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Reflections on 'Redemptoris Missio'

Sparta knights plan to republish Blessed Kateri parishioner's book

Story & photo by MICHAEL WOJCIK
News Editor

SPARTA - Twenty years after it was first published, Pope John Paul II's urgent message in his 1990 encyclical "Redemptoris Missio" - to "invite the Church to renew her missionary commitment" - continues to reverberate throughout the world, especially throughout the Paterson Diocese, which has renewed its commitment to spread the "Good News" of the Gospel far and wide.

On a more modest scale, a series of inspiring reflections on "Redemptoris Missio," published almost two decades ago by Dorothy Armstrong, likewise is set to begin what might become a fruitful legacy, echoing through the evangelization efforts of the diocese and beyond. The Knights of Columbus of her parish, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha here, plan to republish her booklet of reflections, under its original, snappy title, "Is the Lord Talking to Me? : Short Meditations on Pope John Paul II's Encyclical 'Redemptoris Missio.' "

The 64-page, almost pocket-sized booklet presents each of the major themes of the landmark letter in short easy-to-read, two-page snippets that include a passage from the document, a reflection on the text and a prayer that Armstrong wrote to help readers internalize the message of each passage and to inspire them to spread the "Good News" in their daily lives. She originally wrote the booklet in 1991, while working for the Evangelization 2000 office in Rome.

"It is [my] hope that these...reflections will serve but to whet the appetite of the laity that they will have the desire to make a serious study of this timely document," Armstrong writes in the booklet's introduction. "Only by reading it over, praying through it and absorbing it into our being will the new springtime of Christianity flower upon our Earth."

With its republication, the old "Is the Lord Talking to Me?" not only becomes new again, but also never really went out of style. The booklet reflects on the Church's ceaseless mission to spread the Gospel and especially seeks to help reinvigorate the diocese's own evangelical efforts. It presents the realities of evangelization 20 years ago that continue to be true today.

"I was inspired [to republish the booklet] after Bishop Serratelli started to encourage Catholics of the diocese to get more involved in evangelization," said Armstrong, who serves on the steering committee of diocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal. "I thought the booklet could be a tool in the diocese, so the faithful could learn what evangelization is."

Armstrong's compact booklet reflects on many of the topics that John Paul II explores in "Redemptoris Missio," among them: "Jesus Christ, the Only Savior," "Why Mission?," "Serving the Kingdom,"  "The Holy Spirit, Agent of Mission," "Conversion and Baptism," "Paths of Mission" and "Workers in the Apostolate."

"It is our mission to help bring people to Christ by the way we live our values," Armstrong said. "For some people, we could be the only Bible that they ever read."
The chapter on "Horizons of Mission" opens with a passage from "Redemptoris Missio" that could have been written today: "Social and religious realities, which were once clear and well-defined are today increasingly complex. The difficulty of relating this complex and changing reality to the mandate of evangelization is apparent in the language of mission."

Armstrong gets personal in her reflection on the passage, noting that, when she was younger, in the 1940s and 1950s, social parameters well defined. "The socioeconomic and political upheavals of the late 20th century have made great demands on the flexibility of the Church to review the 'signs of the times,' as evidenced in the Second Vatican Council," she writes.

The "Horizons of Mission" chapter ends with Armstrong's prayer that asks God to "help me to be willing to change, not only in the way I pray, but the new way I am called to think and actively participate in being Church."

It was in 1991, when Armstrong got the idea for "Is the Lord Talking to Me?" while working at the Evangelization 2000 office in Rome. Redemptorist Father Tom Forrest, the office's international director then and now, asked Armstrong to secure several copies of "Redemptoris Missio" in English from the Vatican.

"A man in the office challenged me to write reflections on 'Redemptoris Missio' that lay people could easily understand," said Armstrong, who at first was daunted by the challenge of reflecting on Pope John Paul II's inspiring words. "But I ended up spending many nights at the office, writing the booklet on my computer."

Originally, 500 copies of "Is the Lord Talking to Me?" were published. Fast-forward to late last year, when Armstrong proposed the idea of republishing the booklet to Steve McGill, evangelization coordinator of St. Jude Parish, Hopatcong, and fellow member of the diocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal steering committee. He printed up "mock up" copies of the booklet for committee members, Armstrong said.

That's when production on the second printing of "Is the Lord Talking to Me?" sped into high gear. Armstrong proofed and double-checked the text. New cover art has been designed. The Knights pledged to print 1,000 copies of the second edition, she said.

"Through our Baptism into the new life of Christ, each of us is called by the Holy Spirit to continue Jesus' mission of proclaiming the Gospel to all the world," Bishop James Timlin of Scranton writes in its original introduction. "Only in prayer can we come to realize the very clear call that missionary work is not only for priests and nuns, but for all the laity in their secular activities at work, at home and at play."

Armstrong is familiar with both the written word and evangelization. This former contemplative Precious Blood Sister authored picture books on spirituality in the 1970s  edited New Evangelization 2000 magazine. She also served as evangelization director of the Metuchen Diocese in the 1980s and as executive director of the former National Council of Catholic Evangelization.

"The need for evangelization is great," Armstrong said. "It could be as small as spreading 'The Word' over the back fence to a neighbor or telling someone that you will bless them today. I've had people tell me, 'Thanks. I needed that.' You don't know where it [your evangelization efforts] will go."

For more information on the impending publication of "Is the Lord Talking to Me?"  call Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish at (973) 729-1682.
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