By Fr Chris Hayden
Today is Mission Sunday, a day when we’re invited to reflect on the fact that our Church is a missionary church. We’re used to the idea that mission is about going somewhere far away, to bring the message of Christ and to make that message of love concrete through health, education and various other kinds of assistance.
All of that is correct, but there’s more to mission that just what happens abroad. Think about the first four letters of the world ‘mission’: M-I-S-S. Those same letters are in the word that describes the very last thing that happens at every Mass: the dis-MISS-al. That little syllable, miss, is a close cousin of the word Mass. Which is to say that what we do here is meant to be about mission. We come to Mass to become more and more missionary. We’re sent out from Mass: we’re dismissed, as missionaries.
And what is a missionary? Quite simply, a missionary is someone who has faith, who treasures that faith, and who wants to share that faith.
Which immediately poses three questions for us: Have we got faith? Do we treasure our faith? Do we want to share our faith? If we can answer ‘yes’ to those questions, then we have a missionary intention. What we then need is the ability and opportunity to share the faith we have.
But maybe we should hesitate over the questions. Have we really got faith? Is Christ important to us? Do we allow him to guide us? Do we allow God and his word to push us and pull us? Have we a sense of obedience to God, his commandments, his wisdom? If not, then we’re only in the realm of faith as a kind of ornament in a life that is undisturbed by it.
Then, do we treasure our faith? Not just in principle, as a set of nice ideas; have we got a sense that this really is a blessing? It’s surprising that for many Catholics, there seems to be very little curiosity about faith, very little interest in understanding it. And that absence of interest is a serious matter when we live – as we do – in a culture that is always contesting our faith.
We can’t live a life of faith in the way that our grandparents did. Today, we need to understand our faith better than they did, but the chances are that we understand it less well than they did. They, at least, learned their Catechism, whereas we, if our only source of information is what we’re exposed to every day, will find it hard to think of our faith in Christ as a treasure. We’re more likely to hang on with a certain reluctance, even resentment, wondering why we’re doing it. Skin-of-our-teeth faith!
Do we have any grasp of the wonderful vision for life that our faith presents? If not, why not pursue it? And pursuing means asking, making time, taking steps, being part of, being involved. There’s no area of life that works any other way: soccer, music, GAA, cycling, cooking… do we expect faith to be any different?
But let’s not be too hard on ourselves. We’d hardly be here unless we were, at the very least, open to treasuring our faith. And to the extent that we treasure it, then the next thing is sharing it. We’re not all going to be door-to-door evangelists, but there are many kinds of missionary activity. Christian parents are missionaries to their children. Christian employees are missionaries in the workplace, by their honesty and integrity, by kindness to their workmates, by the refusal to gossip, or to bully or harass in any way. Christian young people are, perhaps above all, young people of courage. It takes real courage for a young person to hold their own against peer pressure. That kind of courage will come only from what a person values. And we can value only what we have received and what we know, which brings us back to the start, to the ground-work of having and knowing faith.
The emphasis of this day is meant to be on what we’ve traditionally called the ‘foreign’ missions. But our own hearts and lives can often be foreign territory, as far as the Lord and his Gospel are concerned. It might be easy enough to keep mission at arm’s length, even to send a donation or a contribution to help out. But those missionary questions keep coming back to us: have we got faith? Do we treasure faith? Do we want to share our faith, to live by it? If we’re not at least trying to answer ‘yes’ to those questions, then it’s our lives, our hearts, that are foreign territory to the Gospel. On this Mission Sunday, may the Lord give us a desire to answer yes, a desire for a deeper faith, a faith we treasure, a faith we want to share by living it out in concrete ways. And – who knows! – even talking about it.