Today is World Mission Sunday!
We pray for the missionaries in distant mission lands and our brothers and sisters whom they serve, and support them financially by putting some money in that pink envelope we picked up last Sunday. Having done all that, would we be good for another year, until the next World Mission Sunday?
In our Country, the sad fact is that few in the hierarchy and among the faithful remember the crucial truth “that the Church is by its very nature missionary.” (Vatican II). This bold, sweeping statement, written nearly 60 years ago, has yet to sink in. So many do not even think that it should be in their nature, as members of the Church, to be missionary.
How is it decided which baseball team from the National League and which one from the American League will get to play in the World Series? Isn’t it according to their nature as baseball teams to be the winners of the two leagues?
Similarly, can we claim to express adequately our missionary nature just by saying a few prayers for missions in distant lands and for donating some money to their cause once or twice a year? Of course not!
We should be aware of two sobering facts:
First, the world has shrunk; and we find ourselves in mission territory right close to where we live.
Second, God’s universal family demands our direct involvement in redressing wrongs with humility and dedication.
As for the first fact: we can learn a lot from our Muslim neighbors. They preach with their lives, I should add, with forceful conviction, so much so that we can tell unmistakably what faith they profess. Perhaps our ways should be less obvious, yet still decisively Christian when, instead, some go out of their way to blend in and slip under the “religious radar.”
The choices we make, the way we vote, the way we prioritize key issues in our family life, our conduct anywhere, any time, consistent with what we profess and celebrate in our church and what we live out in there, are all visible ways for us to express our missionary nature.
We cannot forget what Jesus told us: Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38
As to the second fact: We should show our missionary nature also by having, always, a basic attitude of joyous humility, dedication, and gratitude for belonging to God’s family. Hopefully, we are not like the Pharisee in our Gospel story (Luke 18:9-14); we are not convinced of our own righteousness and despise everyone else.
But we might tend to compare ourselves favorably with others. We might tend to look down on some people. We might get so wrapped up in our problems that we overlook, ignore, or dismiss much bigger problems that other people must face, daily. We might consider ourselves justified in not getting more directly involved in relieving the pain of others because we are quite busy and might feel unfairly treated.
Our readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us of our duties and obligations within God’s family. If the Lord hears the cry of the poor, he also knows the extent of our caring and of our service. If the Lord exalts the humble, he, similarly, humbles those who expect preferential treatment and consider themselves superior to the rest of his divine family. If he is merciful toward those who beg for his mercy as the tax collector did, he resists the haughty and the ungrateful.
Hence, how are we to celebrate our missionary nature in such a way that it might be properly lived out throughout the year, past the obvious and immediate ways suggested for today, World Mission Sunday?
I think that the Eucharistic Celebration, any Holy Mass provides for us all that we need to exercise our missionary nature properly and effectively. Right at the outset of our Eucharistic Celebration, we humble ourselves and admit our faults to each other and to God.
In the readings we learn anew, and our memory is refreshed about God’s universal plan of salvation.
In the prayers of the faithful we expand out horizons to include the more pressing needs of other people near by and far away.
At the preparation of the gifts, we offer our personal contribution, both financial and otherwise, for the well-being of the Church and of all peoples.
As we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, we are given the motivation, the drive, the dedication we need to serve the needs of all in joyous gratitude.
And, finally, the dismissal rite thrusts us into the world out there to live out, for another week, our missionary nature empowered, as we are, by the bold Spirit of the risen Lord.