Sowing Seeds in the Era of Pope Francis

As my awareness of the world expands, so too does my awareness of the depth and breadth of suffering that people face. For all the joy of entering into loving relationship with others, listening to their stories, being welcomed at their tables, there is also a sobering realization of how much hurt, pain, and need exists, and how limited I am in addressing that.

One of the most potent Gospel passages for me in confronting this overwhelming reality is The Compassion of Jesus (Matthew 9:35-38): Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

A Missionary Model of Church: A Bolivian pastor (right)
speaks with (from left) a Maryknoll lay employee, a Maryknoll
Sister from Africa, two Catholic school teachers from Boston,
and a parishioner from the Seattle area.
What I love about this passage is how perfectly it encapsulates the role and vision of Jesus. He goes out into the world, meets the people and does what he can for them, but also feels overwhelmed by the pain and heartache present in their lives. Still, he provides the response to those feelings of despair: he not only performs great works of compassion, he also invites others to participate in the mission. Moreover, he invites others to invite others into his mission of love. He is not presented as a superhero who will "fix" everything, but as a light for us to follow, an organizer of an ever-expanding community of disciples.

I often reflect on this in returning from immersion experiences, but this passage has taken on a new significance for me with the leadership of Pope Francis. Like many Catholics, I am inspired by his leadership and the vision that he is laying out for the Church, especially in his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Guadium. In it, he states that: "I dream of a 'missionary option', that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation." For many of us, especially those of us that see mission as the heart of the Church, this is an inspiring and powerful ideal.

Yet, as the People of God, the Church can only truly move with the Holy Spirit if we ourselves choose to do so. If we embrace, as Pope Francis says, "the drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed," then we need to live it both inside and outside of the walls of our families and our parishes, of our neighborhoods, cities, and countries. We are laborers for the harvest, who sow the seeds of the Holy Spirit in order for them to bear fruit. And the more people that participate in that labor, the more fruit will be borne out of it.

I often feel that we live in a superhero culture, expecting the next leader, the next prophet to "fix" the problems that plague us. But every prophet is merely a vessel for God to call the people to transformative action. Each one of us is part of a greater story: the Master Story of God's loving relationship with the world. As Pope Francis says, "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel." Like any genuine prophetic voice, our Pope does not see hope in himself, but in the limitless potential of the people to respond to God's call.

Kevin Foy works in mission education for Maryknoll in the Pacific Northwest.