World Mission Sunday, organized by the Propagation of the Faith, is a day set aside for Catholics worldwide to recommit themselves to the Church’s missionary activity through prayer and sacrifice. This year, World Mission Sunday is celebrated on October 20. The celebration occurs as we near the conclusion of the Year of Faith. Here in the Diocese of Syracuse we have tried during this year to know, live and share our faith.
World Mission Sunday provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the gift of faith and particularly how we share this gift with others by putting our faith into action in support of the work of missionaries. This year’s theme — “Do Good on Earth” — highlights the outreach that is carried out by dedicated missionaries among the poor and marginalized. In his message for World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis offered us some reflections on our faith and our responsibility to spread the Gospel. He noted that faith is a gift, “not reserved for a few but offered with generosity” to everyone. “It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared” (Pope Francis, Message for World Mission Day 2013, 1). As people of faith we are called not to harbor our faith as a personal gift or keep the light of faith hidden. As disciples of Christ we must profess and celebrate our faith, taking it to those who have not yet had the opportunity to know Christ. “The strength of our faith, at a personal and communal level, can be measured by the ability to communicate it to others, to spread and live it in charity, to witness to it before those we meet and those who share the path of life with us” (Message for World Mission Day 2013, 1).
Jesus was a missionary. As the Word made flesh, he brought God’s life into our midst. Before He returned to the Father, He commissioned His apostles to continue His mission. The Church continues the mission of the Son by proclaiming to the ends of the earth the salvation Christ offers to those who believe in Him. Each of us, each of our parish communities and every diocese is invited to take seriously the mandate given by Jesus to His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is an essential aspect of our faith. “We are all invited to walk the streets of the world with our brothers and sisters, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith in Christ and making ourselves heralds of the Gospel” (Message for World Mission Day 2013, 2).
As I wrote this article my mind turned to two parables: the Good Samaritan and Rich Man and Lazarus. The “scholar of the law” in the parable of the Good Samaritan raises an essential question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with a story and then asks a question. “Who acted as a neighbor?” The Samarian acted as a neighbor because he stopped and tended to the man injured by robbers. The priest and the Levite passed by the robber, crossing to the opposite side of the road. Jesus is teaching us that a neighbor “notices” the plight of another person and reaches out with assistance. A neighbor does not distance himself or ignore his brother and sister who are in need.
When Blessed John Paul II visited the United States in October 1979 and celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium, his homily addressed the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I remember so well a question he posed during the homily. “What was the fault of the rich man, dining comfortably at his full table?” Our Holy Father said, “He failed to notice Lazarus, the poor man, sitting at his gate.”
How important it is to notice our brothers and sisters, not only those closest to us but also those throughout the world. World Mission Sunday invites us to expand our vision, to look beyond the boundaries of the “world” closest to us — our family, our workplace, our city and state, our country — and notice those in need and share with them from our abundance. This may involve assisting them with the physical and material needs they have. But eventually, with God’s grace, the witness of charity helps to prepare their hearts to receive the Gospel.
Every year the needs of the Catholic Church in the Missions grow — as new dioceses are formed, as new seminaries are opened, as areas devastated by war or natural disaster are rebuilt, and as other areas, long suppressed, are opening up to hear the message of Christ and His Church. This is why our involvement and commitment is so urgently needed. Our offerings joined with others from throughout the world are urgently needed.
Mission dioceses — about 1,100 at this time — receive regular annual assistance from the funds collected. Our contributions provide assistance for catechetical programs, seminaries, the work of religious communities, for communication and transportation needs and for the building of chapels, churches, orphanages and schools.
World Mission Sunday asks two things from us. First, pray for the spread of the Gospel, pray for missionaries who dedicate their lives to the spread of the Gospel in mission areas and pray for those to whom the Gospel is being proclaimed. May their hearts and minds be open to the Good News. Prayer is the most powerful means at our disposal to promote the Gospel. Second, according to our means, we are asked to contribute financially to the mission endeavor. Spreading the Gospel requires financial means. Our sacrifices support the Church and its work in mission countries.
World Mission Sunday — a Sunday to help the whole world. May each of us do what we can to promote the work of missionaries who bring Christ and His message of salvation to our brothers and sisters in mission countries.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.