This Sunday on the 23rd of October we are celebrating the 85th Mission Sunday. Annually, World Mission Sunday is celebrated on the last but one Sunday of October. This Sunday is set aside to think about our Mission to the world and is a reminder to us as to who we are and what we have to do. The mission comes directly from Jesus to his disciples to go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all creation. He told them to go everywhere to preach the word of God, to heal and Baptize people in his name. This Sunday is an important day in the life of the Church because it teaches how to sacrifice and to give their share as an offering made to God, for the service of the missions of the world. The theme of this year’s celebration is, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Pope Benedict opened his remarks by emphasizing that the “announcement of the Gospel is destined for everyone.” He added that the Church exists to evangelize. Her activity, in conformity with the word of Christ and under the influence of His grace and charity, becomes fully and truly present in all individuals and all peoples in order to lead them to faith in Christ. The task of spreading the Gospel, then, has lost none of its urgency today. But the Church cannot “rest easy” at the thought that “there are people who still do not know Christ, who have not yet heard His message of salvation.”
World Mission Sunday is annually organized by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In one of his messages for the World Mission Sunday, Pope John Paul II had explained that the offerings that will be collected on this Sunday are destined for a common fund of solidarity, distributed in the Pope’s name, by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith among the missions and missionaries of the entire world. It is the most precious service that the Church can render to humanity and to all individuals who are seeking the profound reasons to live their life to the full. This same invitation therefore resonates every year during the celebration of World Mission Day. Continuous proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, also invigorates the Church, her fervor and her apostolic spirit. It renews her pastoral methods so that they may be ever better suited to the new situations — even those which require a new evangelization — and enlivened by missionary zeal. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, “missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others! It is in commitment to the Church’s universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support” In a message the Pope had said that the offerings collected on World Mission Sunday are destined for a common fund of solidarity distributed, in the Pope’s name, by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith among the missions and missionaries of the entire world. Every year the needs of the Catholic Church in the Missions grow – as new dioceses are formed, as new seminaries are opened because of the growing number of young men hearing Christ’s call to follow Him as priests.
Pope Benedict XVI in his message says that this objective is continually revived by the celebration of the Liturgy, especially of the Eucharist which always concludes by re-echoing the mandate the Risen Jesus gave to the Apostles as we read in the Gospel of Matthew to go and to proclaim to the whole world and to Baptize them in the name of the Trinity. The Liturgy is always a call “from the world” and a new missionary mandate “in the world” in order to witness to what has been experienced: the saving power of the word of God, the saving power of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. All those who have encountered the Risen Lord have felt the need to proclaim the news of it to others, as did the two disciples of Emmaus. After recognizing the Lord in the breaking of the bread, “they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the Eleven gathered together” and reported what had happened to them on the road. Pope John Paul II urged the faithful to be “watchful, ready to recognize his face and run to our brothers and sisters with the Good News: ‘We have seen the Lord!’”.
Pope Benedict in his Message says that the proclamation of the Gospel is intended for all peoples. The Church is as explained by the Second Vatican Council, is by her very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize. Consequently she can never be closed in on herself. She is rooted in specific places in order to go beyond them. Her action, in adherence to Christ’s word and under the influence of his grace and his charity, is fully and currently present to all people and all peoples, to lead them to faith in Christ. This task has lost none of its urgency. Indeed as Pope John Paul II insists “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion… an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service”. We cannot reconcile ourselves to the thought that after 2,000 years there are still people who do not know Christ and have never heard his Message of salvation.
This is not all; an increasing number of people, although they have received the Gospel proclamation, have forgotten or abandoned it and no longer recognize that they belong to the Church; and in many contemporary contexts, even in traditionally Christian societies, people are averse to opening themselves to the word of faith. A cultural change nourished by globalization, by currents of thought and by the prevalent relativism, is taking place. This change is leading to a mindset and lifestyle that ignore the Gospel Message, as though God did not exist, and exalt the quest for well-being, easy earnings, a career and success as life’s purpose, even to the detriment of moral values. It is important that both individual baptized people and ecclesial communities be involved in the mission, not sporadically or occasionally but in a constant manner, as a form of Christian life. The World Mission Day itself is not an isolated moment in the course of the year but rather a valuable opportunity to pause and reflect on whether and how we respond to our missionary vocation; an essential response for the Church’s life.
Pope Benedict XVI says that evangelization is a complex process and entails various elements. Among them missionary animation has always paid special attention to solidarity. This is also one of the objectives of World Mission Day which, through the Pontifical Mission Societies, requests aid in order to carry out the tasks of evangelization in mission territories. It is a matter of supporting institutions necessary for establishing and consolidating the Church through catechists, seminaries and priests, and of making one’s own contribution to improving the standard of living for people in countries where the phenomena of poverty, malnutrition — especially among children — disease, the lack of health care and education are the most serious. This is also part of the Church’s mission and in proclaiming the Gospel, she takes human life to heart fully. The Servant of God Paul VI reaffirmed that in evangelization it is unacceptable to disregard areas that concern human advancement, justice and liberation from every kind of oppression, obviously with respect for the autonomy of the political sphere. Lack of concern for the temporal problems of humanity “would be to forget the lesson which comes to us from the Gospel concerning love of our neighbour who is suffering and in need”. It would not be in harmony with the behaviour of Jesus who “went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity.” Thus “Ignoring the temporal problems of humanity,” he said, “would not be in keeping with Jesus’ own behavior, who ‘went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. By responsible participation in the mission of Christ, Christians become builders of the peace and solidarity that Christ gives us, and they collaborate in achieving God’s plan of salvation for all humankind,” Pope Benedict said.
