FOR WE CANNOT BUT SPEAK ABOUT WHAT WE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD.
Readings: Isaiah 56:1-6; Psalm 96; Roman 10:9-18 and Mark 16:15-20.
Today the Holy Mother Church celebrates World Mission Sunday, as was decreed by Pope Pius XI in 1926, for every Church/institution/parish. In the year 2019, we had the central theme: “Baptized and sent,” which was aimed at rekindling the missionary spirit in the life of the Church. Last year it was the question of the Lord, “Whom shall I send?” (Is 6:8) and for this year the theme of the mission Sunday is, “For we cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Pope Francis emphasizes in his message released on January 29, 2021 that “Once we experience the power of God’s love, and recognize his fatherly presence in our personal and community life, we cannot help but proclaim and share what we have seen and heard.” This was the experience of the Disciples of Christ sent on mission as seen in the selected readings for today’s celebration.
In Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday, he outlined the experience of the disciples as those who saw Christ cure the sick, dine with sinners, feed the hungry, draw near to the outcast, touch the unclean, identify with the needy, propose the beatitude and teach in a new authoritative way. He draws our consciousness to the difficulties attached to the mission, as things were not always easy: the experience of marginalization, segregation, language barrier, culture shock, and imprisonment combined with internal and external struggles. Yet, rather than these experiences leading the disciples to step back or withdraw, these experiences impelled them to turn problems, conflicts and difficulties into opportunities for mission. It is a heavy task; I am a witness to it. However, we are called to endure hardship by clinging to Christ who commissioned us.
In today’s Gospel, after Christ had commissioned the disciples saying “Go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation, he said, ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe…” In Christ’s last statements, he made a promise of SALVATION and a WARNING. He did not say condemnation belonged to the person who was not baptized, but to the person who does not believe in Him. Practically, if you are baptized and yet you do not believe in the baptism you have received, then there is a fundamental problem. Christ wants us to know that condemnation does not rest on baptism but on disbelief. More reason the Church urges us to profess our faith at the reception of the sacraments (of baptism) and the Holy Mass (I believe). However, it will be terribly wrong to consider baptism as non-essential to salvation. It is essential and indispensable as Christ commanded it. Obedience to his commandment becomes an essential tool for salvation.
Also, while Christ commissioned his disciples, he gave them signs that will accompany those who believe. Those accompanying signs signify Christ’s continuous presence with and in His Church. And this is an excellent pattern for ministry; first to preach the Gospel of Christ, followed by the signs. Signs are meant to follow believers, not believers following signs. So, if you are fond of following priests, pastors or prophets as miracle working men and women of God, then know therefore that your ‘Christianity’ is not in accordance with the teachings of Christ.
These are the people Isaiah referred to in the first reading, who are outside the borders of Israel. The reading is a promise directed to God’s discouraged people, who have slacked in obedience and righteousness. They see no reason to repent as long as things look down. God shakes them out of this by calling them to keep justice and do righteousness in anticipation of what he will do.
In view of the above, St. Paul in the second reading said, “If you confess with yours lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We gain God’s righteousness by confessing and believing in the person and works of Christ. When we confess with our mouth, we agree with what God said about Jesus Christ and what He said about himself, and to believe in him as missionaries is to have total dependence on Christ. The dependence on him that enables us to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. St. Paul further asked, “How are men to go into the world if they do not believe in him? How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? How are they to hear without a preacher?” Invariably, there is the necessity of a preacher or a missionary. And Paul adds, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news.”
As we celebrate World Mission Sunday, we, as in the case of the Apostles and the early Christians, can say, “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). If this is the case, we cannot keep the Lord to ourselves; we cannot hoard God’s saving grace. So, our mission is to bring Christ to the world as given to us. We are urged to support the mission of Christ as a collective responsibility, as “Some give to the mission by going while others go to the mission by giving.” Also, the liturgy reminds us of who we are: we are missionaries in different capacities by the virtue of our baptism, and that is why it is necessary that we renew our baptismal commitments every year. Lastly, we pray through the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother and the first missionary to take her Son Christ in the womb to her cousin Elizabeth, to continue her maternal intercession for all missionaries.
Happy World Mission Sunday!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