The missionary mandate - World Mission Sunday

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The notion of mission belongs to the very nature of the Church. The Church is called by her Lord to be his presence in the world. Pope St John Paul II said that mission is part of the soul of the Church; it is its very psychology. We cannot understand ourselves as being Christian without understanding that we are meant to be missionary.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, spoke of each member of the Church as a “missionary disciple”. It is an apt description of being a Catholic – we are disciples who follow the Lord knowing that we are sent out by him to bring his message and saving action into the world.

World Mission Sunday each year is an opportunity not only to be aware of the missionary works of the Church, but to be reminded that each of us are to share in this missionary orientation of the Church. It is not just that we want to support those who are actively “on mission”, but that we engage ourselves with the missionary mandate given to the Church by the Lord: “Go out to all the world….”

Pope Francis said that those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries, for they know that Jesus “walks with them, speaks to them, breathes with them. They sense Jesus alive with them in the midst of the missionary enterprise” (Evangelii Gaudium, #266). Being missionary is not only expressed by taking on a specific missionary work; being missionary is letting Christ in us animate our relationships and all our actions. It is letting Christ be seen in us.

Being missionary means that we know ourselves as people sent out into the world by the Lord. The mission does not need to be in Africa, or China, or some foreign place. Being missionary is being willing to be an agent of Christ in our immediate environment. We are meant to be missionary exactly where we are. People around us should know that we are Catholic, and know that we are different because we are Catholic.

We do not reserve our Catholic faith only for Sunday or for other spiritual moments. Our Catholic faith flavours everything we do. We are Catholic and we let our faith shine through all that we are and all that we do. The Lord told us not to hide our light under a bushel basket. We cannot pretend not to be Catholic. We should let our faith be naturally reflected in all that we do.

Pope Francis captured the notion that we are all meant to be missionary when he commented, “Mission is a passion for Jesus and at the same time a passion for his people”.  He says that all the members of the Church “are called to proclaim the Gospel by their witness of life”.

A Catholic cannot but be missionary. It is part of our spiritual DNA. In his address for this year’s World Mission Sunday the Pope said, “In the full range of the Church’s missionary activity, all the faithful are called to live their baptismal commitment to the fullest, in accordance with the personal situation of each”.

This is a call that resonates in my heart. It burns in my soul. The Catholic Church in Tasmania is to become a missionary Church. We, as a Church, are to orientate all our works towards mission. We do not just do good works, laudable as that is, we must ensure that our good works to draw people to Christ. Again to quote Pope Francis: “The Gospel is the source of joy, liberation and salvation for all men and women. The Church is aware of this gift, and therefore she ceaselessly proclaims to everyone “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes” (1Jn 1:1). The mission of the servants of the Word – bishops, priests, religious and laity – is to allow everyone, without exception, to enter into a personal relationship with Christ”. His words can inspire us.

The Church cannot rest until it has enabled everyone to come to know Christ and be brought into a personal relationship with him. This is not a moment for settling into a quiet life as Catholics. We cannot just live within a secure enclave of like-minded believers, we need to expend our energy in mission. We need to develop works that reach out to those who have lost faith and a sense of God. This is not an optional extra for us as Catholics. It cannot be left to the committed few. This is a mission for every Catholic. It is what is expected of us by virtue of our baptism.

To be missionary means to reach out beyond ourselves, beyond our own communities. To be missionary is to look for opportunities to share our faith and invite others to come to experience our faith. Let us pray that the Lord will give us a missionary heart. Let us ask the Lord for the fire of the Holy Spirit who inspired the first Christians to proclaim their faith to the world to be in our hearts and animate our lives as Catholics. Let us offer ourselves to the Lord – use me! Show me what to do!

Throughout the world the Church is active in a myriad of ways being missionary. This year Catholic Mission is highlighting the work of the Church in remote areas of the Kimberley. Priests, religious and missionary volunteers in the Diocese of Broome visit isolated communities of indigenous Australians. Such missionaries continue the work of Christ who as he said in the Gospel today did not come to be served but to serve. The Church adopts the attitude of a servant. It does not seek privilege or reward, it seeks rather to offer itself for the good of others.

The missionary is one who serves.

As we launch Catholic Mission Appeal for this year, I invite you to be generous in your support knowing that the money raised enables the work of mission to be continued.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 17 October 2015