“… as the Father has sent me, so I send you …” Christ spoke these words to his disciples 2,000 years ago. But when we were baptized, he spoke them again — to us.
Pope Francis says that this mission, this being sent out by Christ, “is part of our identity as Christians; it makes us responsible for enabling all men and women to realize their vocation to be adoptive children of the Father, to recognize their personal dignity, and to appreciate the intrinsic worth of every human life, from conception until natural death.”
Hence, if we are Christians, we must be missionaries.
But most of us are not called to go to a far-off missionary land. In fact, with the changing profile of the Church, many of us could consider that we are living in missionary lands. (Oftentimes today, it is priests from the former mission fields of Africa and Asia now serving the older Christian communities in Europe and the United States.)
If we are all called to be missionaries, but not called to a far-off land, what does that mean? It must mean that our mission field is already all around us.
This lived conviction that our mission is here and now is what inspires Fr. Pat Cahill, the Diocesan Director of MISSIO, or the Pontifical Mission Societies for Charlotte, North Carolina.
[Learn about the Mission Societies or MISSIO here.]
Fr. Pat saw a need exacerbated by the Covid pandemic and responded with a missionary heart.
“We are in such a sedentary culture and society,” he said, “and with the pandemic, it’s really been hard on a lot of our people. They are basically stuck in their houses.”
So when a friend of his, Matt Clark, offered to lead four fitness classes a week at his church’s social hall for anyone who wants to participate (only a donation is suggested), Father Cahill dubbed him the “Physical Wellness Coordinator” of St Eugene Parish and the program was off and running.
Clark is “Silver Sneaker” certified, which means the classes he leads can even be covered by Medicare when he offers them at gyms. Participants can also sign up for further training beyond what’s offered at the parish. Clark even leads classes in people’s homes and at Asheville Catholic School.
The classes offer stretching, stability, strengthening and balance exercises, which are coupled with concentration activities so that it’s a “mental workout as well.”
Father Cahill (who is spry at age 40) reflects that the fitness sessions are really good for “someone who’s 70 years old — or someone like me, who’s been sitting at home for six months because of the pandemic.”
He joked that the classes are a chance to “work off the quarantine 15 … or for some of us it might have been the Covid 30!”
Jokes aside, the fitness classes are truly a chance to live the missionary mandate of Christ.
Human persons are a body-soul unity, incarnated souls as much as ensouled bodies. Christian philosophers explain: “It’s not that ‘I’ have a body or ‘I’ have a soul, but rather that we are our body and soul together.
So we have a personal responsibility to take care of our bodies, as Father Cahill puts it, “Not in an egotistical, prideful way, but in a way that is helping us.”
Of course, there’s a little fun mixed in — “To try to have fun in this really important work of being fit and healthy.”
But the missionary element goes beyond our personal responsibility to be stewards of our bodies and minds.
And that element was best expressed by Clark, the trainer, himself:
“Well the Bible tells us to take good care of our bodies. And the healthier we are, the more people we can help and serve. If we’re sick then others can take care of us, but if we’re healthy we can take care of other people.”
Father Cahill summed it up, “In terms of mission, it’s our mission to be good stewards of the bodies God has given us, and that also enables us to help and serve others.”
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