Extraordinary Missionary Month

This October has been declared an Extraordinary Missionary Month by Pope Francis. He said that he was doing this in honor the centenary of Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud.

In a special website, http://www.october2019.va/en.html, which the Vatican has set up, you can read more about what the Holy Father suggests we do to help spread the Gospel. 

“‘Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World’ is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the Extraordinary Mission Month. Awakening the awareness of the missio ad gentes (mission to the peoples), and reinvigorating the sense of responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel with new enthusiasm, are themes that combine the pastoral concern of Pope Benedict XV in his Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud, published 100 years ago, with the missionary vitality expressed by Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: ‘Missionary action is the paradigm of every work of the Church’ (EG 15),” the website tells us on the EMMOCT2019 page.

The website also offers us suggestions as to how to live out this month. “There are four dimensions, specified by the pope, to live more intensely the journey of preparation for the Extraordinary Missionary Month October 2019:

1. A personal encounter with Jesus Christ alive in His Church through the Eucharist, the Word of God, personal and communal prayer;
2. Testimony: missionary saints, martyrs and confessors of the faith, as an expression of the Church scattered throughout the world;
3. Missionary formation: Biblical, catechetical, Spiritual and theological; and
4. Missionary charity.”

Even though the month has already begun, it is never too late to do these things (which God has been calling us to do since 33 A.D.).

The website has page after page describing missionary saints, offering Vatican documents on our Church’s missionary responsibility, news about what dioceses around the world are doing to spread the Gospel and a guide of how to live out this month (which even has lengthy commentaries on the daily Mass readings of this month, looking at them from a missionary perspective.). The guide can be found at http://www.october2019.va/en/mmsott2019/la-guida.html in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian. Pope Francis kicked of the month this Tuesday with a Vespers (Evening Prayer) service in St. Peter’s Basilica, with testimonies from missionaries from all over the world.

World Mission Sunday is always observed in October. This year it will be on October 20. That day we will have the diocesan second collection for the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, so that we can collaborate financially in the mission works of the Church around the world.

Pope Francis earlier this year wrote a letter to us encouraging us to be an active part of World Mission Sunday. He opened the letter by referring to Benedict XV’s letter from a hundred years ago Maximum Illud. “Its farsighted and prophetic vision of the apostolate has made me realize once again the importance of renewing the Church’s missionary commitment and giving fresh evangelical impulse to her work of preaching and bringing to the world the Salvation of Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again.”

After recalling that we Catholics have all been “baptized and sent,” the Holy Father wrote, “Celebrating this month will help us first to rediscover the missionary dimension of our faith in Jesus Christ, a faith graciously bestowed on us in Baptism. Our filial relationship with God is not something simply private, but always in relation to the Church. Through our communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we, together with so many of our other brothers and sisters, are born to new life. This Divine life is not a product for sale — we do not practice proselytism — but a treasure to be given, communicated and proclaimed: that is the meaning of mission. We received this gift freely and we share it freely (cf. Mt 10:8), without excluding anyone. God wills that all people be saved by coming to know the Truth and experiencing His mercy through the ministry of the Church, the universal Sacrament of Salvation (cf. 1 Tim 2:4; Lumen Gentium, 48).”

Some have attacked the pope for saying that we are not into “proselytism.” In saying that, he was not saying that we do not want to spread the Gospel (that would make no sense in a letter about doing that). Rather, he was referring to an understanding of that word often used in the Spanish-speaking world, where “proselytism” is meant as coercing people into changing faiths, while “evangelizing” is understood as a free invitation to come to the faith.

The pope continued, “The Church is on mission in the world. Faith in Jesus Christ enables us to see all things in their proper perspective, as we view the world with God’s own eyes and heart. Hope opens us up to the eternal horizons of the Divine life that we share. Charity, of which we have a foretaste in the Sacraments and in fraternal love, impels us to go forth to the ends of the earth (cf. Mic 5:4; Mt28:19; Acts 1:8; Rom 10:18). A Church that presses forward to the farthest frontiers requires a constant and ongoing missionary conversion. How many saints, how many men and women of faith, witness to the fact that this unlimited openness, this going forth in mercy, is indeed possible and realistic, for it is driven by love and its deepest meaning as gift, sacrifice and gratuitousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-21)! The man who preaches God must be a man of God (cf. Maximum Illud).”

Of course, what the pontiff wrote in the last sentence was meant under the broad usage of “man” as referring to all human beings. We are all called to be people of God; in other words, our way of being should remind other people of God’s (loving) presence. 

Pope Francis continues in that vein. “This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission. People in love never stand still: they are drawn out of themselves; they are attracted and attract others in turn; they give themselves to others and build relationships that are life-giving. As far as God’s love is concerned, no one is useless or insignificant. Each of us is a mission to the world, for each of us is the fruit of God’s love. Even if parents can betray their love by lies, hatred and infidelity, God never takes back His gift of life. From eternity He has destined each of His children to share in His Divine and eternal life (cf. Eph 1:3-6).”

May we see how God is calling us to live out mission, not just each and every day of October, but each day of our lives.

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