Today, Mission Sunday, we will no doubt have given a little extra in the form of the second collection at Mass, which will go towards supporting the work of the Missions. At my own parish, this was accompanied by a pastoral letter outlining the work of the missions, asking for practical and financial support for them “and above all, the support of your prayers”.
The temptation may be to think that the work of the Missions is primarily temporal – and whilst a great deal of the work is undertaken in the temporal realm, the real work supporting it and driving it forward is spiritual. Indeed, the reason for missionary activity is spiritual. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, touches on this in his Message For World Mission Day –
“The Church is missionary by nature; otherwise, she would no longer be the Church of Christ.. So it is important to ask ourselves certain questions about our Christian identity and our responsibility as believers .. What is the basis of our mission? What is the heart of our mission? What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying out our mission?”
The Holy Father goes on to note that the mission of the Church comes from the transforming power of the Gospel, which – he reminds us – is ‘filled with contagious joy, for it contains and offers new life: the life of the Risen Christ’. And because of this, the Gospel is both vital and effective at accomplishing what it proclaims – and the world vitally needs what the Gospel proclaims. The Holy Father tells us –
“The Gospel is a Person who continually offers Himself and constantly invites those who receive Him with humble and religious faith to share His life by an effective participation in the paschal mystery of His Death and Resurrection.”
All our missionary activity, then, is directed toward sharing the Good News of the Person of Jesus, Who calls us and Who desires our redemption and salvation. This missionary activity is a means to an end, in the same way as the Church is a means to an end –
“Mission reminds the Church that she is not an end unto herself, but a humble instrument and mediation of the Kingdom. A self-referential Church, one content with earthly success, is not the Church of Christ, His crucified and glorious Body. That is why we should prefer ‘a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security’.”
Pope Francis reminds us that –
“Young people are the hope of mission. The Person of Jesus Christ and the Good News He proclaimed continue to attract many young people. They seek ways to put themselves with courage and enthusiasm at the service of humanity. ‘There are many young people who offer their solidarity in the face of the evils of the world and engage in various forms of militancy and volunteering… How beautiful it is to see that young people are ‘street preachers’, joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!'”
In these days of the New Evangelisation, there are a great many forms of missionary activity – not only abroad, but in our own streets and our own town squares. To do this, to respond in a very real way to the call of the Gospel to be ‘missionary’, is not easy – that applies whether travelling to a distant land or evangelising locally. But that response is often a conduit of great grace and mercy for souls.
Indeed, the response of the Christian to this call of the Gospel to be ‘missionary’ itself requires a special grace. The Holy Father gives this grace a name – he calls it ‘holy audacity’. Quite an appropriate name, really – the courage of faith that is shared, the courage to approach people in the street, not knowing the response this will elicit.
Attending a Divine Mercy conference yesterday, I was reminded of some of the works undertaken in response to the message of Divine Mercy, particular forms of this ‘holy audacity’ mentioned by the Pope.
The Friends Of Divine Mercy Scotland did something quite wonderful during the summer – they sent out the ‘Mercy Bus’ to the streets of Scotland.
Helen Border, one of the founder members of the groups said they were –
“Inspired by the call from Pope Francis to ‘Go out to the people and take the Church to them’ – we’ve decided to do just that, with a Church on wheels.”
And this is exactly what they did, and what the bus became. It went out regularly to the town squares and street corners; on it, there were Priests – nineteen of them, at various times – waiting to hear Confessions, and people were invited to pray and to light a candle. At the conclusion of the ‘bus tour’, Bishop Keenan of the Diocese of Paisley celebrated Mass on the bus. Reports later noted that in the course of the tour, people came back to the Church after many years away – in some cases, as many as thirty years.
This is enormously important missionary activity, vital in those places and in those lives where the flame of Faith is flickering erratically in the gusting winds of a world filled with encroaching darkness, rather than burning brightly and strongly.
It may be that not all of us are called to such an apostolate as this; however, all of us are called to support apostolates such as this – practically and financially where we are able to do so, but perhaps most crucially of all, by means of our prayerful support. Prayer is within the grasp of all and when offered by a humble heart, it obtains great graces for souls through the mercy of God.
The first ‘missionary activity’ of the Church was the Visitation of Our Blessed Lady to Her cousin, St Elizabeth. Mary is the ‘Theotokos’, the ‘God Bearer’ – and in bringing Him to Her cousin, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and the child in her womb leaped for joy (cf.Lk.1:41-44).
Mary, then, is our Model in all missionary activity in the Church, and we would do well to ask Her to pray for us and with us.
Fittingly, this is how the Holy Father ends his Message For World Mission Day –
“Dear brothers and sisters, in carrying out our mission, let us draw inspiration from Mary, Mother of Evangelization. Moved by the Spirit, she welcomed the Word of life in the depths of her humble faith. May the Virgin Mother help us to say our own “yes”, conscious of the urgent need to make the Good News of Jesus resound in our time. May she obtain for us renewed zeal in bringing to everyone the Good News of the life that is victorious over death. May she intercede for us so that we can acquire the holy audacity needed to discover new ways to bring the gift of salvation to every man and woman.”