Pope Francis has declared October 2019 as “extraordinary missionary month,” marking the 100th anniversary of “Maximum Illud,” a remarkable apostolic letter on the Church’s mission written by Pope Benedict XV.
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has been calling us to see that our Christian baptism makes us share in the mission of Jesus Christ and his Church. He is calling all of us this month to rededicate ourselves to that mission.
Living in a secular society, where the things of God are pushed to the margins of daily life, it gets harder to see reality clearly. We can be deceived into thinking that the priorities and preoccupations of our economy and politics, our consumer and entertainment culture are “all there is.”
But this world still belongs to God, and it still moves according to his purposes. And the Church’s mission continues, just as Jesus entrusted it to his disciples — to spread the light of God’s love and mercy to the ends of the earth.
This is what we have to see. Our lives are so much more than we could ever imagine. We are part of God’s divine work in the world. We have a role to play, each one of us, in our Creator’s plan of salvation.
Baptism is where it all begins. Many of us cannot remember the day we were baptized because we were infants. But one of my constant prayers is that all of us in the Church will rediscover what our baptism means.
In baptism, we are given a new birth. Born a child of our parents, each of us is reborn as a child of God. This is not symbolic language or poetry.
This is another consequence of living in a secular society. Our sacramental imagination can become dulled, we can lose our awareness that the sacraments are “real,” that God truly works miracles through these divine signs.
And he does! In baptism, we are truly transformed into children of God. This transformation is personal for each one of us, but it is never “private.”
Even now, all these years since the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965), too many of us seem to believe that the Church’s mission is solely the work of the pope, the bishops, priests, and religious, or people who are professionals working for dioceses and parishes.
Again, this mentality is reinforced by living in a secular society that reduces religious faith and devotion to something personal and private.
But our Christian faith is not something we do, it is who we are. To be a Christian is to be a missionary.
We are called to witness to our faith in Jesus, to live like he wants us to live and to live according to his purposes. That means we share in the mission that he gives to his Church.
We do this in our daily lives, in all the humble, ordinary things that we do every day. At work, at home, in our relationships with others. This is our “mission territory.”
I confess, I had not read “Maximum Illud” until recently. And there is much in this letter that is inspiring, even if some of the language we now use in talking about the Church’s mission has changed over the years.
Benedict says that no matter how smart or creative we are, if we are not striving to be holy, to model our lives on the life of Jesus, our efforts will be “of little or no value.”
“The one who urges others to despise sin must despise it himself,” the pope writes. “Preaching by example is a far more effective procedure than vocal preaching, especially among unbelievers, who tend to be more impressed by what they see for themselves than by any arguments that can be presented to them.”
This is good advice for us.
And this is how Christians have lived since the beginning. St. Peter said: “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct.”
He was not talking just to priests or consecrated people. He was talking to every baptized believer.
We are all called by Christ, we are all called to holiness, and we are all called to mission. That means doing everything for the sake of love — for the love and glory of God, for the love and salvation of those around you.
The first Christians tried to be the “soul” of every society they lived in, working to guide and direct society according to God’s intentions of justice, love, and peace. This is still our Christian mission.
Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.
And this month, let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary, Queen of Apostles, to help us lead others to Jesus and to build his kingdom.