Called to be a missionary Church

In his message for the 87th World Mission Day Oct. 20, Pope Francis challenged every Catholic, every parish and every other Catholic community to be missionary to the core. While he is famous for making three points in homilies, his message has five sections.

On faith, God’s love

“Faith is God’s precious gift, which opens our mind to know and love him,” the pope wrote in the first section. “It is a gift, not reserved for a few but offered with generosity. Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation! It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared.”

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” the pope said, quoting John 3:16. The knowledge of this love is a source of immense joy. Just as a thermometer is a measure of physical health, commitment to sharing this joy is a measure of spiritual health.

“If we want to keep it only to ourselves, we will become isolated, sterile and sick Christians,” he added. “The strength of our faith, at a personal and community 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.”

Missionary aspect

Every Catholic, every parish is missionary. The Church’s “missionary aspect is not merely a programmatic dimension in Christian life, but it is also a paradigmatic dimension that affects all aspects of Christian life,” the pope wrote. In other words, missionary work is at the heart of being a Catholic, a parish or a Catholic institution. 

Obstacles to mission

Pope Francis then identifies several obstacles to mission. “Sometimes there is lack of fervor, joy, courage and hope in proclaiming the message of Christ to all and in helping the people of our time to an encounter with him,” he noted.

“Sometimes, it is still thought that proclaiming the truth of the Gospel means an assault on freedom.”

In contrast, Pope Francis said that “we must always have the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and being heralds of his Gospel.”

Whatever obstacles to mission may exist, missionaries are not lone rangers. “It is important never to forget a fundamental principle for every evangelizer: One cannot announce Christ without the Church,” Pope Francis wrote.

Not a relief organization

Pope Francis describes “menacing clouds,” including Christians who “make lifestyle choices that lead them away from faith,” military conflicts, and crises in the environment, economics and values.

In the face of these clouds, he said, “it is necessary to proclaim courageously, and in every situation, the Gospel of Christ.”

“The Church — I repeat once again — is not a relief organization, an enterprise or an NGO [non-governmental organization], but a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, who have lived and are living the wonder of the encounter with Jesus Christ and want to share this experience of deep joy, the message of salvation that the Lord gave us,” he said.

Remember missionaries

Pope Francis noted that certain priests, religious and laity are called to leave their homelands as missionaries.

Some leave behind historically Christian regions to preach the Gospel; others come from recently evangelized nations and serve as missionaries to older dioceses “that are in difficulty … and thus bring the freshness and enthusiasm with which they live the faith, a faith that renews life and gives hope.”

Pope Francis concluded his message by noting that persecuted Christians offer a profound witness to the Lord.

“I wish to reaffirm my closeness in prayer to individuals, families and communities who suffer violence and intolerance, and I repeat to them the consoling words of Jesus: ‘Take courage, I have overcome the world.’” 

J.J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.