24 November 2021
World Mission Sunday
Jeremiah 31:7-9 Hebrews 5:1-6 Mark 10:46-52
The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, states that ‘the pilgrim Church is essentially missionary’ (AG 2). Mission is not some extraordinary task that the Church undertakes in addition to its normal business of managing a world-wide institution. No! Mission is rooted in the nature of the Church; it is the reason for its existence. The Church is the community of Christ’s disciples called and sent to continue the mission of Jesus in the world. And this is the responsibility not just of priests and religious but of the entire people of God, composed mostly of lay men and women. As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘all baptised members of the Church are sent forth in her name to witness to, and proclaim, the Gospel of God’s love’. This is how God is able to ‘touch and transform hearts, minds, bodies, societies and cultures in every place and time’ (2019 Message for World Day of Mission).
During his life on earth, Jesus was particularly concerned with those on the periphery of society, those who were marginal to, or excluded from, the Jewish establishment of his time: the poor, the blind, the lepers, the tax collectors, those possessed by demons, the persecuted, and the downtrodden. Jesus wanted to end their misery and enable them to have life in its fullness: ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’ (Jn 10:10). Concern for poor and downtrodden was at the very heart of Jesus’ mission: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord’ (Lk 4:18-19). Jesus fulfilled the God’s promise, as expressed in today’s first reading, to ‘gather his people from the far ends of the earth; all of them: the blind and the lame, women with child, women in labour, a great company returning here… I will comfort them and lead them back’ (Jer 31:8).
As Christ’s disciples, all members of the Church are called and sent out to be agents of Christ’s love and compassion in our broken, confused and anxiety-riven world. Pope Francis reminds us in his Message for this 2021 World Day of Mission that ‘the pandemic [Covid 19] has amplified the pain, loneliness, poverty and injustices experienced by many people in our world, especially the most frail and vulnerable’. Like the apostles, ‘who have seen, listened to, and touched the saving power of Jesus’, we are called and sent to ‘touch the suffering and glorious flesh of Christ…and find the courage to share with everyone a destiny of hope’ (2021 Message). We are also called, in response to the signs of our times, to broaden the scope of our compassion and care to include our abused and endangered ‘common home’ – planet earth – and the multitude of living creatures with whom we share it, and to whom we are inextricably connected.
On this World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis, invites us to remember in a special way, and to pray for, ‘all those missionaries who resolutely set out, leaving home and family behind, to bring the Gospel to all those places and people thirsting for its saving message’ (2021 Message). Down through the centuries the Church’s mission to the nations (ad gentes) was carried out by specific groups, like the Society of African Missions (SMA), the Congregation of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA), and many other Missionary Institutes, ready and willing to embark upon a courageous outreach to peoples and cultures outside their homelands. Without the inspiration and leadership given by such persons and groups, the missionary impulse of the Church would have gradually diminished and died out, and the Church would have never realised its essential vocation to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. This special calling to mission ad gentes and ad extra, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘is not a thing of the past, or a romantic leftover from earlier times. Today, too, Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion’ (2021 Message).
In these days the peripheries the Pope is speaking may not be far away. They are all around us, in the heart of our cities or even of our own families, and to these not so distant peripheries we are challenged to continue the compassionate mission of Jesus.
In the words of the contemporary Anglican priest poet, Malcolm Guite:
He (Christ) might have been a wafer in the hand
Of priests this day, or music from the lips:
Of red-robed choristers, instead he slips
Away from church, shakes off our linen bands
To don his apron with a nurse: he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.’
May the compassionate love of the Risen Christ touch our hearts and make us all true missionary disciples. Amen.
Fr Michael McCabe SMA, Cork, 18 October 2021
Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily for Mission Sunday from Fr Tom Casey SMA.