Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. Last Sunday was ‘Mission Sunday’ and this Sunday is the last day of October, the month dedicated to the missions. October is the month when we not only focus on our obligation to support the missions but are reminded that we are a missionary Church or we are not a Church at all. In the words of Pope Francis: ‘the missionary task must remain foremost and represents the greatest challenge for the Church’ (The Joy of the Gospel, 15).
At Mass on a typical Mission Sunday each year, you might expect to hear a homily about the missionary work of the Church abroad and the call to support missionary agencies with our prayers and financial help. While this was certainly part of this year’s ‘Mission Sunday’ message, a different angle on ‘Mission Sunday’ is to explore ways that each of our parishes can become more missionary parishes composed of missionary disciples. With these reflections, I invite you to join me in thinking about a future to dream about and work towards where our parishes becomes vibrant, active and missionary communities. Based on the readings from last Sunday, here I propose four ways that our parishes can become truly missionary at this time.
First, that our parish communities become places where people encounter the living God through the person of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Bartimaeus encounters Jesus personally and profoundly in a way that changed his life. In her life of prayer and liturgy, our parishes can be spaces where all people can taste the divine and know that they belong to a God who cherishes them and constantly calls them back to Himself. Our parishes can be places where everyone is reminded of their vocations and hear the same words of the crowd addressed to Bartimaeus: ‘Courage, he is calling you’. In the first reading from Jeremiah, God promises to comfort his people, lead them back to safety, give them living water to drink and lead them on a path where they will not stumble. We should dream big and imagine that place to be here in our parishes. We should dream big that it is there our people can come to receive gifts we can get nowhere else, gifts we desperately need. It is interesting to note the motto of the Carthusian order of monks is ‘The Cross is steady while the world turns’. No matter what happens to us as the world turns, for better or for worse, we know that Jesus who endured the cross and rose again, is here and is waiting for us.
Second, that after we encounter Christ, together we become a parish of his disciples. After he was healed, Bartimaeus got up and followed Jesus along the way. This is who a disciple is – a person who follows Jesus on the way he marks out, a person in love with him, who seeks to imitate his moves, adopt his attitudes and be in harmony with his Spirit. In our parishes, we are not consumers but disciples; we are not customers but disciples; we are not parishioners but disciples. And together as disciples we walk on the road together along the narrow path and towards the Father’s house.
Third, that all of us share the leadership it requires to make this happen. Don’t just sit back. Become involved. Don’t be passive but be active. If you love the Lord and have been touched by his mercy, pray for opportunities to share these experiences with others. If you have a passion for something and have the gifts to do a good, then use those gifts to do that good. Be healed of the blindness that makes you fearful or lacking in confidence. Let your eyes be opened to new possibilities and opportunities. When Bartimaeus recovered his sight, he saw new colours, new pathways, new things. Anointed with his Spirit and guided by his grace, what are those new colours and pathways for you?
Lastly, that all of us as missionary disciples make our parish communities more outward looking with a wide scope and outreach. We have been called and chosen by God not just for ourselves but for others. Therefore, the plight of the poor – whether they be here in town or far away in places like Afghanistan or Haiti, are our concern too. Let us dream big to embrace all of humanity in our prayer and stretch out far to reach those furthest away.
And so as October draws to a close, we continue to support the foreign missions with our resources and prayers. But we also wake up to the fact that we are missionary disciples who are part of missionary parishes. Together we can be missionary parishes by encountering the Lord Jesus and being changed; by becoming his disciples, not consumers; by sharing the leadership it takes to move forward and finally by reaching out to help and serve in ways that convince people that our faith is the friend and not the foe of the humanity we share in common.