Cycle A: Mission Sunday



A fundamental question we may ask ourselves today is: should the Church continue to evangelize the world, when we see what happened in India and in other parts of Asia, where Christians have been harassed recently and some even put to death?

The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’, because the task of evangelization will always remain an essential part of the Gospel message. It is at the heart of the Gospel. In the Sermon on the Mount, after proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus reminded his followers: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…” (Mt 5: 13). Before ascending into heaven, he said to the eleven: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations.” That is why Pope Paul VI commented, “The Church is made to evangelize.” Now, how can this be done?

I - In former times

Five hundred years ago, Saint Francis Xavier and those who followed him to the different countries of Asia saw the world divided in two camps. In their minds, there were those who were believed to be saved because they were baptized, and on the other hand there were those who were doomed to eternal damnation, if they were not baptized. So, in his great zeal, Saint Francis Xavier and his companions did everything they could to bring as many people as possible to the Christian fold and have them baptized. That was the way they understood the work of evangelization at that time.

II – Today

Today, in the footsteps of Vatican II, a new conviction has emerged among Catholics. We believe that God is present everywhere in the world. The first task of Christ’s followers is to discern how God is present and active in the world.

  1. So, the work of evangelization has to be done first through dialogue with people of other religions among whom God is already present. Pope John Paul II gave us a marvelous example of this attitude of dialogue when he was the first one to invite the religious leaders of other religions to come and join him in prayer at Assisi, in the year 1986.

    To dialogue with non-Christians does not mean that we should never speak to them about Christ. On the contrary, in our contacts with non-Christians, we should never hesitate to share our Christian faith with them, whenever a favorable occasion arises. And if ever some of them are ready to convert themselves to Christ, we should rejoice over it, because Christ alone can lead people to the Father, even if they are not aware of it. And “since Christ died for all, and since the ultimate vocation of man is, in fact, one and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every human being the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22).

    Here is the testimony of Fr. Radcliffe, O.P., former Superior General of the Dominican Order.

    A teacher told me recently that a friend of his had left the Catholic Church along with his family to join a Protestant sect. For some time, his friend went to work in Brazil and died there, in a road accident. His body was brought back to India, and his wife asked that teacher, who was well known to her, whether he thought that her husband could have a funeral in the Catholic church. The parish priest was consulted and agreed willingly, after completing the formalities. When the funerals were over, the teacher went regularly to visit his friend’s family and showed attention and concern to them. That special care and attention led them to be reintegrated into the parish community.

    So, you understand how important it is for us to form vibrant Christian communities who are concerned about the real needs of people who suffer. If we fight against one another, we give a counter-witness to those who see us fighting. Our Christian communities are not isolated sects, closed up on themselves, but they are at the service of society through the work they do for the poor or the promotion of social justice. That’s why one of the Synods of Bishops (1971) spoke about the promotion of social justice as one of the important dimensions of evangelization.

III – Implications

It would be wrong to think that the work of evangelization today done through dialogue and witnessing is less demanding that what other generations of Christians did in the past. On the contrary, today, not only the priests and the religious are expected to get involved in evangelization, but all baptized Christians, lay people as well as priests and religious. And I believe that this is a mission that the Church entrusts especially to lay people who are in daily contact with colleagues of other faiths.

Hervé Morissette csc