In another age, ‘mission’ was understood as going abroad to countries where the Church was not yet strong, or to places where people suffered from poverty and conflict. Others saw mission as a task, a job entrusted to some but not to themselves. While mission always had outreach to the other at its core, both personally and communally, the Holy Spirit has led the Church to appreciate and make present other vital dimensions to the life of faith. Every baptised person is called to remember: ‘I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptised man and woman is a mission.’ These words of Pope Francis are challenging but true. He sums them up as an urgent need to call forth missionary disciples ready to evangelise the world and to enter dialogue with contemporary culture. Mission is at the heart of the Christian life, and the Church from the outset is indelibly marked for mission. Jesus’ final words to his disciples were ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).’ The role of the Holy Spirit in this commissioning is very significant (see Jn 14:16-17; 16:7 and 20:22). Earlier this year, Pope Francis reminded the Pontifical Mission Societies that mission ‘is the work of the Holy Spirit and not the consequence of our ideas and projects.’ The Spirit poured out by the risen Jesus empowers and directs the outward mission and all its journeys, but there is also an inner journey to the heart, which every believer makes. In The Go-Between God, the late Bishop John V. Taylor said, ‘to engage in the mission of God, therefore, is to live the life of prayer; prayer without ceasing, as St Paul puts it, that is to say, sustaining a life that is focussed on God. This is indeed to engage in the mission of the Holy Spirit by being rather than doing. To realise that the heart of mission is communion with God in the midst of the world’s life will save us from the demented activism of these days.’ The focus on mission during the month of October reminds us of our responsibility to witness the life of Christ, with its good news and its hope, to the peoples of the world. Witness, as effective proclamation of the Gospel can only be ‘verbis et exemplo and entails the building up of the entire ecclesial community in fraternal unity and missionary discipleship (Pope Francis, 24th May 2021).’ For ourselves, we cannot have encountered Jesus and remain concerned only with our own issues. In solidarity we must have concern for the younger, poorer churches until they are able to be self-sufficient. As Pope Benedict XVI underlined, ‘in no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the “ordinary maintenance” of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community (Verbum Domini, 95).’ There are profound reasons for this. Addressing the Amazon Synod Pope Francis said, ‘the Church is always on the move, always going out and never withdrawn into itself. Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the earth.’ Mission Month and World Mission Sunday presents us with an opportunity to express our gratitude for the contribution we, as Irish people, have made to the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel of Christ in different parts of the globe. We remember and give thanks for the courage, the enthusiasm, and the generosity of so many people who have given their lives to the spread of the Gospel. They help bring the message of Christ to the peoples of the world. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle shared that in Africa alone, with a population of 1.3 billion people across 54 countries, ‘more than 74,000 religious sisters and over 46,000 priests are operating 7,274 hospitals and clinics, staffing 2,346 homes for the elderly and vulnerable and educating over 19 million children in 45,088 primary schools.’ In many rural areas they are the only providers of healthcare and education. Although 19.4% of Africans are Catholic, the Church reaches out to all people in need across the continent, not just Church members. Likewise in Asia, a continent with a population of 4.6 billion people, of whom 3.3% are Catholic, the Church provides healthcare, charity assistance, and education to people of all faiths and none. The Scriptures introduce us to the heart of God, that ‘God is love’ (Jn 1:4-8). Other words for love are compassion, concern, and solidarity, which are hallmarks of the Christian life. I hope the reflections in this booklet for Mission Month 2021 will be rewarding in assisting all of us to deepen our relationship with God as love, and our understanding of what it means to be called as missionary disciples today.
Saint Thérèse, Patroness of the Missions, pray for us.