By Father James Jeanfreau, Guest Column
For nearly two centuries, the church has designated October as a month to highlight its fundamental call to be missionary. Pope Francis has proclaimed an Extraordinary Mission Month this October to commemorate the centennial of one of the church’s most important missionary documents – the 1919 apostolic letter “Maximum Illud” written by Pope Benedict XV.
St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter “Redemptoris Missio,” states that missiology – the study and understanding of mission – is not a peripheral task of the church but is at its very center. Mission is fundamental to and cannot be separated from the sacrament of baptism.
Baptism is much more than simply washing away original sin. Becoming an adopted son or daughter of God the Father is much more than receiving the rights of inheritance. We are given the great commission to go out to the ends of the earth.
Always on mission
In the book “Baptized and Sent,” Pope Francis has shared the insight that all churches – in all the regions of the earth – should place themselves “permanently in a state of mission.”
The celebration of the Extraordinary Missionary Month, he said, is a magnificent opportunity for “fostering an increased awareness of the mission ‘ad gentes’ (to the world) and taking up again with renewed fervor the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity.”
“Ad Gentes” – to the world – is also the name of the missionary decree proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council. The consistent basis for missiology in “Baptized and Sent” focuses on the Trinitarian mystery of God. The Father has sent the Son, and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus often told his disciples: “As the Father sent me, so I send you. You will do even greater works than I.”
“The pilgrim Church is missionary by its very nature, for 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” (Ad Gentes 2; Baptized and Sent, page 329).
The mystery of the Trinity is an eternal unity of life and love, which even for the three partakers must be shared and open for others to enter. What other reason could there be for God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to create us in their own image and likeness? This outward movement goes out to all people, all nations.
Isaiah prophesies so beautifully with his image that all nations will come streaming to God’s holy mountain. The wonder of the Magi further emphasizes this desire for all nations to experience God’s salvific love. Matthew concludes his Gospel with Jesus’ great commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in 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 ages.”
From the first command of God the Father in Genesis, we receive the commission to go forth: “For this reason, man and woman shall leave father and mother to become one. Be fruitful and multiply.”
Jesus had to leave the Father to become one with humanity. In order to complete this unity, he accepted death on the cross. In this mystical-sacrificial union, he brought life to all humanity.
Man and woman leave father and mother and commit themselves to this mystical-sacrificial union in order to bring forth new life. Thus, the expansion of the divine union grows ever larger. Without this going forth into newness of life, true life desists.
A global message
Jesus’ way of operating, before and after Easter, is differentiated, the latter building on the former. In the pre-Easter period, the mission Jesus entrusted to the disciples seemed limited in time and space. After the resurrection, there is a universalization and globalization of the mission.
“This enhances the character of the Paschal Mystery as center and source of the mission and of the action of God and the gift-responsibility of the Church” (Baptized and Sent, page 335).
Jesus shares this mission with his disciples in two distinct ways – before and after his resurrection. His mission begins with his commission to the disciples being sent to the house of Israel. Post-resurrection, it becomes the great commission to all people of all nations, even to the ends of the earth.
The healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter points to this transition. I wonder how much this woman’s great faith helped even Jesus to see more clearly the will of the Father for all peoples to share in the life of faith. Was he surprised as he declared her to be woman of great faith?
“Every man and woman is a mission; that is the reason for our life on this earth. To be attracted and to be sent are two movements that our hearts, especially when we are young, feel as interior forces of love; they hold out promise for our future and they give direction to our lives” (Pope Francis, message for World Mission Sunday, 2018).
Oct. 5 issue: Part 3 will reflect on the history of the Pontifical Mission Societies.