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Friday, 10 May 2013 10:48

We’re partners with God in Mission – US scholar tells Mission Conference

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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 right across the Church community.

He is the Louis J. Luzbetak SVD, Professor of Mission and Culture at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a renowned teacher and author on Mission. As an SVD missionary he worked for nine years (1972-1981) 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. Just as the Spirit was lavished on Jesus, so that same spirit is lavished on us."

Prof Bevans said that God's model for mission is 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 accept that we are made in the image of God, then it follows that we are given the same mission as God has, he said.

"So we're not second fiddle to God in mission, we're partners."

Prof Bevans said partnership is 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. God treats us as equals, as partners. Our task is to have the openness, the humility and the availability modeled 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 we 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 practice 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 that what we do.”

Prof Bevans recalled Pope Francis in his inauguration homily calling for the Church not to be afraid of tenderness and said that 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.”

This article originally appeared in the News section of the Society of the Divine Word Australian Province website.