Tuesday, October 1, marks the beginning of the Extraordinary Missionary Month October 2019 inaugurated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica with the celebration of Evening Vespers Prayers.
The Extraordinary Missionary Month was called for by Pope Francis two years ago on World Mission Sunday.
“For the month of October 2019,” he said “I ask the whole Church to live an extraordinary time of missionary activity.”
He also explained it marks the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud, a document on the Church’s mission to bring to the world the salvation of Jesus Christ, which he described as prophetic and far-sighted.
The theme chosen for the month is “Baptised and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” It will help us in our mission, he explained, which he said is not about spreading a “religious ideology” or a “lofty ethical teaching.” Instead, he continued, “through the mission of the Church, Jesus Christ himself continues to evangelise and act; her mission thus makes present in history the Kairos, the favourable time of salvation.”
This special month opens on the feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the Missions together with Saint Francis Xavier, and has its culmination in the celebration of World Mission Sunday marked this year on 20 October.
Pope Francis presided over solemn vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica after having listened to testimonies and prayers prepared by eight Italian missionary institutes: Comboni and Saverian Missionaries, Missionaries of the Consolata, PIME and Missionaries of the Immaculate.
Pope Francis recalled both Saint Therese and Saint Francis Xavier of them in his homily. Saint Therese, he said, “made prayer the fuel for missionary activity in the world.” Saint Francis Xavier, said the Pope, is perhaps “the greatest missionary of all time, after Saint Paul.”
Together with the Venerable Pauline Jaricot, a French laywoman who helped create the foundations of the Pontifical Missionary Societies, they “give us a jolt,” said the Pope. They challenge us to “emerge from our shell and to renounce our comforts for the sake of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis began his homily by reflecting on Saint Matthew’s Gospel that recounts the parable of the talents. “God has entrusted us with his greatest treasures: our own lives and the lives of others,” he said. God calls us “to make our talents bear fruit, with boldness and creativity.”
This extraordinary Missionary Month, said the Pope, “should jolt us and motivate us to be active in doing good. Not to be notaries of faith and guardians of grace, but missionaries.”
Being a missionary, said Pope Francis, means “living as witnesses.” Witness, in fact, “is the key word: a word with the same root as the word ‘martyr’”. “Martyrs live by spreading peace and joy, by loving everyone, even their enemies, out of love for Jesus,” continued the Pope. “Let us ask ourselves this month: how good a witness am I?”
Returning to the parable, the Pope noted how Jesus describes the fearful servant as “wicked and lazy.” He was wicked, said Pope Francis, for not doing good: “he sinned by omission.” “To live by omission is to deny our vocation: omission is the opposite of mission.”
We sin against mission, said the Pope, when we fail to spread joy, “when we think of ourselves as victims, that no one loves or understands us.” We sin against mission “when we yield to resignation,” or when we complain “that everything is going from bad to worse, in the world and in the Church.” We sin against mission “when we become slaves to the fears that immobilise us,” or when we live life as a burden and not a gift, putting ourselves at the centre, “and not our brothers and sisters who are waiting to be loved.”
If the Church “is not on the go, it is not Church,” stated Pope Francis. A Church on the go is a missionary Church “that does not waste time lamenting things that go wrong… a Church that does not seek safe oases to dwell in peace, but longs to be salt of the earth and a leaven in the world.”
Today we begin the Missionary Month of October, said the Pope, “accompanied by a religious woman, a priest and a lay woman. They remind us that no one is excluded from the Church’s mission.”
In this month, said Pope Francis, “the Lord is also calling you,” fathers and mothers of families, young people. “You, who work in a factory, a store, a bank or a restaurant; you who are unemployed; you are in a hospital bed… The Lord is asking you to be a gift wherever you are, and just as you are, with everyone around you.”
The Lord is asking you “not simply to go through life, but to give life,” said the Pope, “not to complain about life, but to share in the tears of all who suffer.”
“The Lord will not leave you alone in bearing witness,” concluded Pope Francis. “You will discover that the Holy Spirit has gone before you and prepared the way for you. Courage!”
At the end, Pope Francis will give the missionaries who are preparing to go forth, a crucifix.
Of course, as the Extraordinary Missionary Month involves and engages the universal Church, moments of sharing, prayer and missionary commitment have been organised by local Churches across the world.
And while some fear that the 3-week Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region may overshadow the Missionary Month, the Pope has already spoken of ties between the two events saying: “We pray that the Synod for the Amazon can help provide a more evangelical approach to missionary work in this area of the world that is so troubled, so unjustly exploited and so much in need of the salvation of Jesus Christ.”
Vatican News and Linda Bordoni – Pope to inaugurate Extraordinary Missionary Month October 2019
Vatican News – Pope at Vespers: The Lord is calling you to bear witness
With thanks to Vatican News.