as Christ shared ours. But when we console the broken other, we are already drawing them into the circuit of Christ’s healing love. Then we are consoling Christ’s own brokenness, by ministering to him in them.

The missionary thus strives to perceive in the other, in the poor, in any non-Catholic, their potentiality to be part of the Eucharistic communion–to be members of the Body of Christ. We should not see the poor as they are in the punctual moment but rather in their destiny, in their potential to be One with the Father in wholeness. After all, it is God’s will for everyone to be where Christ is (Jn 17:24). In that sense, assimilation to the Eucharistic present is latent in everyone; it needs only to be (re)activated by missionary love. To advance in that love, the missionary works on themselves and prays to God for their perception of others to be transformed–so that the presence of Christ in others will not elude them; so they can better perceive him where he is and is destined to become more.

What matters then is befriending and accompanying others in Christ as envoys of invitation into greater communion with him, the Source of life. We ourselves are this invitation. We could almost say we bring people into Eucharistic communion without them knowing it, outside the official boundaries of the Church. But for that to be true, we as her envoys need to be rooted in Christ, in the Church, and in our formation as missionaries. We must let ourselves be daily “reborn from above” so that the other can (also) recognize Christ in us. This will be all the more probable if we keep near him in prayer and the sacraments, in perpetual adoration, attentive love and obedience to the Spirit in all things.

At its best, the missionary encounter–by the grace of God–enables a co-recognition of Christ that brings peace and wholeness to everyone involved. The Catholic may have more vocabulary to make that recognition explicit (“I meet Christ in my neighbor”), but the non-Catholic can experience something just as powerful, an implicit recognition of Christ through us (“Suddenly, I know I’m loved!”). Ultimately, that is the essential thing: commune in Christ’s love. Perhaps that can take place without even mentioning God or Christ? Perhaps it will come simply, from the steady truth of love, which flows out quietly from the Eucharist through us? Perhaps the world can get drunk on Christ, without even knowing (at first) what they’re drinking?

Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.

—Isaiah 55:1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s