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Becoming a Missionary of Encounter

June  7th,  2022
By Nick read
Posted in Work Life

I recently went on a short Culture Project recruitment trip to Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. A few of us missionaries were there to attend a service fair and encounter some of the students. We spent only one full day in D.C., and we did not really know what to expect from this trip considering how short our stay was.

Since the service fair wasn’t until the evening, we had the opportunity to do some sight seeing. Most of us had never been to the area before and we were very excited. That morning we were able to go to both the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the John Paul II Shrine. Now if any of you reading this have never been and get the chance, I could never run out of enthusiasm in encouraging you to go. The basilica was incredibly beautiful. As you walk in, the first thing you notice is all the art on the ceilings and in the domes. The gospel writers watch over you as you take in all the details around, all attention being drawn to the mosaic of Christ the King behind the altar in the back. Along each side are countless side altars, each dedicated to different appearances of Mary across various cultures. Below in the crypt, a certain warmth embraced you despite the cold and darkness of the room. There were so many things to see and take in, we actually had to come back the next morning to complete our visit. All the beauty of this place brought a peace to me in starting my day this way, and I did not even know the best was yet to come.

After exploring this amazing sight we drove right down the road to the JPII Shrine. Now we at the Culture Project love St. John Paul II because he is the foundation of our mission and a spiritual father to us in so many ways. I myself have had my life profoundly impacted by his words and writings and life, yet I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter. The shrine itself may not be like many shrines you’ve encountered. It looks like a museum on the outside, precisely because it is the exhibit inside that defines this place. There is a small side chapel covered in mosaics with a relic of John Paul, and a larger chapel where Mass is celebrated. But it is the exhibit downstairs that really makes this place. We started the exhibit with a 10 minute video of an overview of his life. Being the most photographed and well traveled pope of our times, there was so much footage that was shown in this small bit of time. Afterwards we were able to enter the exhibit which walked through all the moments of his life. From authentic documents like his baptismal certificate, to reflections of those who knew him throughout his life, to walking through his entire mission that would define his ministry, I found myself learning so many new things about a man I thought I already knew very well.

As I walked over the course of an hour through this exhibit my heart was overwhelmed by the closeness I felt to him. In that hour I was reminded of exactly what my mission as a Culture Project missionary was, a mission all of us are actually called to. I was reminded of my call to be a missionary of encounter. No saint in the modern age, or maybe even in the history of the church, understood the human person as well as St. John Paul II. Here I was, exploring the life of a man whose personal mission was to encounter the human person and revel in the beauty, mystery, and goodness of God’s creation. Having lived under the Nazi and Soviet regimes, he knew exactly what happened when the dignity of the human person was not upheld. He dedicated his entire life to living in the joy of being human and seeing God in each and every person. All of us felt renewed after this exhibit and went off to the service fair where we met so many incredible people and were able to have several cherished conversations.

That day I felt refreshed in this mission that John Paul lived every day. He knew that to encounter the human person was to encounter God just like many saints before him. And while we try every day at the Culture Project to imitate this example, it can be hard to remember what that looks like. Life and relationships are complicated and messy, but I think there are some easy ways in which to accomplish this well every day through small actions. Here are a few things we can do in order to encounter the human person in our daily life and live with the same joy that St. John Paul II did:

  1. Acknowledge the gift of the person in front of you

Whether it’s a stranger, a close friend, or somebody who rubs you the wrong way, the person in front of you is a beloved child of God. Think about that. God looks on them with love just as He looks at you, and He has allowed that person to be in your presence.

  1. Listen intently

When we are talking to somebody and they aren’t paying attention, it can be annoying right? So why would we do that to someone else? By giving the person in front of us our full attention, we are showing them they matter to us in the moment. Smiling, making eye contact, and limiting distractions like phones are all ways to help stay locked in to conversation.

  1. Ask questions

Practicing the art of conversation is very important and asking follow up questions when getting to know somebody is essential to make them feel like you are interested in who they are. It can be hard at first and there is a temptation to overcomplicate the depth of questions, but sometimes the simplest questions bring about the best answers. If a person talks about a place they visited, ask them what they did there. Maybe they mentioned a hobby and you ask what got them into it. The more practice is put into this, the easier it becomes to ask small questions that really help a person open up.
Hopefully these tips will help as you encounter those around you. When we are able to make use of these things, we truly can create a culture around us that celebrates the dignity of the human person and helps others, just like St. John Paul II, become fully alive.

About the Author

Nick is a Southern California native who moved to Colorado in 2015 to attend the Colorado School of Mines. In October 2018, Nick felt the Lord calling him from his studies with a zeal for mission. Nick first encountered CP at the FOCUS SLS18 conference in Chicago and over the next couple years learned about their mission. Their message of dignity and authentic love struck him, and after a fortuitous conversation with CP missionaries at the SLS20 conference, Nick decided to give a year to share this message with others as a CP missionary. "The message of our dignity as sons and daughters of God and the love we were made for is a message our culture needs. I became a CP missionary so others can become fully alive."

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