OCTOBER 2019: Extraordinary Missionary Month
“Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World”
The month of October is a special month this year. Commemorating the Centennial Anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud (MI), Pope Francis invites us to reinvigorate our zeal for mission. Against the backdrop of the aftermath of World War I, Pope Benedict XV’s letter of 1919 became a reminder of the situation of war victims as a factor influencing missionary activities. On the one hand, post-war destruction incapacitated indigenous vocations for missionary work. On the other, divisions among countries created a nationalistic tendency among missionary activities, so that missionary efforts became less of a universal mission to proclaim the Good News to the whole world and more of an imposition of outside values on indigenous cultures. Against this colonialist view of mission, MI’s proposal was for the whole church to revitalize the spiritual notion of missionary activities by actualizing the evangelical character of the Church.
Building on the reawakening of mission initiated by MI, Pope Francis urges us to continue the purification of missionary activities. Mission is not about increasing the number of converts, nor is it about finding the right form of liturgical inculturation. Indeed, liturgical inculturation had become a central focus for missionary activities, but it is not its core. The Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel must be the fruit of an encounter with Christ. Such an encounter brings about true conversion because it encourages all people to transcend their own boundaries - social class, race, geographical culture, etc. In his letter “For The Centenary Of The Promulgation Of The Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud On The Activity Of Missionaries In The World,” Pope Francis reminds us that in transcending national boundaries and bearing witness to God’s love, we can “combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past.”
A transcendent faith is the sign of true renewal in mission brought about by our spiritual encounter with God’s love through Christ. While the secular world encourages us to have faith in our humanity, Jesus asks us to have even deeper faith in the very source of our humanity: the living God. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) We know we are continuing the on-going mission of Christ when we see others inspired by the zeal of our own faith to go beyond their boundaries, spontaneously finding God in helping those in need, and thus continuing to renew the history of humankind saved by God. Our mission and our living faith in God’s love can never be separated.
That is why the theme for this year’s missionary month is “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” This theme indicates that the root of our mission is the faith born of our own baptism, the faith which encourages our own incorporation in the created world as the mystical Body of Christ. The more we are involved in God’s own mission to share the divine love with us individually, the more we are deepening the effect of that love in this world. As is written in the Gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16) The missionary dimension of our baptism transcends private salvation. When we receive the grace of baptism, we commit ourselves to the mission of God. Our life itself becomes the true mission when we incorporate it into the love of God who gives life to this world.
During this month let us be aware that mission is far from creating a charitable program demanding the erection of some particular “mission agency.” Mission starts from the movement of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of those who encounter Christ’s love, and from there it simply never stops urging them to go everywhere with the Church. Mission continually calls us to renew our ecclesial commitment.
By Fr. Antonius Firmansyah, SJ