Editor: On Mission Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, Bishop Donald Pelletier, M.S., concelebrated with Bishop Shawn O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, and preached at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Massachusetts. His homily follows.
At this time in the life of the Church, we are flooded with diverse events that somehow find their unity through the all-embracing theme of Mission that we celebrate today.
Our Baptismal Call to a Missionary Vocation
The message of Pope Francis for this year's celebration underlined the link between Mission and Consecrated Life. As this Year of Our Lord, 2015, was set aside for Consecrated life, it would seem natural that he would remind and reaffirm and clarify the missionary vocation of all Consecrated Persons both active and contemplative. Through and with Consecrated Life, Pope Francis reached out and also included the laity in the mission of Christ.
"Living as Christian witnesses and as signs of the Father's love among the poor and underprivileged, consecrated persons are called to promote the presence of the lay faithful in the service of Church's mission… Consecrated missionaries need to generously welcome those who are willing to work with them, even for a limited period of time, for an experience in the field. They are brothers and sisters who want to share the missionary vocation inherent in Baptism" .
Thus once again a clear call that Consecrated people must include the laity in their mission. But it so happens that this year 2015 as we so often experience with various sporting seasons that overlap with one another, we have The Year dedicated to Consecrated Life that will end on Feb. 2, 2016, is overlapping with the Jubilee Year of Mercy that will begin on Dec. 8, 2015.
A Jubilee Year of Mercy
A Jubilee year is an extraordinary year of grace – all the more so when this Jubilee is one of Mercy. Mercy and forgiveness are two powerful expressions of God's love for all of humanity. Our mission is to proclaim mercy and forgiveness in a world that mostly knows revenge, punishment, violence and war.
During Lent, a first for a Jubilee year, the Pope will send missionaries of mercy to various countries. Another welcome novelty for this Jubilee will be that every diocese will have a Holy Door that will help and invite everyone to enter the door of Mercy and so become instruments of mercy.
Another Holy Family
As if this were not enough, our Mission Sunday celebration falls during the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. On this very day, a few hours ago in Vatican City, a married couple Louis and Zelie Martin parents of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus were canonized.
A year dedicated to Consecrated Life, a Jubilee year of Mercy, the Sanctity of Family Life – all are among the many facets and dimensions of the very same mission of Christ. Aware that Jesus chose to be born and live as member of a family, we can understand why family remains the launching pad of or common mission.
The theme of the synod is precisely the vocation and mission of the family in the church and in the contemporary world. Family, by its very nature, witnesses to God's love. We can also add to these events the fact that today, if it were not Sunday, we would celebrate and honor Luke the Evangelist who not only wrote the third gospel but the Acts of the Apostles that narrate the evangelical missionary nature of the Church. His gospel is well known for its focus on joy, mercy, the poor, the marginalized, the strangers and for its missionary thrust. Today's gospel reminds us that we disciples are sent to serve.
An Expanding View of Our Mission
When I was young – so many years ago – we spoke of “Foreign Missions” and we all thrilled at missionary accounts, adventures, and vivid, captivating stories of how these valiant men and women went out to distant non-Christian countries to establish the church. At that time mission activity was reserved to specific and particular communities of men and women. It was considered a very special and personal vocation.
We often heard of Maryknoll Missionaries serving in China, the Jesuits reading out to those in Latin America, members of the Paris Foreign Mission Society of Paris serving in Japan and Vietnam, the White Fathers working in Africa, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate helping the indigenous Eskimos beyond the Arctic Circle and so many others. Considered a special vocation that called for particular skills and special preparation, foreign mission work was a special task force on the front lines of the Church.
However Vatican Council II clarified and reemphasized the missionary vocation of the Church. Blessed Pope Paul Vl forcefully reminded us of the essential nature of the Church. The Church exists to evangelize; the very nature of its being is mission. He quotes the 1974 Synod of Bishops:
"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14).
Thus Mission was no longer a special ministry reserved for certain religious congregations but every baptized Christian – by and through their baptism – is called to mission.
