The Synodal Church on a missionary journey

Our hearts burn — The disciples at Emmaus were downcast. They had placed their hopes on Jesus and now Jesus was dead.

Oct 20, 2023

Guest Editorial - Fr Gerard Louis CSsR
On October 22, the penultimate Sunday of October, the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. This celebration goes back to 1926, when the Pontifical Society of the Propagation of the Faith requested Pope Pius XI to establish a “World Mission Sunday”. The objective of this celebration would be to raise awareness of the Church’s mission, encourage the lay faithful to live their missionary vocation and to raise funds in support of missionary dioceses. The first World Mission Sunday was celebrated in October 1927.

Every year, the Holy Father produces a message for World Mission Sunday and this year Pope Francis’ message, based on the story of the Disciples at Emmaus, is entitled Hearts on Fire, Feet on the Move. He describes three movements that drive us towards mission: our hearts burn, our eyes are opened and our feet set out.

Our hearts burn — The disciples at Emmaus were downcast. They had placed their hopes on Jesus and now Jesus was dead. Their dreams for Israel were shattered. Many people today are just as downcast and hopeless. Think of those who have lost loved ones, struggle to make ends meet, think of the loneliness of the migrant and the trauma of the refugee. So many people who might well ask, “where is God? Is God interested in my story?”

God’s relationship with the poor and the suffering is synodal, which means to journey together. The story of Emmaus reminds us that God makes a choice, takes the initiative to walk with those who suffer and to listen to their stories, dreams and anxieties.

Just like the disciples, our mission begins with an encounter with Jesus Christ who captures our hearts. It is an encounter that draws us into a lifelong relationship with Jesus and with those who are suffering.

Our eyes are opened — At supper, the eyes of the disciples were opened. They realised that they were not alone. Jesus had been with them all this while. Yet, as soon as they recognised Him, Jesus disappeared. Reminding us that often, many do not realise God’s presence in their lives and in their suffering.

Our eyes must not only be opened to the presence of Christ but to the realisation that He is sending us to continue His mission of sharing the Good News of God’s redemption. Our eyes are also opened to the signs of the times — to corruption and injustice, the exploitation of our planet, the plight of migrants, refugees and victims of trafficking, the rise of politics that divides people.

As Christ ate with and listened to the disciples, so we are sent to walk with, listen to and encourage our neighbours and those who are suffering.

Our feet set out — This is the moment when we make a commitment to dedicate our lives to sharing the love of God. The Asian bishops, at their 50th anniversary meeting in Bangkok earlier this year, spoke of the mission of the Christian in Asia. In a continent of great religions, ancient cultures, of vast economic growth alongside dehumanising poverty, where Christians are but a tiny minority— the mission of the Christian is to be a witness of God’s love.

As our hearts burn and our eyes are opened, we desire that others also experience the redemption that Christ offers. This faith that we have received must be shared.

At the opening Mass of the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis warned against a Church turned in on itself. Most often, our concerns centre around issues of our parish, logistical problems, the organisation of feast days and the governance of our parish ministries. However, Pope Francis calls the Church to be a field hospital, he urges the Church to go out to the peripheries. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, ‘How can we communicate the reality of God to the people of today, in a way that it becomes salvation for them?’

This year, Mission Sunday also falls during the Synod on Synodality, where the Church is discerning how best it can share the Gospel in the modern world. Malaysia is truly Asia because the great religions and ancient cultures are present here.

From the time they are children, people of different religions and cultures interact as neighbours, colleagues and classmates, these days even as relatives. In other ways, Malaysia is also sociologically and politically fragmented. It is this conflicting reality in which the Christian is called to witness to the love of God. The Church has a mission to listen and dialogue, to share the values of the Gospel, to foster unity, understanding and respect.

Who are those who are walking alone, dejected and hopeless? As Jesus walked with them, the Church is called to do the same. Our feet must set out.

(Fr Gerard Louis CSsR is the Vice- Provincial Superior for the Redemptorists of Malaysia and Singapore.)

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