Each year on the third Sunday of October the Church Universal celebrates World Mission Sunday.
From the earliest days of the Church, men and women have answered the command of Christ to “go and teach all nations,” bringing His message of salvation to people of every time and place. On this occasion, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI invites all of us — bishops, priests, deacons, men and women in consecrated life and the entire laity — to reflect on the urgent need and importance of the Church’s missionary activity in our own time. He reminds us that World Mission Sunday offers “the entire People of God an opportunity to renew their commitment to proclaim the Gospel and to give pastoral activities greater missionary perspective.” (Benedict XVI, Message for World Mission Sunday.)
Whenever I think of missionaries, I think of countless saints, some canonized, and many others, though not formally canonized, held in God’s memory for their zeal and sacrifices. Remember the stories of the heroic missionaries that we heard as young grammar school students? There was St. Augustine who brought the faith to England and Saint Patrick who brought it to Ireland.
The story of St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits, and his missionary journey to the Orient, amid great hardships, inspired us. We learned about Martin De Porres who labored among the slaves in South America. And of course we recall St. Damien the Leper and our own beloved Blessed Marianne Cope who gave their lives to bring God’s message to those confined at Molokai.
We need not go to faraway lands to find zealous missionaries. Here in our own state we knew that heroism of the French missionaries, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and their companions, the North American Martyrs, whose lives and sacrifices are remembered at Auriesville. We recall also St. Frances Xavier Cabrini who came here to minister to Italian immigrants.
All of these missionaries and the many that remain unnamed heeded the words of the great Apostle, Saint Paul, who wrote “woe to me, if I preach not the Gospel.” And he adds, “all that I do, I do it because of the Gospel, so that I may have a share in it.” They understood as Paul did that if we want to have a share in the Gospel, we must share it with others.
Mission Sunday is not only about recalling the great efforts of men and women of the past to proclaim the Gospel. It should be a reminder for all of us of our responsibility in our day to fulfill the commitment of our baptism. By virtue of our baptism all of us are called to be involved in the missionary work of the Church. All of us are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ by our words and deeds and by how we live our lives. Missionary work, therefore, takes place within our own diocese. Whenever we preach the good news by the quality of our lives, we draw others closer to Christ. We participate in the missionary activity of the Church. We participate in the new evangelization. To be truly Catholic, we must be missionary. We are not all called to go into foreign lands to preach God’s Word . . . but we are called to share in the mission of the Church . . . not as an act of charity alone . . . but because of our membership in the Church.
Today thousands of priests, members of consecrated life and lay faithful devote their lives to bringing God’s Word and the sacraments to millions in lands other than their own . . . and often to those in our own country who have no faith or practice no religion. They express the very best of what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be a member of the Church. Through their efforts and the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Church is recognized as the universal sacrament and sign of salvation for all people.
One of the most popular saints of our time and a personal favorite of mine is St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. She entered a cloistered Carmelite convent at the age of 15 and died there at the age of 24. She never left the convent, but always prayed for the missions. Pope Pius XI declared her the co-patroness of the missions. Most of us will never go to mission lands, but we can all pray for them. Let’s imitate the example of St. Therese.
Millions of people on earth have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. They do not know that the Son of God died for our sins. What an opportunity we have on this Mission Sunday to continue the work of St. Paul and to imitate the work of St. Therese, by proclaiming the Gospel and praying for our missionaries. Let the work of Blessed Marianne inspire us also. I hope you will lend your generous support in prayer and in donations to this noble cause.