Are Lay Missionaries Professional Catholics?
By Susanna De A.
Simcha Fisher recently wrote an article for the National Catholic Register titled ‘The Professional Catholic’, referring to the accusation that she and other Catholic writer, speakers, etc. are using their faith to make money, or that their motives for spreading the faith are somewhat mixed by the fact that they are getting paid to do so.
Lay missionaries fund-raise their own salaries, and so often face similar accusations, or suspicions by Catholics who are not used to the idea of lay people getting involved full-time in the mission of the Church. I know I have. A concerned member of my family used the words “pass the buck to others to provide for one’s family”. Ouch.
Being fairly new to the whole ‘asking people for money to support my missionary life’, I was pretty disturbed by the imputation. Was I just living off (slightly gullible) hardworking, responsible wage-earners? Should I as a lay person get down to ‘real life’ and get a ‘real job’ and leave the evangelizing and full-time work to religious sisters and priests?
Of course the obvious thing to do when all these questions and doubts arose in my mind was to take the first flight back home and take the first job that was offered to me.
Just kidding. No, the obvious thing to do was pray about it, and thanks to a community that always emphasizes prayer as the first response, I did. I spent a lot of time praying about it, and reading what the Church said about it. I shouldn’t be surprised that I did get the answers I wanted.
So here are some of my answers:
1. So why do you expect people to pay you to be a missionary?
Missions is the work of the entire Church. It is not my little hobby that I expect people to finance. How beautiful to see the Body of Christ working together to bring Christ to the world! Some members of the Church offer their time and energy, and others (who lack time) offer their material and financial assistance. We are working together for the same goal- to make Christ known to all peoples. I don’t think anyone considers a religious order to be ‘passing the buck’ when they ask for donations for their order. ‘A labourer is worthy of his hire’ (Lk. 10:7) Missionaries have to eat and pay bills like everyone else.
Like Simcha Fisher said, that doesn’t mean we are set for life. Lay missionaries don’t loll around in their luxury homes watching movies on their giant LCD TVs, while sipping champagne. We often use second-hand clothes, eat a lot of beans and our official sickness policy is ‘Ask God to heal us.’ Almost all the missionaries I know had to leave MUCH more lucrative jobs to do this work. I did too, and though I don’t regret it at all, the rewards surely aren’t monetary.
2. But why don’t you leave it to the nuns and priests?
The world is in great need of full-time lay workers! You should know this from just looking at the state of your parish. We have three priests for more than three thousand families in my parish… and that’s just the Catholics. Lay people are called to get involved with the mission of the Church in new ways, and many organizations fund-raise their salaries to make it possible.
3. But the Church doesn’t want lay missionaries… that’s a Protestant thing!
ACTUALLY… this is what the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity says: “Deserving of special honor and commendation in the Church are those lay people, single or married, who devote themselves with professional experience, either permanently or temporarily, to the service of associations and their activities.
There is a source of great joy for the Church in the fact that there is a daily increase in the number of lay persons who offer their personal service to apostolic associations and activities, either within the limits of their own nation or in the international field or especially in Catholic mission communities and in regions where the Church has only recently been implanted.
The pastors of the Church should gladly and gratefully welcome these lay persons and make sure that the demands of justice, equity, and charity relative to their status be satisfied to the fullest extent, particularly as regards proper support for them and their families.”
Yup, Mama says so.
4. Yeah whatever. You just want people to give you money so you can travel the world and have adventures.
Actually, someone really accused me of this. Well, for me, that doesn’t work because I’m a really boring person who doesn’t like adventures. But it is a fact that anyone can suffer from impure motives. As lay missionaries who live like this, we need to be extra careful. I’ve met many young people in the Philippines who said, “I want to be a missionary too! I’d love people to pay for me to see the world!”
If seeing the world is my focus, I should NOT be a missionary.
We need to keep a vigilant eye out to make sure we are working hard and that our motives are pure. Our leaders work at keeping us accountable for the way we spend both our time and our money. We are not only accountable to our leaders and our benefactors, but in a much more serious way we are accountable to God, because you know… God is our boss.
We are called to be good stewards. The good thing is, as we work with the poor, we become much more aware of the value of the money donated to us. And as we continue to walk in this life, God continues to purify our motives. Perhaps He takes away the adventure, the travel, maybe even the visible fruit. If our vocation is real, we continue anyway.
So no, lay Catholic missionaries like Catholic writers or speakers are NOT professional Catholics. They are just regular Catholics who have said yes to an unusual and often challenging way of living out Christ’s command to ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’ The only treasure they are laying up for themselves are treasures in heaven.
By Susanna De A.