Mission makes us forever young

Recently, I travelled from Hamilton to Sydney Central. Over the past 40 years, I have made this train trip more times than I wish to remember, but interestingly most of the significant events in my adult life have been prefixed by this trip south. I remember leaving home at the age of 19 to join the missionary Franciscan Order, which I pursued for some years until I felt God calling me elsewhere.

On this recent occasion my mission was to join 500 people gathering from around Australia and overseas for a biennial conference on Mission. Organised by Catholic Religious Australia and Catholic Mission, I found the Mission: one heart many voices 2019 (MOHMV) engaging and rewarding.

Conference participants could choose to enjoy one or all three days, and between various workshops. My experience of this and previous MOHMV conferences is they are well-organised and high quality. It included shared prayer, listening and reflection, high-calibre speakers, and great food all in a comfortable venue. To be honest, for me, committing to the length and depth of a three-day conference is a real leap of faith in God and myself. Entering it with an open heart and mind is challenging and means experiencing death, burial and resurrection.

The feedback of participants is that MOHMV helps them both reconnect with their initial fervour for the Gospel and to find new reasons and new ways to continue the journey.

MOHMV reminded me of the consistency of my missionary fervour since the Franciscans. I have felt God’s call to work within and beyond the Church, repeated goings-out and comings-back; returning changed, for good or ill. For me, leaving religious life initially felt like failure and a death. In retrospect, it now seems like some remarkable experience of grace inviting me out and onward. It is an invitation to listen again, to see things a bit differently, to heal and to be re-created, and to be a little more focused and flexible. A pain-filled process, but also one filled with the joy of surprises and the experience of things beyond my young adult expectations or imaginings. 

I guess this too might be a description of our Catholic Church as she has travelled through history and taken on differing shapes and activities in myriad times and cultures. Finding a new language for old truths, reaching out to practical and spiritual needs in practical and prophetic ways. And the challenge of this journey continues, particularly but not only for us in our Australian Church context.

I like to remember this quote from St Francis of Assisi, apparently addressed to his many Franciscan sisters and brothers just before his death. It is both reassuring and challenging. “Christ has taught me my part,” he said, “may he now teach you yours!” I find there is tremendous freedom in Francis’s insight that the disciple doesn’t need to slavishly imitate the master and that as Christians we follow the person of Jesus. As Pope Francis never tires of reminding us, there is an amazing dynamism at the heart of our faith ... it is our personal relationship with the Risen Christ in which each of us experiences (again and again if we ask for it), our personal call to discover our path to missionary discipleship. It is this invitation, and into this relationship, that we invite others to join God’s mission. This living relationship is the driving force of our proclamation of the Joy of the Gospel, and that attracts others to join us along the way.

Pope Francis has been quite clear about the type of Catholic Church he believes we are called to be. Not a self-referential church, or a stale museum, but a church willing to go out of itself, to be in dialogue with the people of the world, to be the face and hands of Christ to the poor and the disenfranchised. Like St Francis of Assisi, there we will meet Christ himself and, in the process, find that God is already there. This is the missionary impulse at the heart of church, our reason for being if you like. Each of us is a mission, a unique expression of the love of God incarnate in the world, with our own contribution to make for the good of the world.

If you are looking for personal faith formation or professional development, if you want dialogue about what it means personally and professionally to be on mission, I recommend you attend MOHMV 2021, and bring a friend or colleague with you. In the meantime, you can enjoy having a look at some of the keynote speakers and panel discussions as recorded on YouTube at Catholic Mission TV.

MOHMV is a biennial conference organised by Catholic Religious Australia and Catholic Mission. Below is a great summary of some of the three days of insights:


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Mark Toohey Image
Mark Toohey

Mark is the Diocesan Director for Catholic Mission in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.