We already had the example of Theresa of the Child Jesus who as a contemplative in her convent through her prayer and love became Patroness of World Mission. There has been a slow but sure transformation in the church as the disciples of Christ awaken to the reality of their baptismal call to go out to others. A Christian is a missionary. Mission is a call to reach out to all nations and all baptized Christians by their very baptism are called to be a missionaries.
Laity Taking Their Rightful Place in Serving in the Foreign Missions
Through recent years we have seen more and more lay people offering their services for the foreign missions – not only as volunteers, promoting social works and human development but also as witnesses to God's love in their lives. Young men and women, retired professionals – doctors, engineers, teachers, entire families – are answering the call to mission.
Most admit that while serving in a foreign poor country is a demanding challenge, after all is said and done, they readily testify that they have received more than they were able to give. Today we have gone far beyond the initial limits of foreign missions.
What and Where is Mission?
Mission is walking with others, trying to help them experience God's love in their lives. Thus mission is not only foreign but mission exists wherever you are living and with whomever you may meet. Our very lives as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, are mission. Mission is helping people discover and experience the love of God in their daily lives and crosses.
What greater gift can we offer than our lives as a witness of God's love? We don't have to go to Africa or China to be a missionary. Mission is here and now. What joy – what amazement – when someone else begins to recognize that they are now able to acknowledge God’s love even in the smallest events of their daily lives? And we are called to be instruments that reveal and trigger that reality, that fact.
How many lives have been saved, transformed by the Good News of God's love? When Pope Francis speaks of mission he asks, "Who are the first to whom the Gospel message must be proclaimed?" The answer, found so often throughout the Gospel, is clear: it is the poor, the little ones and the sick, those who are often looked down upon or forgotten, those who cannot repay us (cf. Lk. 14,13-14)
Evangelization or Mission, directed preferentially to the least among us, is a sign of the Kingdom that Jesus came to bring; "There is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them” (Evangelii Gaudium, #48). Everyone must hear of God's love. And from my own experience, I have generally experienced that the poor are more receptive to hearing God’s word and can more generously respond to God's loving presence in their lives.
Evangelization (or Mission) Begins First in Our Own Family
Today we have a very pertinent and powerful example of the missionary vocation of the family. The first mission begins in the family. Mr. Louis Martin and his wife, Zelie Guerin, lived during very trying times in the history of France and had more than their share of hardships and anxieties and trials.
Four children died at a young age. Normandy was invaded by the German army and that brought great suffering. We see in them a family that was sustained by faith and lived with joy and happiness flowing forth from their from true love of God.
In the family, the mother may evangelize the father with her love, tenderness and understanding. In the same way, the father’s work, shared authority and love are meant to evangelize his wife and help her recognize God's love in her own life. Such a couple can then make of their family a true community of love.
Of the five living girls, four eventually consecrated themselves in religious life as Carmelites. There had to be a burning fire of love in that family. The girls were imbued, totally immersed in the love of God which no doubt they first saw in their parents. St. Theresa of Lisieux would say: "My parents were made more for heaven than for earth." She would also be eternally grateful that in her family she had experienced but love.
From her birth she had been overwhelmed by the love and tenderness of her parents and sisters. It certainly is very rare occurrence that the Church would canonize, recognize as saints, a married couple. Through this very unique canonization that occurred during the Synod on the Family, we receive a powerful and clear message about the sanctity of family and married life.
A second daughter of Louis and Zelie – Leonie, the problem child that joined the Visitation nuns – is now up for beatification. Now more than ever in the history of humanity, the family is called to proclaim the sanctity and joy of married life.
The Beauty and Mission of Family Life
We could quote so many of Pope Francis's deep and beautiful insights on family during his recent visit to North America but I will conclude with his words before the Congress of the United States where, in diplomatic language, he nevertheless speaks very clearly of the church's teachings that will never change: He says:
"I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit, the family should be the recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country and how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!
“Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened as never before from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as the very basis of marriage and family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life".
In canonizing a married couple, Francis presents the beauty and richness of family life. Our secularized world no longer seems to hear the Word of God but can see the Love of God through the joy and happiness of a family. The theme for the World family day says it all: “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
Like the Holy Family of Nazareth, like that family living in Lisieux, France, my hope is that all our families become beacons of light, accomplishing their Mission of Love.