Now boarding


Author: Brother Robert

How was your 4th? Yeah? Good. Mine? Eh. But thanks for asking. 41 million Americans traveled for the 4th of July holiday, some 80% of whom drove to their destination. In today’s Gospel, Luke Chapter 10, Jesus assembles a sort of “advance team,” forming a cadre of disciples “whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit” (v. 1). There was as yet no Yelp.

To go forth as a disciple – now that’s a high call. Discipleship presupposes a relationship with God, and from that relationships is formed trust and connection such that the one chosen can and will carry out the mission. How else does one go forth, particularly in a contemporary context? Consider these main groupings: tourist; road warrior; pilgrim; and missionary.

Here’s a paradox worthy of Merton, or perhaps most unworthy: everyone wants to travel, but no one wants to be a tourist. Tourism is hard on the earth, and it can be tough on the locals. As a former New Yorker I know that a quick way to end discussion on a potential destination is to say, “No, only tourists go there.” The first time I saw this caution was on a sign in a Chapel Hill, NC shop window: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but money.” And hats – what is it about being more than four hours from home that makes me want to put on a hat that I would never wear to, say, the dentist’s office? But how am I supposed to learn about the world if I don’t see it?

Road warrior: this one is tough, too. These are folks, and I was once such as these, whose career obliges them to travel. The Ur-text for road warriors is Up in the Air by Walter Kirn. The movie shifted the plot line to play up the main character’s work as a hired hand sent in to downsize (aka fire) staff, but the book was much more immersed in the world of points and miles and upgrades. O how I exhaled joyfully if at the end of the year I made platinum status for the next year. So that I could. Travel. More. Hmmm. This is not what Jesus is asking of his disciples either.

Pilgrim – now we’re talking. And, preferably, walking. A pilgrim is a seeker on a journey, and a pilgrim holds the journey as being co-equal with the destination. This is of the Gospel. Remember July 3rd, the Feast of Thomas the Apostle? Paul writes, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Eph 2: 19). Yes, this – this is what I want. I cannot go alone, I will meet brothers and sisters along the way, and we will be welcomed so long as we “do justice and love goodness and … walk humbly with (our) God” (Mic 6: 8). And clean up after ourselves. And maybe leave something in the donations box.

Missionary. If a pilgrim has something to learn, then a missionary has something to teach. But a missionary errs when they understand their role solely as teacher. The work of living and sharing the Gospel did not flourish as it could have when for centuries the Church did not form missionaries to be seekers and learners as much as teachers.

Missionary is perhaps the last stage on the path to discipleship. My Capuchin Franciscan vocation obliges me to be itinerant, so go I must. And let it be done to me, in whatever place you choose, according to your word. And let us remember: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.