The First Missionary Journey in the World
Maria’s Yes changed the World
Pope Francis has conferred an inspiring passage of the scripture on World Youth Day 2023. It describes the origin of the greatest story on earth – the story of Jesus. It kicks off in the far reaches of the world, in an obscure village. Starting things off is a girl, perhaps 14 years old, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant. It is not a mishap in love, but love itself – it is God choosing someone who most likely can’t even read and write. Out of millions of possible starting points, he chooses Mary from Nazareth to set something in motion that affects everyone: You and me, the great and the small, the poor and the rich, the famous and the forgotten.
What does little Mary set in motion? She brings us Jesus. Jesus is everything, is what God tells us. Money is important. Food is important. Having a good job is important. But there is one thing on this earth that makes a truly good life possible. Only one thing that will take us to eternal redemption: a relationship with Jesus. “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Before Mary sets in motion something of global historical significance, God becomes creative. The idea of starting the turning point to salvation with the incarnation of God and a virgin birth is something no writer could ever come up with over a good bottle of red wine. In the YOUCAT we are told, “God willed that Jesus Christ should have a true human mother but only God himself as his Father, because he wanted to make a new beginning that could be credited to him alone and not to earthly forces.” (YC 80) But the point is that in doing so, the Almighty puts himself in the hands of a fragile human being, almost a child. Girls of that age have all kinds of things going through their heads. But Mary is wide awake and absolutely receptive to a God for whom “nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). After a little dialogue with the angel – angels are messengers of God – she gives her okay! She leaves. And “with haste” (Lk 1:39). She has no time to lose.
Mary at first seems to do what all women carrying a child in their womb do. She seeks the solidarity of other women, the rejoicing of her best friend. This was also likely so with Mary. But perhaps on the long walk through the hill country of Galilee, step by step, something of the intangible, the divine, dawned on her, giving her life a completely different twist. Something happened to her that goes beyond all human thought. God in my belly? Yes, it has to be said so blatantly.
Later it will be said: Mary undertook the first missionary journey in the world. Because what is mission if you leave out everything that is not important? The mission is to share Jesus with one or more other people. To be a bearer of Jesus. This has not always been understood clearly enough by the church. Sometimes mission was thought to be bringing civilization to people. Or education. Or culture. Or good manners. But the church is not an NGO. It only has Jesus on its agenda. And with him everything.
The first Missionary Trip in the World
In Germany, there is a beautiful old Christmas carol that people sing during Advent: “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging” [“Mary walks amid the thorns”]. This is made up, of course. No one knows if Mary really had to go through thorn bushes as she made her way through the hill country of Judea. But the image it wants to convey is that Mary certainly had to contend with other thorny things: bullying, mistrust, malicious gossip. And dare I say: this happens to everyone who is a missionary disciple, a bearer of Jesus, today. People will point fingers at you, think you’re a religious nut or a sanctimonious person. You will go through thorns, but you will know what you have had in you since your baptism and confirmation – the same as Mary: the LORD is in you. In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul poses the test question to the new Christians in one of the hottest metropolises of the world at that time: “Do you not experience in yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5) Have you ever experienced that Jesus dwells in you, that he has, in a sense, made himself at home in you? That he has room in your life, your plans, your goals, your capacity to love. Is he already part of your identity? You are with him? How much depth opens up in your soul!
Sometimes it is not you who discovers what is inside you. Others come and say: You are a one of the good ones! You have something in you that others don’t have! You are doing your best to be a true disciple and follower of Jesus! I can also imagine that Mary was slow to realize what was happening to her. Of this I am even sure: The bang to full realization came only with Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a prophetess – by the way the last prophetess in the Old Testament and the first prophetess in the New Testament. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she spoke out “with a loud voice” what was going on. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The mother of my Lord! This is something you have to savour! It means that, hey, you are the mother of God! And what was the sign that caused Elizabeth to make this incredible statement. You’ll laugh about this – her stomach growled: “The moment I heard your greeting, the child leaped for joy in my womb.” Of course, God also had to turn on all the lights in her head.
And only now does Mary come to fully realize this. She breaks out in song (and probably dances as well): “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, spreads across the world.
What’s about Your Mission
One last word on “went with haste”. You were probably unable to sleep the night before WYD. You hurried to get to the plane or the bus. You couldn’t wait to arrive in Lisbon. I hope that you get going spiritually, that you have a longing for meeting up with others and the surprises that God has prepared for you. He’s very fast. While you are still on the way, he’s already there.
While in Lisbon, also stop by the YOUCAT booth at the Vocational Fair, the international meeting place for the YOUCAT community. We want to talk to you, get to know you and hear about how you live your faith. And if you want, we will stock you up with fire and fuel.
In any case, we invite you to enrol in our Missionary Network and get in touch with us.
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