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The mission belongs to God

Fr Stephen Bevans: "Our task is to point out where God is already active."

 

The mission belongs to God

Divine Word Missionary Professor Stephen Bevans led participants at a recent mission conference in Sydney to reflect on how the Church is called to be partners in God’s mission and how Jesus is the model for it to choose. DEBRA VERMEER reports

THE amazing grace of mission is that it involves participating in the work of the Trinity, making us partners in mission with God, visiting missiologist and Divine Word Missionary Professor Stephen Bevans told a mission conference in Sydney.

Prof Bevans was speaking at the “Mission: One heart, many voices” conference, a gathering of more than 250 people engaged in God’s mission from across the Church community.

He is the Louis J. Luzbetak SVD (Divine Word Missionary), Professor of Mission and Culture at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union and a renowned teacher and author on mission.

As an SVD missionary he worked for nine years (1972-81) in the Philippines.

“The mission is not ours, it is God’s,” he told the conference. God’s mission calls forth the Church.

And God’s mission is wider than the Church. Our task is to point out where God is already active.”

Prof Bevans said he wished to take that idea further and to suggest that “we are more important than just being subordinate to God in mission”.

“I think the amazing thing is that God has called us to be partners in that mission,” he said.

“Just as the Spirit was lavished on Jesus, so that same spirit is lavished on us.”

Prof Bevans said God’s model for mission was revealed in Jesus.

“Jesus reveals in his own practice the practice of God,” he said.

“Jesus proclaims God’s message of acceptance, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion and commitment to the poor.”

At Pentecost the disciples began to realise that the mission of Jesus was now given to them and gradually they came to understand that the Gospel was for all people.

“So it was in realising that they had been invested with God’s mission and practice that they understood themselves as Church.

The Church is missionary by its very nature.”

If we accepted we are made in the image of God, then it followed that we were given the same mission as God has, Prof Bevans said.

“So we’re not second fiddle to God in mission, we’re partners,” he said.

Prof Bevans said partnership was the basic practice of the Trinity and the whole point of the incarnation.

“God needs us. We are the way that God’s work gets done,” he said.

“God treats us as equals, as partners.

“Our task is to have the openness, the humility and the availability modelled by Mary so that we can live up to the task of being partners in God’s mission.

“This is the amazing grace of mission. It’s participating in the work of the Trinity.”

In a second presentation, Prof Bevans expanded on how the Church can be missionary in secularised societies such as Australia and the United States, especially in the context of the New Evangelisation, or outreach to Catholics who no longer practise their faith.

“Basically, we need to cultivate a fundamental stance of openness, respect, friendship, deep listening and vulnerability,” he said.

“I think we need a spirituality more than a strategy.

How we do mission is ultimately more important than what we do.”

Prof Bevans recalled Pope Francis in his inauguration homily calling for the Church not to be afraid of tenderness and said such a tenderness could chart the path forward for mission.

“Given the lack of credibility of the Church today, and given the hope that the New Evangelisation holds, I think a tender Church would be wonderful good news indeed,” he said.

 

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