Pope Francis celebrates Mass on World Mission Sunday, 20 October 2019. In his homily, he challenges us to reflect on the meaning of our mission.
In 1926, Pope Pius XI decided the Church needed a special day on which to pray for missionaries, and to renew her commitment to the missions. Today, World Mission Day is celebrated on the penultimate Sunday in October, all around the globe, as a sign of support and solidarity for missions and missionaries everywhere.
In his homily during Mass for World Mission Day, Pope Francis chose to reflect on three words taken from this Sunday’s readings: “a noun, a verb and an adjective.” The noun he selected is “the mountain.” It appears in the first reading from Isaiah, and again in the Gospel, “when Jesus, after His resurrection, tells His disciples to meet Him on the mount of Galilee.” It seems, said Pope Francis, “that the mountain is God’s favourite place for encountering humanity.”
The Pope recalled other mountains in the Scriptures: Mount Sinai and Mount Carmel, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, His transfiguration on Mount Tabor, His crucifixion on Mount Calvary, and His ascension into heaven from the Mount of Olives. “The mountain is also the place where Jesus spent several hours in prayer to unite heaven and earth,” said the Pope, “and to unite us, His brothers and sisters, with the Father.”
The mountain tells us we are called “to draw near to God and to others,” continued Pope Francis, “in silence and in prayer, avoiding the rumours and gossip that diminish us.” We see things in a different perspective from the mountain, he continued: “The mountain unites God and our brothers and sisters in a single embrace of prayer.” It draws us up and away from transient things, and summons us to rediscover what is essential and lasting: God and our brothers and sisters.”
“Mission begins on the mountain,” affirmed Pope Francis, “there we discover what really counts.” Which prompts the question: what really does count in my life? “To what peaks do I want to ascend?”, he asked.
Pope Francis continued his reflection identifying the word that accompanies the noun “mountain”: the verb “to go up.” We were not born to remain on the ground, said the Pope, “we were born to reach the heights and there to meet God and our brothers and sisters.” This means we have “to go up,” he said, “to resist the force of gravity caused by our self-centredness.” Going up takes effort, he added, “but it is the only way to get a better view of everything,” as any mountain-climber knows.
The Pope developed the metaphor of mountain climbing, saying we cannot risk being weighed down, “so in life we must rid ourselves of things that are useless.” This, he said, “is also the secret of mission: to go, you have to leave something behind, to proclaim, you must first renounce.” A credible proclamation, said Pope Francis, is accompanied by an exemplary life: “a life of service that is capable of rejecting all those material things that shrink the heart and make people indifferent and inward-looking.” Again, the Pope asked a question: what efforts are we making “to go up”? Are we able to reject the “useless baggage of worldliness in order to climb the mountain of the Lord”?
“The mountain reminds us of what matters,” said Pope Francis. The verb “to go up tells us how to get there.” But there is a third, even more important, word: the adjective “all.”
“All” reappears constantly in this Sunday’s readings: Isaiah speaks of “all peoples,” which is repeated in the Psalm; God desires “all to be saved,” writes Saint Paul; “Go and make disciples of all nations,” says Jesus in the Gospel. “The Lord knows we are always using the words ‘my’ and ‘our’”, explained Pope Francis, but He uses the word “all”: because “no one is excluded from His heart; because everyone is a precious treasure, and the meaning of life is found only in giving this treasure to others.” This is our mission, said the Pope: “to go up the mountain to pray for everyone and to come down from the mountain to be a gift to all.”
“The Christian is always on the move,” always “outward-bound,” said the Pope. “Everyone expects things from others, but the Christian goes to others,” he said. “Those who bear witness to Jesus go out to all,” he added, “not just to their own acquaintances or their little group.”
Pope Francis reminded us of the instructions the Lord gives us “for going forth to others.” There is only one, and it is very simple, he said: “make disciples,” not our own, but “His disciples.” A disciple “follows the Master daily and shares the joy of discipleship with others. Not by conquering, mandating, proselytising, but by witnessing,” said Pope Francis.
Our mission is “to give pure and fresh air to those immersed in the pollution of our world,” said the Pope. Our mission is “to witness, bless, console, raise up, and radiate the beauty of Jesus.”
“Your life is a precious mission,” concluded Pope Francis, “it is not a burden to be borne, but a gift to offer. So, have courage! Let us fearlessly go forth to all!”
During the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis said that World Mission Day “is a good opportunity for every baptised person to become more aware of the need to cooperate in proclaiming the Kingdom of God through a renewed commitment.”
The Holy Father reflected on a passage from the second Reading in the Mass of the Day: “Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction,” taken from St Paul’s Second Letter to St Timothy. “The tone is heartfelt,” Pope Francis said. “Timothy must feel responsible for the proclamation of the Word.”
He referred back to the Apostolic Letter Maximum illud, promulgated by Pope Benedict XV, which gave a “new impetus to the missionary responsibility of the whole Church.” Pope Francis said that, “in today’s changed context, Benedict XV’s message is still relevant and stimulates us to overcome the temptation of any self-referential closure and any form of pastoral pessimism, in order to open ourselves to the joyful novelty of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis said that this means “hearing strongly the call to the mission towards all peoples and towards all those who, here among us, live on the margins.” He warned that living fraternity “only in our own closed circle means to suffocate the Spirit, who unites us to proclaim to all that Christ is our peace and in Him every division is overcome, in Him alone there is the salvation of every person and all peoples.”
He then reminded us of the “indispensable condition” for “living the mission to the full,” namely, prayer “a fervent and incessant prayer, according to the teaching of Jesus proclaimed in today’s Gospel as well, in which He tells a parable on the need to ‘pray always, and not give up,’” the Pope said. “Prayer, he continued, “is the first support the People of God can give missionaries.”
World Mission Day, he said, “is also a good occasion to ask ourselves, Do I pray for missionaries? Do I pray for those who go far away to bring the Word of God with their witness?”
Pope Francis concluded his reflection with the prayer that “Mary, Mother of all nations, might accompany and protect the missionaries of the Gospel every day.”
Vatican News – Pope at World Mission Day Mass: Life as mission and as gift
Vatican News and Christopher Wells – Pope at Angelus: Every baptised person cooperates in the proclamation of the Word
With thanks to Vatican News.