On World Mission Day, which we celebrate each year on the penultimate Sunday of October (this year on 24th October 2021) we recall with gratitude all those men and women who by their testimony of life help us to renew our baptismal commitment to be generous and joyful apostles of the Gospel. ‘We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20).
Let us remember especially all those who resolutely set out, leaving home and family behind, to bring the Gospel to all those places and people thirsting for its saving message. We pray for them and for the communities in which they live and work, and we give thanks for the generosity of their lives, ‘speaking about what they have seen and heard’.
What we have seen and heard
Pope Francis in his Message for World Mission Day shared on the 6 January 2021, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, writes:
Contemplating their missionary witness, we are inspired to be courageous ourselves and to beg ‘the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’ (Lk 10:2).
We know that the call to mission is not a thing of the past, or a romantic leftover from earlier times. Today too Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion.
He addresses this call to everyone, and in different ways. We can think of the peripheries all around us, in the heart of our cities or our own families. Universal openness to love has a dimension that is not geographical but existential. Always, but especially in these times of pandemic, it is important to grow in our daily ability to widen our circle, to reach out to others who, albeit physically close to us, are not immediately part of our ‘circle of interests’ (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 97).
To be on mission is to be willing to think as Christ does, to believe with him that those around us are also my brothers and sisters. May his compassionate love touch our hearts and make us all true missionary disciples.
Pope Francis continues:
‘Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion’.
Everything about Christ reminds us that he knows well our world and its need for redemption, and calls us to become actively engaged in this mission: ‘Go therefore to the highways and byways, and invite everyone you find’ (Mt 22:9). No one is excluded, no one need feel distant or removed from this compassionate love.
The Apostles are the first to tell us this; they remembered even the day and the hour when they first met him. He left an indelible mark on them, awakening amazement, expansive joy and a profound sense of gratitude.
Hope in our times
Our own times are not easy. The pandemic has brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty and the injustices experienced by so many people. It has unmasked our false sense of security and revealed the brokenness and polarization quietly growing in our midst. Those who are most frail and vulnerable have come to feel even more so. We have experienced discouragement, disillusionment and fatigue; nor have we been immune from a growing negativity that stifles hope.
In these days of pandemic, when there is a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, there is urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care and promotion.
Our life of faith grows weak, loses its prophetic power and its ability to awaken amazement and gratitude when we become isolated and withdraw into little groups. By its very nature, the life of faith calls for a growing openness to embracing everyone, everywhere. The first Christians, far from yielding to the temptation to become an elite group, were inspired by the Lord and his offer of new life to go out among the nations and to bear witness to what they had seen and heard: the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. They did so with the generosity, gratitude and nobility typical of those who sow seeds in the knowledge that others will enjoy the fruit of their efforts and sacrifice. I like to think that ‘even those who are most frail, limited and troubled can be missionaries in their own way, for goodness can always be shared, even if it exists alongside many limitations’ (Christus Vivit, 239).
May Mary, the first missionary disciple, increase in all the baptised the desire to be salt and light in our lands (cf. Mt 5:13-14).
(The content for this article is drawn from the Message shared by Pope Francis for World Mission Day 2021 which you can read in full at Papal Message: World Mission Sunday 2021 – Catholic Bishops’ Conference (cbcew.org.uk)