Today the Universal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. The Church sets this Sunday aside in every parish to reflect upon the work and necessity of the missions in all parts of the world. Too often we think of the missions as something that “other” people do in the distant reaches of Africa and Asia, and maybe even South America. We do not often see the missions as something that we can and must do, even here in central Illinois. This is most unfortunate because, as Francis Cardinal George, the metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago, is fond of saying, “The Church does not have a mission; the mission has a Church.”
The Church exists because of the mission given to the Apostles by Christ and for no other reason. Just before he ascended to the Father, he said:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
As members of the Church, each of us shares in this most important mission. And unlike 007, this mission is ours whether we choose to accept it or not. It is a mission that comes with our baptism when we are anointed as priest, prophet, and king.
The readings from the sacred Scriptures this morning focus on love and love, of course, is at the heart of the Church’s mission.
True and authentic love cannot be bottled up; it cannot be kept quiet or secret. Love, when it is genuine and true, must be shared; there is simply no way around it. True love wells up inside of us and if we do not share this love, much like a volcano, the pressure builds up and this love explodes around us. This is, in all truthfulness, the purpose of love. Love is meant to be shared with all. Love is supposed to well up inside of us and flow out of us, much like a fountain feeds a pool of water.
Love is the focus of World Mission Sunday because when we love someone we want everyone we know to know this person so that they, too, can love him or love her. We look for ways to introduce people to those we love, whether we invite them to dinner, to weddings, to a birthday party; we help people get to know those whom we love and we like to know those whom our friends love. It is always a joy to meet someone who is loved and who shares love with others. If we know Jesus, if we love him, we will want everyone to know him as well. This is, as it were, the lithmus test of our faith: do we want others to know Jesus? Do we want to help others know Jesus?
Genuine love helps and enables us to know the plight and suffering of those around us, because love is always concerned with others and never with ourselves. Love allows us to see the face of Jesus in the poor and in the suffering of the world and so we want to love them as Jesus has first loved us.
Most of us have good and holy commitments here that legitimately keep us from physically sharing the Gospel with the four corners of the world. We are married and must be with our spouse; we have children to care for and raise and maybe even parents to support and look after; we have duties and within the community we must see to. Each of these responsibilities certainly comes first in our lives because they come from God.
Some among us, however, do not have these commitments and should prayerfully discern the call of the Lord for them. These questions must seriously be considered by each of us: What brings me the greatest joy? What will bring me fulfillment? Where do I feel at peace? Where these answers coincide we will find the will of God, and only there will we find true and lasting peace and joy. It may well be that some among us here this morning are called to serve the Lord and his people as priests or religious brothers or sisters. This is particular calling to share the love of Christ Jesus with a hurting world in a unique way. It is not, however, the only way to spread the message of the Gospel to all the nations.
Roughly one-fifth of the world’s population belongs to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church while some two-fifths of the world do not know Christ Jesus. This is much work to be done in the mission fields of the world. Jesus has commanded us to “teach all nations” and as yet we have not done this. This is a responsibility that each of us has as baptized members of the Body of Christ. We must do our part; we cannot sit idly by.
This weekend, Holy Mother Church urgently calls us to reflect upon the mission of the Church and begs our assistance, both prayerful and financial. Those who toil in the vineyard of the Lord need our prayers to sustain them and assist them as they share the faith of the Church with the world. At the same time, our prayers will help us to find the ways here in our local community we can reach out with love of Jesus to those around us. The laborers in the Lord’s vineyard need, also, the assistance of our finances as they seek to meet the physical needs of the world so that their souls can then be tended.
Just as the love we have for those around us cannot be kept to ourselves but must be shared, so too the love we have for Christ Jesus. If truly we love we will want others to know him, too, and we will do what we can to help others know him and love him as we do. This can be done in any number of ways: praying a rosary for the work of the missions; making the Stations of the Cross for those we love; holding a door for someone behind us; smiling at someone who seems to need some encouragement; listening to someone who hurts. We often hear it said that we can spread the Gospel without words; that our actions enough will spread the Gospel. While we certainly can show and must show our faith in the Lord by what we do, this is not enough. Sometimes people see in these acts nothing more than nice people; faith does not always enter the picture, but it must.
Our very lives are to be directed toward the work of the missions, so that the whole world may know, by what we say and do, of the love of Christ Jesus crucified and risen for us.