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No. 24

No. 23 of Ad Gentes, the number that precedes this one, tells us what kind of person the Holy Spirit picks to be a missionary.  No. 24 of Ad Gentes is the Council Fathers’ exhortation to those chosen on how they should respond to this invitation, this calling, to be a missionary. It is in reality a good summary of what the spirituality of a missionary should be.  The whole number is near to being a chain of Scripture quotes, and illustrates the Council Fathers’ interest that all Catholic spirituality be rooted firmly in the Sacred Scriptures (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, no. 6; Dei Verbum, no. 25). 

When God calls someone to be a missionary, he must respond without taking counsel with flesh and blood (cf. Gal 1:16).  The one who is called enters into the life of Christ who “emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil 2:7).  He must be ready therefore to live the same kind of life as Jesus did, giving up everything to “‘make himself all things to all men’” (1 Cor 9:22).  Two things are added to this first paragraph of no. 24, however, that are not taken directly from the Scriptures: the need for the help and encouragement of the Holy Spirit for the missionary to follow his calling, and the need for the missionary to remain faithful to his vocation for his whole life.

The missionary will be brave in his preaching of the Gospel, “not being ashamed of the scandal of the cross.”  By his meekness and humility he will show that Jesus’ yoke is sweet and His burden light (Mt 11:29f).  He will bear witness to his Lord by a truly evangelical life.  Here the document refers us to Maximum Illud, the Apostolic Letter written by Pope Benedict XV in 1919 to foster the missions.  In it Pope Benedict points out that any success in the missions is due to God’s grace.  The missionary will share in that success to the degree that he lives a life like Jesus’ and in union with him.

The missionary “will ask God for strength and courage, and in the midst of great affliction and abject poverty he will know abundance of joy” (cf. 2 Cor 8:2).  He will also be obedient, knowing that “obedience is the special virtue of a minister of Christ who by his obedience redeemed the human race.”

The final paragraph of no. 24 reminds missionaries that they “should be renewed in spirit day by day, lest they should neglect the grace that is in them” (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; Eph 4:23; 2 Cor 4:16).  While that is primarily a personal duty of the individual missionary, the document asks bishops and religious superiors to see to it that the missionaries are called together from time to time for renewal, and asks that special houses be set up for this purpose. 

O Mary, preserve in your missionaries the zeal to bring Jesus and his Gospel to all mankind.  Renew in their hearts love for their vocation, so that they do not neglect the graces given to them and thus fail in their work of evangelization. Amen.