Focusing on the Extraordinary Missionary Month

Archbishop Joseph Marino, Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia gave a talk to the bishops during the recent Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapor

Aug 10, 2019

--Continued from last week

As you know, we have reflected on the landmark document before, that is, the Joy of the Gospel and I wish to ask, in these six years since that Apostolic Exhortation was published, have you, have your dioceses, have your parishes undertaken initiatives that truly transform the Church into a more effective missionary body? Or are you still doing the same relying on administration and the web of rules which are more for self-preservation instead of going outside of self, in other words “a kind of ecclesial introversion” (EG, 27).

Therefore, Pope Francis hopes that the Mission Month will inspire us and move us — and these are the words of the Holy Father — “from the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past. Instead, may we be open to a joyful newness of the Gospel” (Letter October 22, 2017).

In response to the letter of Pope Francis, Cardinal Fernando Filoni wrote a letter on December 2, 2017, to all the bishops under the care of the Congregation in which he reflected upon the Extraordinary Mission Month. In it, he affirmed that our missionary activity is, in our time, oriented towards “the witness of charity, commitment to justice and peace, and intercultural dialogue with Religious Traditions in mutual respect for human life and its dignity, especially that of the poorest of society.” Here we find in the Cardinal’s letter three elements, which give us a template of our missionary activity: charity, justice and dialogue.

He also recalled that the Holy Father has reminded us of the four ways to prepare for and live out the Extraordinary Missionary Month: 1) a personal encounter with Jesus Christ alive in His Church: Eucharist, Word of God, personal and communal prayer; 2) the witness of the Saints, the Missionary Martyrs, and the Confession of Faith, who are unique expressions of the Churches throughout the world; 3) biblical, catechetical, spiritual and theological formation regarding the missio ad gentes and 4) missionary charity as a material support for the immense works of evangelisation, especially the missio ad gentes and Christian formation in Churches that are most in need.

The missionary activity of the Church is the characteristic that has marked the Church since her very beginning when Christ gave the commandment to go into the world to proclaim and baptise. The Church has remained faithful to this command, and in different times and in different places it has lived out this work in different ways. A reading of the document Maximum Illud illustrates how the Holy Father then, 100 years ago, moved the Church to go beyond the confines of Europe and to make the work of proclamation universal.

Yet, regardless of how the missionary activity was and is being lived, it has been marked on one essential trait, to go outside of self. In fact, that was the central theme of the document, the Joy of the Gospel, where Pope Francis, over and over throughout his writing, urges the Church to go outside of self, to the point that, today, he wants us to overcome the complacent attitude, “we have always done it this way” (EG, 33). In this context, I ask, have you, and the Churches entrusted to your care, moved from that complacent attitude, looking for new ways to announce the Gospel?”

To announce the Gospel is the very title of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia and its service to the Church (PE). In the Preamble, we find the definition of “to announce the Gospel” which represents and gives direction to whatever reform is undertaken in the Church. There we read: “The Church carries out this mandate of Christ (to announce the Gospel) through words and works of mercy. Christ left us this example when he washed the feet of his disciples and said that we would be blessed if we did the same (Jn. 13: 15-17). In this way, the evangelising community …. lowers herself even to the point of humiliation, if necessary, and embraces human life, touching the suffering of Christ in people (EG, 24). As such, we fulfill the command of the Lord, who not only asked us to announce the Gospel, but also to take care of our weakest, sick and suffering brother” (PE, Preamble)

To embrace newness in our approach to go out of ourselves, to preach the Gospel, as defined by the Holy Father and which is the definition of the missionary work of the Church, we need to exchange views with honesty, to listen with attentiveness and to be open to new ideas. In other words, we need to adopt a synodal attitude in our communities.

--Continued next week

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