There is something special about a person’s last words. We gather around the bed of our loved ones as they live their final moments, soaking in any remaining bits of wisdom they may have for us. Naturally, then, the Church has taken very seriously the final words of Jesus before the Ascension: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20). This, in a nutshell, is the entire raison d'être for the Church. We are called to be a missionary people.
But what, exactly, does it mean to be a missionary? Are we called to drop everything and head to a foreign country to dig wells and preach the Gospel? Some of us are. Most of us, however, are called to be on mission right where we live. All that is required is knowledge of the love that God has for each of his children. Part of the beauty of mission is that both the messenger and the recipient often come away with a more profound understanding of Christ’s love.
I was a preschool teacher for many years, and the program that I worked for provided special services for agricultural migrant workers. One night after Mass in the migrant camp, there was a special Marian procession. One of my little students asked me to hold her so she could see better. I lifted her up, teaching her the words to the song we were singing, and explaining who Mary was and how much she and her son, Jesus, loved us. She looked at me with huge black eyes and said, “Maestra, te quiero tanto tantísimo!” (“Teacher, I love you so, so much!”)
I said, “I love you more!”
Grinning, she spread her arms over her head and claimed, “I love you to the trees!”
“Well, I love you to the sky!” I countered.
“I love you to the moon.”
“I win, because I love you to the stars,” I said, as her eyes grew wide. “But you know something? Jesus loves both of us even more than that!”
Eyes wider than ever, she threw her arms around my neck and gave me an incredibly genuine, joyful hug as only a child knows how, and then ran off to play with her friends, leaving me to wipe my tears.
This experience made me realize that if I could love my students so much, how much must Jesus’ heart burn for us! That night, I shared my experience with a group of teens from local parishes who were helping at the camp, and invited them to think of one story about their time in the mission project to share at the end of the week. That Saturday, the teens and I laughed and cried as we heard story after story about how God was moving in the lives of the people we were there to serve, but also in each of the teens’ lives.
In Teens Share the Mission, we have the opportunity to hear first-hand about teens’ experiences of spreading the love of Jesus. Stories range from exotic foreign missions to making PB&J sandwiches at local soup kitchens, but all hold in common the joy that comes from reaching out in self-giving love. Teens will be motivated by their peers to reach out, and parents, youth ministers, and religion teachers will love the reflection questions included after each story to facilitate discussion or personal prayer.
Already going on a mission trip with teens? Help them to feel equipped to pray with the people they meet. In Teen Prayers by Teens, young people have shared some of their favorite ways to pray and prayers that they have written for particular circumstances. As one of my pastors used to say, “Let’s get going on our way to heaven, and try to drag a few people along with us!”
by Julie Turner, postulant of the Daughters of St. Paul