As I sit at my desk thinking about my Catholic Sun article, I admit that I am a bit distracted. Tomorrow twenty-seven of us set out on the Pilgrimage to Ireland. Packing is always a challenge for me. Inevitably, I pack too much and upon arrival discover I left something behind.
Ireland is known for its missionary spirit. Beginning with St. Patrick and continuing for centuries, Irish missionaries carried their Catholic faith to many lands. To our day, Irish priests and sisters continue to leave their homeland to support and nourish the faith in other countries.
As I thought about Ireland and its missionary spirit my thoughts turned to World Mission Sunday that will be celebrated on October 22. As a Catholic school student, I recall hearing the Sisters talk to us about the Holy Childhood Association. From an early age, we were taught to look beyond the borders of our country and participate through prayer, sacrifice and donations to the spread of our faith in foreign lands.
Blessed Paul VI, in his exhortation Evangelization in the Modern World, reminded us “Jesus himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and greatest evangelizer” (7). The Church continues Jesus’ mission. “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass . . . ” (14).
In his message for World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis notes the missionary nature of the Church and raises three questions. What is the basis of our mission? What is the heart of our mission? What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying out mission? (Cf. Message for World Mission Day, June 4, 2017).
The Gospel is the source and foundation of our mission. The sacred word of the Gospel proclaims the Risen Christ who “invites us to follow him with confidence and courage” (World Mission Day, 1). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed and become witnesses to the truth and power of the Gospel.
Christ is the heart of our mission. Being a Christian “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1). The Gospel is a person – Jesus – who offers Himself for our sake and invites us to share His life and mission. “Through the Church, Christ continues the mission of the Good Samaritan, caring for the bleeding wounds of humanity, and as Good Shepherd, constantly seeking out those who wander along winding paths that lead nowhere” (World Mission Day, 5).
From the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has most frequently used the image of walking. In his view, every single action of a Christian is to be a step closer and closer to God and one’s neighbor. In this image, the Church is always on the move, always reaching out, always going forth to bring the good news of the Gospel to others. We are pilgrims on a journey. “The Church’s mission is enlivened by a spirituality of constant exodus. . . . The Church’s mission impels us to undertake a constant pilgrimage across the various deserts of life, through the different experiences of hunger and thirst for truth and justice. . . . The Church’s mission inspires a sense of constant exile, to make us aware that we are exiles journeying towards our final home . . .” (World Mission Day, 6).
World Mission Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to contemplate the meaning of our faith and our role in spreading our faith. Let us remember that we are a missionary Church. The ministry, passion and death of Jesus were not just ancient historical events. Through His resurrection, Christ saved us from the consequences of sin and death. Our Lord lives as truly now as He did two thousand years ago. Quoting Pope Francis, “The resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force” (The Joy of the Gospel, 276).
May we share our faith through prayer, sacrifice and support for the Missions through the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. We turn to Mary, Mother of Evangelization, to renew our zeal and increase our efforts to discover new ways to bring the gift of salvation to every man and woman.
In closing, I assure you of my prayers during the pilgrimage to Ireland. Know that you and those you hold dear will be remembered as we visit the sacred places that nourish Ireland’s faith. Please pray for me and all those making pilgrimage.
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, NY 13202.