On World Mission Sunday, all Catholics are reminded of their crucial duty to express the very nature of the Church by being missionaries. What is the significance of this Day? How do we celebrate it fittingly? Is there more than just some prayers and financial support required of each one of us?
Today and every day, Holy Mother Church calls on us to serve each other and to give our life in ransom for many. Unless we were ever held for ransom, or we were those who had to pay it, we could not fully appreciate the weight of this word. Jesus, the Son of Man, came to serve and to give his life in ransom for many.
Twelve years ago, one of our PIME priests was captured by Muslim rebels on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, and went through a long ordeal of many months of captivity and depravations before being freed. Several times he was at the brink of despair. Countless times he prepared himself for execution. His harrowing experience is similar to those of many hostages held by splinter groups of Filipino rebels in recent times without mentioning those in even more hellish situations like those in Iran. The depravations and the constant prospect of being suddenly executed have been driving many hostages to attempt suicide.
By contrast, perhaps we can stop for a moment and reflect on how comfortable and geared to the catering of all our needs our life really is. Many of the things we do, on a given day, are for ourselves. Being held hostages would remove all that and plunge one into total dejection. This is precisely the situation I witnessed in my mission in Northern Thailand when I was there almost thirty years ago. Countless people held hostage to ignorance, sickness, exploitation, helplessness before the tragedies of life, and most of all, living in constant terror of what the evil spirits and cruel fate had in store for them.
Today, many of us realize, with a degree of embarrassment, that we have taken our knowledge of a loving God for granted, along with our faith, Christian fellowship, the Sacraments, and all the countless blessings we share, we must think about those who live without the comforting light of the Christian faith. As John and James did back then, we too must admit our self-centeredness evidenced in our striving for recognition, prestige, high honors; and we accept the sobering lesson of humble service that Jesus teaches us.
There is no way our Church can be truly missionary unless we decide, resolutely, to shift from being self-centered to being Christ-centered. In other words, the best way our Church believes we can be missionaries is by sharing wholeheartedly in the Mission that Christ received from the Father: He was not sent to be served but to serve and to give his life in ransom for many. The first time Jesus asked self-centered people (John and James) if they were ready to share in his mission they were too quick to say “Yes”.
Now, after assembling every Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ ultimate service in his death on the cross, and the Father’s total glorification of Jesus in his resurrection and ascension, we have the opportunity to sound more convincing in claiming that we can accept our share in Jesus’ Mission. Focusing firmly on the resurrection that we shall one day share in Christ, with courage, we can symbolically but also with boldness bring the cup of pain and suffering to our lips—and drink. To manifest our missionary spirit by drinking from Christ’s same cup, is undoubtedly an act of great courage.
Looking at our track record we realize quickly how it is the type of courage which we possess only very seldom. Our Church, missionary by nature, knows that. And for this reason, she has surrounded us with the richness of the same symbolism that Jesus used when he transformed the selfish request of John and James into a bold invitation to share in his Mission.
The Church invites us to drink from the cup of the Blood of Christ. She does it, though only after we have assembled to strengthen our faith in the resurrection that we will share with Christ. Hence, in the certainty of the resurrection, we can face with courage the trials of our life. We can prove to people close to us, and in distant mission lands, that God is very close to all those who suffer and are in pain. Firmly rooted in the resurrection, we can drink of the cup of self-sacrifice, of dedication, of humble service, of forfeiting our comforts for the sake of others, certain that our pain, suffering and cross, endured in union with Christ, has the same salvific value of his on Mount Calvary. Thus, it would be truly spent in ransom for many of our brothers and sisters.
On Word Mission Sunday, or any day we approach the table of the Lord, may we always bring, at least symbolically, in spirit, also the cup of his Blood to our lips and drink with the courage that the Spirit gives us. In doing so, we pledge our commitment to a full share in the Mission of Christ evidenced in our willingness to volunteer for the sublime “service” of suffering and for spending our entire life in ransom for many.