Pope Benedict XVI does not want "Mission Sunday" 2011 to pass by as one more commemoration in our liturgical observance. Rather, he wants it to ignite a fervent missionary movement in the Catholic Church. He is calling the entire Catholic Church into a new missionary age. We are living in a global moment of need and Pope Benedict XVI is calling us all to become missionaries. Let us here the call and respond.
VATICAN CITY, (Catholic Online) - On the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 25, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI made public his message for World Mission Sunday. It is entitled "As the Father has sent me, so I send you "(Jn 20:21) World Mission Sunday falls on October 23, 2011. The full text of this message will soon be available in English on the Vatican website. However, my very rough translation of the Italian persuaded me to do what I could to expose as many of the faithful I could to this heartfelt and urgent summons given to all of us by the successor of Peter.
Clearly, Pope Benedict XVI does not want "Mission Sunday" 2011 to pass by as one more commemoration in our liturgical observance. Rather, he wants it to ignite a fervent missionary movement in the Catholic Church. He is calling the entire Catholic Church into a new missionary age.
Pope Benedict XVI begins his message quoting the Venerable John Paul II, from his apostolic letter at the turn of the New Millennium and his encyclical letter on the permanent validity of the Churches Missionary Vocation. He then calls every member of the Church to proclaim the Gospel to everyone "with the same enthusiasm as the early Christians" explaining "the Gospel is not the exclusive property of those who received it, but it is a gift to share, good news to report. And this gift-commitment is given not only to some, but to all the baptized, who are "chosen race ... a holy people, God's own people" (1 Peter 2:9), may declare his wonderful works."
Pope Benedict reminds us all that the Church "exists to evangelize" with an urgency reminiscent of the Saint whose feast we celebrated the day this message was made public. He writes,"This task has lost none of its urgency.We cannot rest easy at the thought that, after two thousand, there are people who still do not know Christ, who have not yet heard His message of salvation."
Here he is speaking of the missionary mandate of the Church "ad gentes" , to the Nations. The Church has always taught that every single human being on the face of the earth has a right to hear the liberating Gospel message of Jesus Christ as fully revealed in the heart of His Catholic Church. However, in order to be able to engage this task, Catholic Christians need to be renewed in their own Baptismal faith through an encounter with the Risen Lord and solid catechesis in living as a Catholic Christian.
This is what is meant by the "New Evangelization". The Pope writes, " there are growing numbers of people who, though having received the Gospel announcement, have forgotten or abandoned it and no longer identify themselves in the Church; and many environments, even in traditionally Christian societies, are reluctant to open themselves to the word of faith."
Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II called for this "New Evangelization". Pope Benedict XVI has made it a pillar of his pontificate. He erected a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization charged with re-evangelizing countries where the Gospel was announced centuries ago, but where its presence in peoples' daily life seems to be all but lost. He constantly reminds us that cultures formerly infused with a Christian culture are desperately in need of being evangelized anew. His encouragement of the predominantly lay ecclesial movements in the Church is an indicator of the seriousness with which he views this task.
When the Venerable John Paul visited the Americas he released a letter "To the Church in America" in which he wrote, "The new Evangelization calls for a clearly conceived, serious, and well organized effort to evangelize culture. The Son of God, by taking upon Himself our human nature, became incarnate within a particular people, even though His redemptive death brought redemption to all people, of every culture, race and condition. The gift of His Spirit and His love are meant for each and every people and culture, in order to bring them all into unity after the perfect unity existing in the Triune God." (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 70)
This New Evangelization invites each of us to live our baptismal vocation, no matter what our state in life, completely given over to the work of the Lord. It is meant to bring about an authentic renewal of the Church so that she can undertake a new missionary outreach to the whole world. Only a Church fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission. I believe we are at the beginning of a great resurgence in the Catholic Church precisely for this new missionary age. Just when her opponents are ready to count the Catholic Church out, the sleeping giant is rising.
In this World Mission Sunday message the Pope reaffirms the mission ad gentes, to the Nations. He underscores the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council that , "The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree. Ad Gentes, 2).
The Church is Christ's plan for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the "world reconciled." There is no "plan B" through which He will save this world. She is a universal sign, sacrament and seed of the kingdom of God. The early Christians would have never understood the notion in some contemporary Christian circles that anyone could follow Jesus and not "need" the Church.
Saint Cyprian (A.D. 258) wrote, "He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother. Our Lord warns us when He says: `he that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.' Whosoever breaks the peace and harmony of Christ acts against Christ; whoever gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ." (On The Unity of the Catholic Church)
The contemporary culture has thrown off almost every remnant of Christian influence. It has embraced a new paganism. What Pope Benedict calls the "Dictatorship of Relativism" is the bad fruit of a rejection of the idea that truth even exists. As a result, like Cain, western culture wanders aimlessly in a land of Nod, East of Eden.
We need to view the entirety of the American continent as missionary territory, ripe for the New Evangelization. We also need to view the once Christian Nations of the European continent as missionary territory. Most importantly, we need to view ourselves as missionaries in a new missionary age, enlisted by the Church, and by the successor of Peter, to get to work.
The Lord of the harvest is calling workers into the fields of contemporary culture which are ripe and ready for harvest. We are living in a new missionary age and Pope Benedict XVI is calling us all to become missionaries. Let us here the call and respond.
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