Two special themes during the month of October are Respect Life and Missionary Discipleship. Both highlight our mission as the People of God to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and his Gospel of Life: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Pope Francis in a special Evening Prayer on October 1, the Memorial of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, patroness of the missions, stated in his homily:
“God has entrusted us with his greatest treasures: our own lives and the lives of others. He has entrusted any number of different gifts to each of us. These gifts, these talents, are not something to be stored in a safe, but a true vocation: the Lord calls us to make our talents bear fruit, with boldness and creativity. God will not ask us if we jealously preserved our life and faith, but instead whether we stepped forward and took risks, even losing face. This extraordinary Missionary Month should jolt us and motivate us to be active in doing good. Not notaries of faith and guardians of grace, but missionaries.
But how does one set about being a missionary? By living as witnesses: bearing witness by our lives that we have come to know Jesus. Witness is the keyword: a word with the same root as the word “martyr”. The martyrs are the primary witnesses of faith: not by their words but by their lives. They know that faith is not propaganda or proselytism: it is a respectful gift of one’s life. They live by spreading peace and joy, by loving everyone, even their enemies, out of love for Jesus. Can we, who have discovered that we are children of the heavenly Father, keep silent about the joy of being loved, the certainty of being ever precious in God’s eyes? That is a message that so many people are waiting to hear. And it is our responsibility. Let us ask ourselves this month: how good a witness am I?”
The Holy Father went on to say that “omission” is the opposite of “mission” and that as followers of the Lord Jesus, you and I sin when we “yield to resignation” saying “I can’t do this; I am not up to this.” He explains this further as he reflects: “How can that be? God has given you talents, yet you think yourself so poor that you cannot enrich a single person? We sin against mission when we complain and keep saying that everything is going from bad to worse, in the world and in the Church. We sin against mission when we become slaves to the fears that immobilize us when we let ourselves be paralyzed by thinking that ‘things will never change’. We sin against mission when we live life as a burden and not as a gift when we put ourselves and our concerns at the center and not our brothers and sisters who are waiting to be loved.”
For me, these words express what missionary discipleship is all about: promoting the dignity and sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death by being “a living Gospel for all people to hear.” A Scripture verse I often refer to in my own life when it comes to this mission is found in the First Letter of John: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (4:20). In my own reflection, I also challenge myself by saying, “How can I claim to love the unborn child in the womb whom I do not see, and ignore those I see and encounter in my daily life? If life is a precious gift at all stages, how can I ignore the precious gift I encounter throughout my day in those who are neighbor to me, whether in my own family, my co-workers, the person next to me on the bus or plane, or the person walking next to me on the sidewalk?”
Believe me, I do not ask those questions lightly and my own conscience often gets pricked by the omission of charity I feel I have towards others in thought, words, and deeds. I take consolation when facing my shortcomings as I read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul and her own admission of the struggle to truly love and respect those around her. However, this does not mean I have a bye in challenging myself daily to know my own vocation, my own calling “to be love.”
Again, the fuel for our missionary discipleship is prayer. Another good October example for us is St. Francis of Assisi. His mission to announce the Gospel and to rebuild the Church of his day was rooted in prayer. Only by returning again and again to this wellspring did St. Francis find the courage for the selflessness it took to be a missionary disciple to his neighbors. Perhaps his prayer could be our prayer each day as we seek to be a people of mission, not of omission:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Have a good week and enjoy the splendor of God’s creation!