World Mission Sunday, usually the penultimate Sunday in October, is an opportunity to reflect on the mission at the very heart of the Church: evangelization; that is the bringing of the Good News of Jesus Christ, into the lives of all people across the world.
In our Gospel, Christ makes it clear to his disciples, that his life is one of service, carrying out the mission that his Father has given him: to bring his mercy into the world. For the disciples, they are not to be distracted by what lies ahead; if they are to be close to him, then they need to be close to him in his mission.
At his Ascension, Christ commanded his Apostles ‘to go and make disciples of all nations’ And throughout the ages, this ‘great commission’ given to Christ’s Church has been reflected in the lives of saints known and unknown: the mission of St Augustine to Britain in the 6th Century; of St Francis of Assis and St Dominic throughout medieval Europe; the journeys of discovery and hope to the bright horizons of the New World; and the missions of courage and stealth through the dark times of Reformation England.
In our age, the mission is renewed. St Pope John XXIII called for a ‘New Pentecost’. The Second Vatican Council spoke of a ‘missionary Church’ in which all the baptized are to announce Christ by ‘living testimony and the spoken word’. And in a rapidly changing world, St Pope Paul VI called for a ‘true evangelization’ where ‘the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God’ are to be proclaimed’; for Jesus, in leading us to the Mercy of God our Father, is ‘the very first and greatest evangeliser’.
As Disciples of Christ and members of his Church, we too are sent into the world to evangelise, to bring the Good News of the Gospel to all we meet. Evangelisation is not just one task among many it must be at the centre of all that we do as Catholics. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the World Missionary Societies, declared that, "All the sectors of pastoral life, of catechesis and of charity’ are to be missionary in nature; Pope Benedict went on to say that “The Church is mission".
Pope Francis in his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, tells us that we are to be ‘Missionary Disciples’, for the ‘The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness’. With such a promise, why would we not want to tell others about Jesus Christ?
In past ages, with bags of money and barrel-loads of prayers, missionary priests and religious were sent in ships to take God’s mercy to peoples across the globe. Today there are many new millions of people in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, who have not yet heard of Jesus Christ, nor experienced the Father’s mercy; who are waiting for us to reach out to them with our message of hope.
Of course, in these days of travel and migration, of the internet and modern technology, the world in one way or another is no longer so far away; it is on our doorstep. Indeed, while many on other continents long to hear the message of the Gospel, there are many closer to home, for which the message of Jesus Christ has been forgotten, or ignored, or even condemned.
St Pope John Paul II, tells us that if the Church is to be effective in its mission today, there needs to be a ‘New Evangelisation’; that we the Church, in reaching out, must be ‘new in ardour, methods and expression’, so that people in our new age hear the words of the Gospel.
What does this mean for us? What does New Evangelisation mean on a day-to-day basis?
The word ‘evangelisation’, may be a word that as Catholics, we are not familiar with; or that we think of as being used by perhaps American Pentecostals who wave their hands in the air, and wait on street corners ready to pounce on some unsuspecting non-believer.
Pope Benedict XVIputs it like this: “the purpose of the new evangelisation is ………. that every person encounters the living Christ.”
Of course, at Holy Mass, ‘Christ draws near to us and becomes more intimate to us than we are to ourselves’. This is indeed an encounter, a personal evangelisation, a filling of us with the Good News.
Our mission, the mission of the Church, is to lead others to that same encounter with Jesus as a living person; to be as close to him, to know him in the same way as the disciples knew him on that dusty road in Galilee.
Through our lives as Catholics yes, and just as important, through our words, we are to proclaim that we are followers of Jesus Christ who is indeed, ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’; we are to bring people to meet Jesus for the first time, or as if for the first time. That is our mission.
Through prayer, we are to discern our own mission as an individual. Our mission may be in the home, or the school, or the work place. Reaching out with God’s mercy to those we meet.
Through prayer and discussion, each parish will also discern what is its mission.
Some parishes may focus on a mission to local work places or schools, or to a local university; some will reach out to migrants, or the homeless, or to the elderly in care home. There may be a particular mission to those couples who are looking to be married in Church; or to those who may be attracted the liturgy of the Mass.
To grow as a community of disciples, to explore what is our local mission, to reach out to those in need, to learn to love Jesus more and more; that is what we are called to do - to join Jesus on the road as servant and slave to all.