By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth! (Psalm 8:2)
During the third weekend of October, the Propagation of the Faith, the world-wide mission arm of the Catholic Church, is at the forefront of World Mission Sunday. This year’s theme chosen by Pope Francis was “Hearts on Fire, Feet on the Move.” The Holy Father again shed light on the Emmaus story when the risen Lord walked alongside two forlorn disciples, crushed by the crucifixion. In that encounter their hearts began to burn while walking, they recognized the stranger at table in the breaking of the bread and hurried on eagle’s wings to the other disciples to announce the Good News of the risen Lord’s appearance.
World Mission Sunday magnifies the Great Commission of the Lord, the work of the church every day and in each generation to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations with hearts inflamed at the Eucharistic table, and a joyful sense of going in peace to love and serve the Lord.
There is not a nation on the planet that is beyond the reach of the proclamation of the Good News and the gradual inculturation of the Gospel. Although the channels of modern communication are used widely and can traverse the most remote areas, the church is most faithful to the Lord’s mandate where she has boots on the ground.
The light of the Gospel is often repulsed by the darkness of this world, but God’s grace prevails and many women and men, at home and abroad, embrace the Cross in order to be the Lord’s faithful witnesses. The sacrifice is often heroic in countries where religious persecution is virulent. The yearly review of discrimination and oppression that at times ends in martyrdom, exposes an appalling reality for those under daily duress. Yet, the voice of the Gospel cannot be silenced.
Most of the time those who labor in the Lord’s vineyard where lack of work is never an issue, do so below the radar. All of the church’s corporal and spiritual works of mercy, her commitment to justice and peace, to education, and to health care are all linked to the core work of evangelization. We are who we are and do what we do because we belong to Jesus Christ. “The gift we have received, give as a gift.” (Matthew 10:8)
The Gospel calls forth the best in others and cultivates the grace of a generous soul. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple – amen, I say to you, he or she will surely not lose their reward.”
Pope Francis, like Pope Benedict and Pope St. John Paul II in our post-modern world, have been joyful missionary disciples, embodying the Gospel from the center of the church and going to the margins of our world to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with words of hope, justice and peace. Consider Pope Francis memorable pilgrimages in recent years.
During an ecumenical trip to South Sudan and the Republic of the Congo he prayed for reconciliation and a new day of hope for these war-torn nations. During the pandemic he brought the light of Gospel hope where the church has been decimated by war and internecine strive. In Canada he asked forgiveness for the abuse inflicted upon the indigenous peoples by the church and the Canadian government. In Mongolia, he celebrated Mass with the entire Catholic population which is less than the number of persons in our larger parishes.
At this time of terror, tragedy and war in the Holy Lands, Pope Francis has pleaded that “the only side we should be taking is the side of peace.” Whether it is in our own families, in our diocesan parishes exploring the deeper meaning of One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, or the world-wide Synod on Synodality, the beginning and the end of our efforts is the faithful undertaking of the Lord’s Great Commission.
The church of nearly 2,000 years has raised up two incredible saints who are the co-patrons of the Missions. St. Francis Xavier, S.J. whose heart burned and whose feet took him as far as India and Japan. St. Therese of Lisieux, who although her feet did not carry her too far beyond her convent had a heart that God enflamed, transporting her to the ends of the earth by means of prayer and love.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us! St. Therese, pray for us!