Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
As I mentioned last week, Pope Francis has designated this month of October 2019 as an extraordinary missionary month. We typically observe World Day of Missions in October, yet this year the Pope has wished that the entire Church especially embraces a renewed commitment to missionary work.
The missionary work of the Church is essential to her. Just as the Church would not be faithful to herself is she overlooked works of charity, so is it would be with a Church who forgets the missions. She would be in great trouble.
The missionary work of the Church is, of course, a divine mandate. The Lord Jesus in the final passages of the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 28 to be precise, gives a clear missionary mandate when he addresses the disciples and commands them to go to all nations, teach all that he has taught, because he has all the power and promises to be with them all the days. When I was studying missiology in the seminary, the professor pointed out that the Lord Jesus uses the adverb “all” four times in a short sentence when He issues the mandate.
The missionary work of the Church is also a work of charity and mercy. The one who has found a treasure, who has found a reason to be filled with joy, naturally desires to share it with those whom he or she loves. Therefore, to bring Jesus Christ to the world, to make him known by those who do not know him, to share our beautiful Catholic faith with others is an act of love, because it is to wish good to another. There is no greater good than to encounter Christ, God incarnate.
The missionary work of the Church is not proselytism. It is not about gaining members or subscribers to an organization, rather it endeavors to facilitate the encounter of others with Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who is alive because he is risen from the dead and invites us all to communion with Him.
We, Christians, differ from promoters of political parties, agents or marketing consultants because we do not represent an organization with an objective to grow in membership, increase profits or attain power, but announce to the world the Good News, show the face of somebody whom we love, somebody whom we have encountered in our lives, who brings meaning and orientation to our existence.
People were attracted to the early Christian communities precisely because of the intensity of the love that surrounded them, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. That is why Pope Pius XII rejected any attempt to impose the Gospel by force, Pope St. John Paul II reminded us that truth is always proposed and never imposed and Pope Benedict used to say that the Church always grows by attraction, never by proselytism. Political parties engage in proselytism, the Church announces, proposes, seeks, educates, in other words, the Church evangelizes.
All Christians, if we are true disciples must be missionaries. We must all announce Christ with our entire lives and bring Him with us to all dimensions of our existence.
Some Christians are called by the Lord to leave their land behind, go to far away places to proclaim the Gospel. That is the case of a legion of women and men who today announce the Gospel in foreign lands with abnegation, perseverance, without fuzz with great personal sacrifice, sometimes in very hostile and dangerous environments. That is the case of the great missionary saints such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa of Calcutta, the North American martyrs, St. John de Brebeuf, St. Isaac Jogues and their companions, or our patron saint, St. Patrick. There are some who are called to join in the missionary effort through dedicated lives of prayers such as cloistered nuns and contemplative religious. St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a French cloistered nun who only in her life travelled once outside of France to go to Rome and meet Pope Leo XIII is the universal patron of missions, precisely because of her prayer life dedicated to the missions.
Beyond these particular vocations, all Christians must be missionaries because by our Baptism we have been made participants in the mission of Christ. The mandate we have received is as urgent today as ever before because we see with sadness that the entire world has become mission territory. Even places with a long Christian tradition, such as Europe for example, experience what Pope Benedict called a spiritual amnesia. The causes of this phenomenon are many: infidelity of Christians, the advent of inhuman ideologies and their sequel of war and humanitarian tragedies, disorientation caused by rapid technological change are some of the most obvious. In the face of these seemingly difficult conditions, Christians far from despairing, lamenting or long for supposedly idyllic past times, must redouble our effort to attain personal holiness. To grow in grace, deepen our friendship with Jesus will go a long to make our lives show in a better way the face of Christ and make it accessible to others.
We, Christians, by Baptism have been appointed prophets. Our lives like that of Elisha and Naaman must also bear witness to the love we have found, thus, facilitating the encounter of others with Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly many must have come to know the true God, the God of Israel, the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ by the transformation that took place in the life of Naaman, the Syrian, after his encounter with God. An encounter facilitated by missionaries and prophets, whose example we ought to imitate.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid