Sunday, October 21, 2018

World Mission Sunday: Rediscovering our Identity!

Yesterday we celebrated the funeral of Mary Bayes, a delightful member of our parish who died suddenly. Mary was very active in community and neighbourhood associations, so despite the fact that it was Election Day a number of local political figures attended the funeral Mass.

Afterwards I chatted with a very pleasant woman who complimented me on the homily and the liturgy as she left the church. But a few minutes later she came back in the door and said “I should have mentioned that my husband is running for council and we would really appreciate your vote.  I’m sorry to approach you like this, but I can tell you he’s a very fine man.”

“Sorry?” I replied. “You wouldn’t be much of a political spouse if you hadn’t. And now your husband has one of my votes.”

And indeed he did—though he lost anyway!

The encounter got me thinking about World Mission Sunday, which we celebrate today, and about mission in general. One Pope after another has told us that the Church is missionary by her very nature, yet few of us have the zeal of that politician’s wife.

The parish staff, the parish council, and the parish finance council are all reading Father James Mallon’s book Divine Renovation. In this remarkable manifesto, Father Mallon argues that many in the Church suffer from spiritual amnesia—we have forgotten what the Church is for.

As anyone who has a family member facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease knows all too well, the loss of memory is painful. It leads to confusion and to consequences like leaving a pot on the stove and so on.

It’s the same in the Church. When we forget the true purpose of the Church—making disciples of Jesus—we become confused about why we’re Catholics and what we’re supposed to do.

Father Mallon writes that many in our pews are wearing “invisible suits of armour.” When Christ’s message is preached with full force of—and it isn’t always—it just bounces off.

We will talk more in the weeks and months ahead about the message of Divine Renovation, but on this Mission Sunday I want to quote just one sentence. It boils down the message that we are called to share with our neighbours, our family, our friends, and the farthest corners of the world.

Here’s the key sentence: “We can speak of the truth that we are never alone, that God desires to dwell in us, to consume us, and to have us consume him, but in the end it is possible to simplify the message into one word: Jesus.”

This is the message of our second reading at Mass today, from the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus himself is the good news of our faith; Jesus makes a difference in our lives; and Jesus understands everything about us.

Who wouldn’t want to know someone who knows and sympathizes with them so completely?

The letter states clearly that Jesus is the Son of God, interceding for us before the throne of the Father.  That alone should inspire confidence. But at the same time, he is fully human—one of us, who has been tempted like us, though without sin.

It’s so easy to dismiss the importance of Christ’s temptations.  After all, he was God; how hard can the testing have been for him?  Yet his temptations were far harder than ours, since “human experience shows that giving in to temptation, even a little, lessens its intensity (even though giving in will lead to further temptations in the long run). Jesus’ temptations were all the more intense precisely because he did not yield to them in the least. [Mary Healy, “Hebrews,” Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, p. 98]

And there’s still more to unpack from the brief description of our great high priest in Hebrews. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,” the letter says.

Look at three words in that sentence. “Therefore” relates to what we’ve just been talking about—the fact that Jesus sympathizes with our weakness, and understands our temptations.

And the invitation to “approach” suggests that God is nothing less than approachable.  I took the trouble to look up the word. The dictionary definition is “capable of being approached, accessible; and, specifically, easy to meet or deal with.”

Finally, that word “boldness.” Hebrews says that we know more than enough about Jesus to be fully confident in approaching the throne of grace—not just for mercy, but for all the help we need in every circumstance.

What a positive message for weary, wounded, and wondering folks! What good news to share by every possible means, from inviting people to Alpha to supporting the crucial World Mission Sunday collection.

But if the missionary spirit is really to revive in the Church—if we are to share Jesus with our neighbours and to make disciples of all nations, if we are to share the joy that “we are never alone, that God desires to dwell in us, to consume us, and to have us consume him,” then we must know him ourselves.

The wife of that unsuccessful candidate persuaded me to vote for her husband in two different ways.  I’ve already mentioned that I was impressed by her boldness. But I was equally convinced by her simple testimony: “I know him,” she said, “and I really think he’d make a great member of council.”

There’s a good model for how we’ll all share our faith with others once we rediscover the true purpose of the Church and “the essential identity of all the baptized to be missionary disciples, called to know Jesus and make him known.”

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