Mission is not just something to think about for a few days out of the year or one among many activities of the Church that other people and groups also do. Mission is the reality of God and our life as God’s people.
October is World Mission Month. For most Catholics, that probably means nothing except, perhaps, the possibility of an extra collection on October 24.
In countries that traditionally celebrate Halloween or where nowadays retail rules, October is much, much less about mission and much, much more about ghosts, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, costumes and trick-or-treat candy. Where coffee shops have become pilgrimage shrines, it is the month of pumpkin spice latte.
The likelihood of the month being marked in most, or even many, dioceses and parishes is minuscule. That one monetary collection on World Mission Sunday if it happen at all will be as much as happens.
That’s like noting mothers only on one Sunday each year. Mothers’ Day is nice — if nothing else, it’s an important source of income for florists — but if we were to relegate celebrating and giving thanks for motherhood to that one day, we would cease to be families.
The same is true of mission and the Church. If we relegate celebrating, giving thanks for and renewing our commitment to mission to one day or even one month, we cease to be Church and become merely one more organization of people who share certain customs.
Mission is not a custom of the Church. Mission is its definition. In general, religions — even secular ones like nationalism or fraternal / sororal organizations — have ceremonies, teachings, rules, special days, leaders. Christianity has them, but has one thing more. Only Christianity has evangelization, another name for mission.
However, does having mission as its unique element mean that mission is also the Church’s definition?
To answer that question, we must look to God, as we ultimately must to answer any deep question.
In the gospel of John, we find the most succinct presentation of the Good News: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn. 3:16-17)
The Father’s relationship with the Son is sending, mission. The Spirit is that sending. And thus, God’s Trinitarian relationship with the world is in terms of sending, mission.
The Incarnation of the Son is not simply an event in the past. It is, in fact, the eternal mission of God. And we, the Church, are that ongoing Incarnation today. As St. Paul reminds us, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
Our baptism is union with Christ, the mission of God. Those who have received the Holy Spirit have received mission, the life of the Trinity.
All that may sound interesting and challenging, maybe even inspiring, but it may also sound like theological gobbledegook. What does it mean?
Simply put, we are the world’s encounter with God. We are God’s gift to the world. And when we act otherwise, we are betraying our vocation.
So, how should we act?
Does being the incarnation of God’s mission today mean we should be God’s recruiting agents?
No. Jesus did not proselytize. Usually when he healed and forgave people, the did not tell them to join him and his followers; he told them to get on with their lives with a new sense of God’s love, and gratitude for it. Proselytizing, corralling people into the Church, is inner-directed, focused ultimately upon us, the Church.
Jesus evangelized. That is different from recruiting. He did call followers, but only those he expected to join him in evangelizing.
Our call to be united with Christ in baptism is precisely like that. My call, your call, our call is the exact same call given to Peter, James and John.
Each of us is the presence of God the Son showing God’s love to the world. That is not limited to a special caste, cast or career. It is not something for “missionaries” or clergy or religious. It is who we are.
Evangelization is focused upon the Reign of God, and therefore all of creation whether inside or outside. It is proclamation through deed, word, service and worship that God’s Reign is real, that love, justice, peace, forgiveness, joy and eternal life are real.
Everything I do, everything I say, everything I become must be done to show Christ.
I am not doing a good job of that. Dare I say that you are not doing a good job, either?
We are like the original disciples of Jesus who seemed determined to miss the message of what he said and did. Their main activity during Jesus’ agony, arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial and even Resurrection was abject cowardice, complete betrayal and failure.
I hope I am not deluding myself when I say that while like them, at least we are no worse than they. God fails when we fail, but we know from the cross that God’s failures are not absolute.
October is Mission Month, as are March, May, June and all the rest.
William Grimm is a missioner and presbyter in Tokyo and is the publisher of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
Reproduced with permission from La Croix International and William Grimm.