Fr Billy Swan
The Irish Church has been a missionary Church from the very beginning. It is in our DNA to go forth, reach out, to travel, adapt and find creative ways to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. A private faith just won’t do. We want others to know God and we desire to lead others to faith in him. We want his kingdom of peace and justice to flourish and so pray for it and work for it. In this spirit, Pope Francis urges us to ‘go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ’ (The Joy of the Gospel, 49). For those dedicated to evangelization, the haunting words of Jesus are never far from our hearts: ‘When the Son of Man returns, will he find any faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:8). Therefore, mission is not an end in itself or can’t be reduced to a noble desire to make the world a better place. Mission is about leading others to faith in Christ and growing in faith as we do so. Gathering people into the community of the Church is not an optional extra because the Church remains the sign and sacrament of salvation. On a hopeful note, Rodney Stark in his book ‘The Rise of Christianity’ notes in history how times of famines and pandemics were followed by a revival in Christianity. We saw this revival in Ireland after the Great Famine in the 19th century. According to Stark, this was because the Church remained true to her identity and mission as she stood close to the people at a time of crisis. In these challenging times, may she also remain faithful to the Master, true to her identity, mission and become a community of ‘Spirit filled evangelisers’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, Chap. 5).