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All Baptized are Called to Mission

All Christians are charged with the task to ‘make disciples of all nations’

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Susan KehoeThe season of Lent is a time for deep introspection. We are reminded that human beings are created out of dust and are subject to death. But we also know that we are created by God — out of love — in his image. Further, we have hope because Jesus defeated death. Faithful Christians have the hope of Easter that we will rise with Christ from the grave.

Yet, the Easter message of hope is getting out to fewer and fewer people. The human race — the family of God — is becoming fractured. There is a desperate need to spread the Gospel. Yes, only the Risen Christ can heal his dysfunctional family, but the world needs missionaries who are on fire and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Recently, my husband, Larry, and I met a priest from Nigeria. Larry began to tell him the story of his father’s first cousin who was an Irish missionary priest in Nigeria during the 1920s and ’30s. When my husband explained that his cousin had died in a motorcycle accident, the priest asked whether his name was Father Fintan Phelan. My husband answered yes, and he and everyone who heard the exchange were in shock.

How could this priest know about Father Fintan? It turns out that Father Fintan is still remembered more than 80 years after his death. He was riding his motorcycle in a terrible rainstorm in the middle of the night bringing the Eucharist to a dying parishioner. The bridge over the river had washed out and he couldn’t see it in the dark. He drowned.

The village built a church and named it after St. Fintan, the saint whom Father Phelan was named for. They also named a secondary school after Father Fintan in memorial.

More importantly, his ministry to the people is remembered. Men became priests many decades after his death. Father Fintan’s mission activity is still producing fruit.

It is important to remember that all the baptized are called to mission — not just the clergy. All Christians are given marching orders from Christ himself, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

Of course, not all of us are called to go to foreign lands. But we are all called to evangelize to everyone we meet. Jesus sends us out into the world to spread his life-saving Word.

This is difficult and scary in a world increasingly hostile to believers. But as a priest said in a homily I heard while we were on vacation in Florida, “If you think that being a disciple is easy, you are doing something wrong.”

I do not find it easy to leave my comfort zone. But Jesus told us to proclaim him everywhere, in season and out. It takes grace and the virtue of fortitude.

But then I think of Father Fintan who was ordained in 1927. He accepted his call to Africa shortly after ordination. Ireland at the time was homogenous. He probably had never seen a nonwhite person. Up until recently, in fact, my brown eyes were considered exotic. Yet he was able to bring Jesus Christ to the people in a town in Nigeria. He treated his parishioners with love and dignity.

Fearless disciples are desperately needed. Ireland, for example, was once the source of missionary priests and nuns. Now it is mission territory where African priests are sent.

Indeed, most of the Western world is in need of evangelization. As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, let us remember that we are called to mission. We are a people called and sent.

SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at adeaconswife.com.

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