WHO IS A TRUE MISSIONARY?
By Rev. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
What is happening in the world today in “God’s name” is very scaring. Stories of pastors who are using human rituals to source for power and manipulated miracles are no longer news. The intra-denominational and inter-denominational rivalries and conflicts in the Church are serious concerns. Today, the way and manner some pastors go about sourcing for power, positions, material acquisition call for serious enquiry into who is really a true missionary. In some other religions, terrorism has put the world in a perpetual nightmare. The terrorists claim that they are fighting for God to make everybody summit to Him and his Prophet. The degradation of human dignity and the natural disasters today make one wonders if the end of the world is dawning on humanity.
Jesus had given this prophetic warning: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the entire world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24: 4-14).
In this world of confusion, conflicts, pains and sorrows, there is urgent need for missionaries but how do we know a true missionary? Mission is not restricted to the vocation of the ministry in religious houses. Before any human person comes into existence, God has a purpose for the person as in the case of Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). The crisis of vocation in the world today is as a result of ignorance and greed for material prosperity. Because of the problems that have arisen fromself-made and self-appointed religious leaders, some countries are calling for licence for religious preachers.
The ordinary way to know a true religious leader is through education and formation. It is true that many Churches have formation institutions for their clergy and missionaries. However, let us use the Catholic Church as a case study. When a person feels called to the priesthood, he goes through a psychological test and then admitted into spiritual formation for discernment of vocation for one full year. For this one year, through prayers and discernment, the candidates who show signs of true vocation are recommended to proceed for philosophical studies in the Major Seminary.
In theyears of philosophy, the candidate is made to study most of the relevant social sciences in the seminary. The Seminarian is exposed to the studies of other religions and comparative religions. After a Bachelor's degree in philosophy, the Seminarian goes into practicalpastoral experience during the pastoral year. This year enables the seminarian encounter people of different cultures and religions. After this year, the Seminarian returns to the seminary to begin theological studies for four years. During these years, he is engaged in pastoral work during the long vacation. The number of months for pastoral work depends on each diocese. In theological studies, the Seminarian studies not only Christian theology but the theology of other religions like Islam and comparative religions.
After a Bachelor’s degree in theology, the Seminarian is ordained a deacon when it becomes clear to those in charge of his formation and the Local ordinary (Diocesan Bishop) that the candidate has the potentials to be a Catholic Priest. The Bishoprelying on the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Churchordains the deacon a Catholic priest. After secondary school, the formation of a priest takes a minimum of ten years. The Religious also have many years of formation from Aspirancy, Postulancy to Novitiate before they are finally professed and sent out on mission. The journey towards final profession takes different stages after the first profession depending on the congregation.
A situation where a personbegins a ministry with the claim that he or she heard a voice of God from heaven is unscriptural. It is an abuse of mission. Every discipline of life like law, medicine, engineering etc, requires training for a person who feels inspired to a particular career before the degree is conferred on the under-graduate. No one confers an academic degree on oneself. Jesus took serious the ministry of teaching in his life time. Even death did not end his pastoral formation for his followers. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus Christ and his disciples walked side by side. On the way he began to teach them again to remind them that his death is the fulfilment of the Old Testament Prophecy.
His teaching made a deep impression on them and their hearts burned within them. This teaching and scriptural exegesis opened their eyes to recognize that it was Jesuswho broke the bread for them to eat. The Scriptures prepares the Christian to encounter Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.Ignorance is a gateway to encountering the forces of darkness. The effect of the dialogue of encounter on the road to Emmaus was a humble request for the perpetual presence of Jesus who was in their midst. “Stay with us Lord, for night has fallen” (Luke 24).
Without Jesus and his teaching, the night and darkness of ignorance would cloud the minds of the ignorant followers of fake pastors and prophets. Saint Paul told the Ephesians that the essence of Christ’s teaching is to give capacity to “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers and his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4: 11-15).
The tendency to source for food ishuman but some source for wants instead of needs.When Peter and the disciples returned to their former fishing business, the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to them at theSea of Tiberias(John 21:2-14). In this encounter, Jesus made Peter to confess his love for him three times and in the process gave them the summary of the contents of the mission he had entrusted to them. He told Peter to feed his lambs and care for his Sheep after which he said: “Follow me” (John 21: 15-19) and remain fishers of human beings (Matthew 4:19). A true missionary is a person called by God, trained and formed by human agents and senton mission in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. A true missionary is aware that the call demands a continuous responds hence, he or she must never cease to develop his or her potentials through prayers, learning and works of charity. Failure does not end the work of mission hence a true missionary is a person who keep on the struggle relying on God for continuous renewal until he reaches heaven to meet God the author and owner of the mission.
Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria and a Consultor in the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City (email@example.com)