Thus, through co-responsible participation in the Church’s mission, the Christian becomes a builder of the communion, peace and solidarity that Christ has given us, who cooperates in the implementation of God’s saving plan for all humanity. The challenges that this plan encounters calls all Christians to walk together and the mission is an integral part of this journey with everyone. In it – although in earthenware vessels – we bear our Christian vocation, the priceless treasure of the Gospel, the living witness of Jesus dead and Risen, encountered and believed in in the Church. May World Mission Day revive in each one the desire to go and the joy of “going” to meet humanity, bringing Christ to all. In his name I impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and, in particular, to those who make the greatest efforts and suffer most for the Gospel.
Pope Benedict also addressed the growing number of individuals who’ve heard the Gospel but have forgotten it, abandoned it, or no longer identify themselves with the Church. He said that in modern times, even traditionally Christian societies are “reluctant to open themselves to the word of faith.” He cited a cultural shift – influenced by globalization and increasing relativism – as leading to mentalities and lifestyles “that ignore the Evangelical message as if God did not exist, and which exalt the search for well-being, easy earnings, career and success as the goals of life, even at the expense of moral values.” To those who hear and believe, the Pope said, the Gospel “is not the exclusive prerogative of those who received it, but a gift to be shared, a piece of good news to be passed on. This gift-commitment is entrusted not just to the few, but to all baptized people,” he underscored.
Pope Benedict noted that the mission of evangelization entrusted to the Church is a complex process that includes “various elements.” He said that missionary activity must “maintain solidarity and sustain the institutions necessary to establish and consolidate the Church,” as well as contribute to improving the living conditions of people in countries most affected by problems of poverty, malnutrition, disease, and lack of health care and education services.
In the readings of today we see how Love of God is presented as the essence of our Christian life. Our Christian religion is based on the love of God and the love of our neighbors. The love of God implies not merely the notional assent to the truths of faith, but the real, conscious, wholehearted response that makes God the chief motivation and reason in life. The love of one’s neighbor is perhaps one of the surprising characteristics of the Christian faith is the importance given to the duty to love others. Other passages from the Gospel show the practical import of the Christian precept of love of one’s neighbor and the association Jesus makes with the poorest and humblest. It is necessary to search for the personal experience of God, that uniquely religious and sacred experience that is to be found by those who search for it. This is done principally in silence and dedication to personal prayer. This requires the time and the disposition to identify the religious experience of God in our lives and to let it take root in our minds and hearts. We need to unclutter our minds and find the time necessary to become aware of the presence of God in our lives. This is not easy to do, especially as we have become accustomed to ways of perception and of thinking that are hurried and functional. It takes a great effort to learn a meditative way of perceiving reality that allow us, moved by grace, to experience something of the presence of God. The Gospel of today tells us that we ought to love God our Lord with all our hearts, soul and strength and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The Book of Exodus recalls some specific provisions of the Law with regard to strangers and to the poor and unfortunate. St Paul on the other hand advices the Thessalonians they have to be an example to others and he himself has been a guide to them.
In the first reading of today from the Book of Exodus tells us of the loving relationship that the Israelites should have towards those who were under-privileged. The responsibility was upon the men because in those days, they were the authority over the families. The under-privileged were the aliens or the immigrants, those who were forced to leave their homes because of circumstances such as wars, plagues or famines. In the Second Reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his living example among them for their sake so that they may grow in Christ. He tells them to imitate him as he imitates Christ. To fully live one’s Christian life, it is necessary to “become imitators of God, as beloved children, to live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul acknowledged that through persecution, the Thessalonians persisted in their living faith, receiving the Word of God with joy. In the Gospel we have the question concerned about the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses. Already Jesus had reduced a group of Sadducees to silence, much to the delight of their rivals, the Pharisees. Now it is some Pharisees who approach him with their own question, a question much debated among themselves: “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Unlike other encounters, there is not necessarily any malice in this approach. They had many disputes among themselves as regard to this question. As a Rabbi, influential with the crowds and known by many as someone with a mind of his own, they wanted to know Jesus’ opinion. Here he responded immediately to their question by combining two commandments into one. He was saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind.” The second greatest and equally important Commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The second Commandment means that if we have the love of God within us, it should shine towards others. Love is meant to be shared, not to be selfishly kept to oneself. Then Jesus said that on those two Commandments (Laws) hangs the Law and the Prophets. The words mean that in those two Commandments are found the entire revelation of the Old Testament. Christ’s clear-cut answer was that the two commandments of the love of God and the love of neighbor were the essence of the Old Testament and the basis for the New Testament.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome.