Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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For the month of October 2019, I have asked that the whole Church revive her missionary awareness and commitment as we commemorate the centenary of the Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud of Pope Benedict XV (30 November 1919). Its farsighted and prophetic vision of the apostolate has made me realize once again the importance of renewing the Church’s missionary commitment and giving fresh evangelical impulse to her work of preaching and bringing to the world the salvation of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again.

The title of the present Message is the same as that of October’s Missionary Month: Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World. Celebrating this month will help us first to rediscover the missionary dimension of our faith in Jesus Christ, a faith graciously bestowed on us in baptism. Our filial relationship with God is not something simply private, but always in relation to the Church. Through our communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we, together with so many of our other brothers and sisters, are born to new life. This divine life is not a product for sale – we do not practise proselytism – but a treasure to be given, communicated and proclaimed: that is the meaning of mission. We received this gift freely and we share it freely (cf. Mt 10:8), without excluding anyone. God wills that all people be saved by coming to know the truth and experiencing his mercy through the ministry of the Church, the universal sacrament of salvation (cf. 1 Tim 2:4; Lumen Gentium, 48).

The Church is on mission in the world. Faith in Jesus Christ enables us to see all things in their proper perspective, as we view the world with God’s own eyes and heart. Hope opens us up to the eternal horizons of the divine life that we share. Charity, of which we have a foretaste in the sacraments and in fraternal love, impels us to go forth to the ends of the earth (cf. Mic 5:4; Mt 28:19; Acts 1:8; Rom 10:18). A Church that presses forward to the farthest frontiers requires a constant and ongoing missionary conversion. How many saints, how many men and women of faith, witness to the fact that this unlimited openness, this going forth in mercy, is indeed possible and realistic, for it is driven by love and its deepest meaning as gift, sacrifice and gratuitousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-21)! The man who preaches God must be a man of God (cf. Maximum Illud).

This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission. People in love never stand still: they are drawn out of themselves; they are attracted and attract others in turn; they give themselves to others and build relationships that are life-giving. As far as God’s love is concerned, no one is useless or insignificant. Each of us is a mission to the world, for each of us is the fruit of God’s love. Even if parents can betray their love by lies, hatred and infidelity, God never takes back his gift of life. From eternity he has destined each of his children to share in his divine and eternal life (cf. Eph 1:3-6).

This life is bestowed on us in baptism, which grants us the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, the conqueror of sin and death. Baptism gives us rebirth in God’s own image and likeness, and makes us members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. In this sense, baptism is truly necessary for salvation for it ensures that we are always and everywhere sons and daughters in the house of the Father, and never orphans, strangers or slaves. What in the Christian is a sacramental reality – whose fulfillment is found in the Eucharist – remains the vocation and destiny of every man and woman in search of conversion and salvation. For baptism fulfils the promise of the gift of God that makes everyone a son or daughter in the Son. We are children of our natural parents, but in baptism we receive the origin of all fatherhood and true motherhood: no one can have God for a Father who does not have the Church for a mother (cf. Saint Cyprian, De Cath. Eccl., 6).

Our mission, then, is rooted in the fatherhood of God and the motherhood of the Church. The mandate given by the Risen Jesus at Easter is inherent in Baptism: as the Father has sent me, so I send you, filled with the Holy Spirit, for the reconciliation of the world (cf. Jn 20:19-23; Mt 28:16-20). This mission is part of our identity as Christians; it makes us responsible for enabling all men and women to realize their vocation to be adoptive children of the Father, to recognize their personal dignity and to appreciate the intrinsic worth of every human life, from conception until natural death. Today’s rampant secularism, when it becomes an aggressive cultural rejection of God’s active fatherhood in our history, is an obstacle to authentic human fraternity, which finds expression in reciprocal respect for the life of each person. Without the God of Jesus Christ, every difference is reduced to a baneful threat, making impossible any real fraternal acceptance and fruitful unity within the human race.

The universality of the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ led Benedict XV to call for an end to all forms of nationalism and ethnocentrism, or the merging of the preaching of the Gospel with the economic and military interests of the colonial powers. In his Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud, the Pope noted that the Church’s universal mission requires setting aside exclusivist ideas of membership in one’s own country and ethnic group. The opening of the culture and the community to the salvific newness of Jesus Christ requires leaving behind every kind of undue ethnic and ecclesial introversion. Today too, the Church needs men and women who, by virtue of their baptism, respond generously to the call to leave behind home, family, country, language and local Church, and to be sent forth to the nations, to a world not yet transformed by the sacraments of Jesus Christ and his holy Church. By proclaiming God’s word, bearing witness to the Gospel and celebrating the life of the Spirit, they summon to conversion, baptize and offer Christian salvation, with respect for the freedom of each person and in dialogue with the cultures and religions of the peoples to whom they are sent. The missio ad gentes, which is always necessary for the Church, thus contributes in a fundamental way to the process of ongoing conversion in all Christians. Faith in the Easter event of Jesus; the ecclesial mission received in baptism; the geographic and cultural detachment from oneself and one’s own home; the need for salvation from sin and liberation from personal and social evil: all these demand the mission that reaches to the very ends of the earth.

The providential coincidence of this centenary year with the celebration of the Special Synod on the Churches in the Amazon allows me to emphaze how the mission entrusted to us by Jesus with the gift of his Spirit is also timely and necessary for those lands and their peoples. A renewed Pentecost opens wide the doors of the Church, in order that no culture remain closed in on itself and no people cut off from the universal communion of the faith. No one ought to remain closed in self-absorption, in the self-referentiality of his or her own ethnic and religious affiliation. The Easter event of Jesus breaks through the narrow limits of worlds, religions and cultures, calling them to grow in respect for the dignity of men and women, and towards a deeper conversion to the truth of the Risen Lord who gives authentic life to all.

Here I am reminded of the words of Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of the meeting of Latin American Bishops at Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. I would like to repeat these words and make them my own: “Yet what did the acceptance of the Christian faith mean for the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean? For them, it meant knowing and welcoming Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it, in their rich religious traditions. Christ is the Saviour for whom they were silently longing. It also meant that they received, in the waters of Baptism, the divine life that made them children of God by adoption; moreover, they received the Holy Spirit who came to make their cultures fruitful, purifying them and developing the numerous seeds that the incarnate Word had planted in them, thereby guiding them along the paths of the Gospel… The Word of God, in becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, also became history and culture. The utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbian religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal Church, would not be a step forward: indeed, it would be a step back. In reality, it would be a retreat towards a stage in history anchored in the past” (Address at the Inaugural Session, 13 May 2007: Insegnamenti III, 1 [2007], 855-856).

We entrust the Church’s mission to Mary our Mother. In union with her Son, from the moment of the Incarnation the Blessed Virgin set out on her pilgrim way. She was fully involved in the mission of Jesus, a mission that became her own at the foot of the Cross: the mission of cooperating, as Mother of the Church, in bringing new sons and daughters of God to birth in the Spirit and in faith.

I would like to conclude with a brief word about the Pontifical Mission Societies, already proposed in Maximum Illud as a missionary resource. The Pontifical Mission Societies serve the Church’s universality as a global network of support for the Pope in his missionary commitment by prayer, the soul of mission, and charitable offerings from Christians throughout the world. Their donations assist the Pope in the evangelization efforts of particular Churches (the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith), in the formation of local clergy (the Pontifical Society of Saint Peter the Apostle), in raising missionary awareness in children (Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood) and in encouraging the missionary dimension of Christian faith (Pontifical Missionary Union). In renewing my support for these Societies, I trust that the extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019 will contribute to the renewal of their missionary service to my ministry.

To men and women missionaries, and to all those who, by virtue of their baptism, share in any way in the mission of the Church, I send my heartfelt blessing.

From the Vatican, 9 June 2019, Solemnity of Pentecost

FRANCIS

Theme: Pray

WORLD MISSION SUNDAY

We are what we think. A glance at today’s scripture, both Moses and the widow provide us with vivid illustrations of the quality of prayer which have to cultivate. From Second Timothy, there is another theme at work: ‘all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, correction and training in holiness’. In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, Vatican II agreed that all books of Scripture are inspired and normative. They teach firmly, faithfully and without error for the sake of our salvation.

Read more: 29th Sunday in Ordinary time year C

Theme: Faith

There comes a time in everyone’s life when one plays a game of cards against faith. It is the oldest of all games: You and Faith sit across the green table of Earth facing one another. The rule is that you go first. You sit and stare across the table at the backs of her cards. But you have a strong hand; you hold the uncertain cruelties of nature and challenges of humankind. As you play card after card, hoping to weaken and eventually breach her defenses; faith remains unperturbed. Faith holds in her hand certain cards you will never beat.

Read more: 27th Sunday in ordinary time year C

Theme: Faith heals

To prevent prejudice, people who use politically correct language have attempted to eradicate potentially offensive terms with mixed results. With a little imagination, we can envisage some of these notions on persons featuring in today’s readings. Most peoples in Israel and Judah regarded Naaman the Syrian to be outside the pale of God’s concern; yet to their amazement he was cleansed and cured. Elisha’s behavior, at God’s direction anticipated that of Jesus who was determined to ignore the artificial barriers that separated people.

First reading: 2 Kings 5:14-17

When Elisha inherited the hairy mantle and ministry, he continued to prophesy and work the same wonders Elijah had. Active in the northern kingdom of Israel for about fifty years between 850-800 B.C, Elisha offered God’s wisdom to four successive kings whose political future was constantly in doubt. Through his effective words and impressive works, Elisha repeatedly illustrated the superior power of God over every foe. At the heart of Elisha as Elijah he was convinced that whatever God promised would be fulfilled. Reliant on that truth, people believed that the great acts Elisha performed were trustworthy signs pointing towards an emerging era of salvation where God’s universal plan of love superseded all former prejudices.

In God’s universal plan, even gentiles would benefit from of God’s saving grace. This truth is borne out in the healing of Naaman a Syrian commander in the army of King Benhadad II cf. 2 Kings 8:7, Naaman is said to been a leper, although there is no certainty regarding the exact disease from which he suffered. Leprosy was an umbrella term for many sorts of physical ailments, from baldness to bad skin to true Hansen’s disease. Naaman desired to be healed in vain until an Israeli slave girl in his household told him of the powers of Elisha. With a letter from King Benhadad II, he approached King Jehoram of Israel who was suspicious that the general’s request was some sort of trick intended to provoke the king with an impossible favor. Elisha quickly came to his king’s defense by telling him to let Naaman come to his house “that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel” 2 Kings 5:8. When Naaman arrived, Elisha showed himself to be disinterested. Instead of running out to meet and greet this foreign dignitary, Elisha simply instructed him to go and wash in the Jordan which offended Naaman. Later Naaman was persuaded to accept Elisha’s instruction. When he did, he got healed and his loyalties shifted from the deities of Syria to the one God of Israel. Naaman rejoiced and offered thankful sacrifice.

Second reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-13

Throughout both testaments, various witnesses attested to the fact that God’s Word would not be silenced regardless of how badly the messenger or mediator of the word might be treated. Elijah was forced to run off to the desert when his words offended Jezebel but that Word continued to be heard and realized. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern and left for dead because his contemporaries were fed up with the way he challenged them. Fearless Jeremiah persevered and continued to proclaim the Word of God against every falsehood. In this passage from the correspondence of St Paul to Timothy and the Church at Ephesus, that same message is affirmed. The passage refers to one of Paul’s painful imprisonments. Despite the chains that shackled his body, the Word of God was unfettered. Paul encouraged Timothy to remain faithful through all the struggles that he might experience for the sake of belonging to Christ.

To illustrate the depth of his conviction, Paul quoted an early Christian hymn in which the early Church articulated its prayer and faith. In the hymn fragment quoted in 2 Timothy 2:13-15, St. Paul invokes the death and resurrection of Jesus in which all of us have participated through baptism. This unity of dying and rising with Christ extends beyond the sacramental event into everyday life. As believers we are privileged to be able to unite these daily dyings and risings to that of Jesus joyfully thus sharing in the mystery of redemption. Our dying and rising with Jesus provides the strength and the grace necessary to persevere and remain faithful without discouragement at the delay of the parousia.  A word of warning injects an ominous tone into this text: “If we deny Christ, he will deny us” 2 Timothy 2:12.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

Unique to today’s Gospel is this encounter between Jesus and ten lepers which has been traditionally interpreted as a lesson of gratitude. What I can assure you is the fact that; awe, dread and gratitude are powerful emotions that arise only with a clear reason. Ten lepers call out to Jesus in search of healing. Jesus responds by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests. While they are on their way to the temple, all of them are made clean. The world as they know it has changed forever. What are their reactions to this earthquake of healing? Nine choose to continue their journey but one of them returned to Jesus praising and thanking God. Jesus wondered aloud where the other nine were and then blesses the man telling him his faith has made him well. Why did the tenth leper respond differently? How did his faith differ from the rest? This leper was a Samaritan. Even without leprosy this man was an outcast. By the time he contracted leprosy, his heart and soul were already disfigured by constant rejection; his ravaged body simply reflected his broken heart and crushed spirit.

The truth is that suffering hollows a person out, leaving a space where none should be. Yet these spaces, left open, create the possibility for change. On the day of his healing, our Samaritan leper was already an open person. His openness meant that God could work a profound miracle within him. Allowing suffering to hollow us out takes a profound act of faith. Leaving our hollow spaces empty takes an even greater act of courage. Once he was healed, our Samaritan leper realized that extraordinary events demand a new way of living. He turned his back on the past, shed off his old skin and walked boldly into the transformed present moment. Who among us would have this type of courage? Most of us would be huddled with our nine companions trying to determine what had just happened.

The other truth is that the healing of the lepers shows how God’s mercies extended to all people unconditionally not withstanding gender, ethnicity or worthiness. All ten without exception were healed. However, healing does not ultimately translate into salvation. As we see in the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan who returned to give thanks we realize that he had come to believe. It is that believing that had appropriated him the gift of healing. He is not praised solely for his gratitude but for accepting the challenge to believe. Faith insists that we embrace the tender, ever-changing present moment and say yes to the unknown. The Samaritan leper demonstrated present-moment living which is an essential aspect of faith. Faith also demands right relationship. God is the creator; we are the creatures. As the tenth leper prostrated himself before Jesus, every cell in his body was bowing. He not only accepts his creaturehood, he embraces it. In this world full of challenges all we need to hear like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar; the hemorrhaging woman who yearned to touch Jesus’ cloak; and the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears is: “Your faith has saved you” Luke 17:19.

When you request a favor from Jesus, live in the present moment and have the courage to follow the directions that God writes in your heart. As the rumbling increases, a peculiar mixture of awe, dread and gratitude will fill you. Stay strong. You are in right relationship with your God. Your faith will make you well.

Application

This message from today’s readings challenges us to be universal in doing what is good because the gifts of God cannot be restricted to any ethic group or to the righteous; Jesus has overcome all such parochialism. When doing good, challenges are bound to come our way; we should not fear or give up. In Church of the risen Lord, healing is possible as long as we are willing to believe. As we allow this passage to speak yet again to our prejudices and to assault our personal preferences, we need to grow in faith.

Fr Paulino Mondo

Theme: Wealth

What is the meaning of running after wealth? We may assume that reasons for seeking wealth are universal, yet it turns out that there are regional variations regarding wealth and the freedom it enables. Some wealthy people concur that their monetary status allows them to buy the best products they deserve after hard work. With wealth, some people are able to earn respect, be charitable, happy and to walk on the road to success. While the rich are seen as blessed, most needy people speculates injustice. We are called to make sure faith checks on this imbalance.

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