When I was in grade school, high school and seminary, some of my heroes were the great Catholic missionaries.
St. Peter, our first pope, was one of these heroes. He brought the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. St. Paul was another. He made arduous journeys throughout the Roman Empire, helping Christians understand what it means to bring Jesus into different cultures. Sts. Cyril and Methodius argued for the right to translate our sacred texts into Slavic. You can continue on through the ages, to the American women who were murdered for bringing the witness of Jesus’ love and mercy to the poor in El Salvador, to the young missionaries from FOCUS and Dirty Vagabonds, who witness in the universities and hipster neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.
We will all have an opportunity to help Catholic missionaries around the world on the weekend of Oct. 21-22, when our parishes take up a special collection for World Mission Sunday. But it’s important to remember that we are supporting missionaries because we are all missionaries.
That call to mission is part of baptism, and through baptism we receive the grace to follow that call. Even in the baptism of an infant, the priest touches her or his mouth and prays that Jesus will inspire “your mouth to proclaim his faith.”
Inspire others to
So yes, we are all missionaries. We are missionaries to our families, our friends, our neighbors. Even to our enemies.
This is why our diocese is engaged in the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative. It asks us all to look at our parish territories as mission fields. We want to free up the resources of time, talent and treasure that currently go into maintenance and redundant programs, and direct them toward reaching those who have dropped out of the church. Our neighborhoods are mission fields. Our dinner tables are mission fields. Our basketball and tennis courts are mission fields. Our workplaces and classrooms are mission fields.
But we are still aware of the need to bring Jesus to distant lands. We all know of places in the world where Catholics — and Christians of any kind — are a small, persecuted minority. We need to care for them, to give their parishes the resources they need to be a shining light in their communities. We want to make sure that they can offer their parishioners the kind of faith formation that will sustain their Christian witness in the midst of hostility or ignorance.
There are other places where Catholicism is thriving so much that the parishes can’t keep up with the growth. Many places in Africa and some in Asia are examples. Usually it is because the laypeople understand their call to be missionaries, and to live in a way that inspires others to follow Jesus. When short-term missionaries from the United States volunteer in those places, they often return saying that the faith of the people they encountered renewed their own faith. They met people who were so poor that they often went without food, but who were rich in spirit because they knew how to depend on God hour-by-hour and day-by-day.
This has been my own experience when I have visited Maternidad de Maria, the maternity clinic and social service center in Chimbote, Peru, that a priest of this diocese founded more than 50 years ago. Then-Father Jules Roos was a missionary in the classic sense because he went to a foreign country to bring the Gospel. But his missionary heart was active long before that in the parishes and neighborhoods where he served here. When I visit there, I am so inspired by the spirit of the people, who exhibit joy in the midst of hardship, faith amid pain and hope when everything seems stacked against them. They are missionaries to us.
What can you give?
As you and I contemplate what to give on World Mission Sunday, reflect on the person who eats one meal a day, but still gives thanks to God and still shares with her or his neighbors. What sacrifice can you and I make in order to give a little more to the collection that will help sustain that person’s faith and service to Jesus? What can you and I give to help that person’s church serve its community, so that the compassion of Jesus is everyone?
Giving to the Mission Sunday collection doesn’t absolve you and me from personal efforts to bring others to Christ. Instead, it makes each of us a partner with those who are giving everything they have in order to spread the word of Jesus’ message and mercy. This collection benefits people across more than 1,000 dioceses whose territory covers half the planet. You and I can be a blessing to those in sub-Saharan Africa, the Solomon Islands, India and many other places where people are hungry to receive Jesus.
This effort is so important to Pope Francis that he has even given his permission for a webpage where people can ask him questions about it. To give it a try and learn more about this worldwide celebration of the church, visit www.ChatWithThePope.org.
Be a missionary. Give generously.