Mission Sunday comes round in our liturgical calendar in the month of October, and to be honest, I do feel that the invitation from the Church to get her people to awaken in her people the Missionary spirit, even at the most basic level of the word, seems to get harder and harder as the years go by. Of course, you may find this sentiment strange. After all, aren’t so many of us doing a lot these days, especially in the light of so many natural disasters happening around the world, where good spirited people, many of whom are our own Catholics, physically go out there and do the very hard and physical work of giving aid in so many forms? Isn’t this “mission in action”? So how is it that this priest is thinking this way – that it’s harder to get people to become mission minded?
This is where I should qualify what I just wrote. At the heart of the gospel message is the kerygma, which is the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. Not just one great man among many. Not just one guru amidst many others. That’s the heart of the Christian message. That message and truth must be the heart of every baptized person, that he or she is motivated, spirited and energized by the very person of Christ. In every action, every word, every act of love that the Christian person conveys to the other, it isn’t just he or she who is doing the action, speaking the word or giving the act of love, but the “Christ in him or her”, as St Paul puts it so well in Gal. 2:20.
Let me put it in a rather mechanical way, and perhaps you can appreciate what I am saying. It’s an analogy, and as all analogies are wont to be, it’s got its flaws. I’m not a car fanatic. To me, a car is a car, is a car. Last weekend, a friend of mine paid me a visit here in Yishun. He took me for a ride in his Mazda RX8. It wasn’t a new car, but it was the first time I sat in one. He took me to town in it, and I never knew that a car that small could be that powerful. I think it was the first time I ever felt the G-force in a car. I asked him if the fuel that he put in it made a difference, and he said that he only puts in top grade petrol, so that the best performance can be obtained from his car. And this set me thinking as I pondered over this homily for Mission Sunday. What drives a car? Yes, the engine capacity is important, but at the heart of it all, no matter what kind of car one drives, isn’t it the fuel that moves the car? Take that out, and even if you have a super-powerful car engine, without the necessary fuel, you’re better off on a bicycle.
What I am saying is this – what drives a true missionary? Is it the work that they do – physically going out to give aid to the needy, or shelter the homeless? Sure that is important. If those kinds of hard physical work is not done, it’s all talk and no action. But what fuels these hands and hearts, and moves these legs to go to those places and reach those people? The Christian has to be “fueled” by the person of Christ, and the spirit of Christ. Many people, including Catholics, have this idea that all religions are the same? Are they? I’m afraid this not a correct view, as far as Christ being THE messiah is concerned. In fact, to say that all religions are the same is to almost make irrelevant the enormously profound Paschal Mystery that saves us from ourselves. It would be tantamount to saying that the incarnation was a waste of time. No, I’m afraid not all religions are the same. I suppose that one can say with some degree of confidence in a broad-sweeping sort of way that all, if not most religions teach one to do good.
As long as the Christian who goes out to do mission work is not first centered on Christ, knows Christ intimately, and depends on Christ and Christ’s spirit to become another Christ in the mission fields, it’s going to be very tough to be a Christ-centered missionary. He’s going to do good work, he’s going to educate the poor, he’s going give shelter to the homeless, but perhaps not become a conscious image of Christ.
It would be wonderful if more and more Catholics begin to have a close and intimate a relationship with Christ so as to become aware of their fuel of their mission. Many people have plenty of heart, and that’s good. That’s necessary. But when it comes to talking about Christ, praying with people in need, or to even pray grace before meals at hawker centres or public eating places seems to be so difficult. It’s like extracting teeth from them. Without anesthesia.
Notice what Jesus said in the gospel – proclaim the good news and then baptize. That’s the sequence. In my many encounters with adults journeying in the RCIA, there seems to be a reversal of the sequence. Baptism seems to be the most important thing on their minds, and once that is finished, not many find it necessary at all to either know Jesus, or to be his ambassadors in their lives. It does appear that for many, their hunger is for a ceremony or a Rite, instead of a relationship that leads to the Rite. Perhaps it had not been made clear in their journey that it is that deep encounter with the Lord Jesus that must fuel the desire for baptism, so that after baptism, this fuel becomes purified, and like a top grade fuel, drive your very lives to yes, even become missionary to all, and for some, even to far away lands.
Have you heard of the carbon footprint? It’s the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly or indirectly by an individual, or organization, which is a result of their lifestyle choices. Everyone has a carbon footprint. The more electronic equipment used, the types of transportation one either drives or rides in, all contribute to the size of this carbon footprint. Of course, it means that we should be leaving smaller and smaller carbon footprints behind us as we live our lives, if we are conscious about being environmentally conscious. The more we conserve energy, save electricity, use less cars and burn less fossil fuel, the better our lives will be.
I’m just wondering if there could be a Jesus footprint in our lives too. This would be the measurement of how much of Jesus we have left behind us in the ways that we have lived our lives. It should then be our aim, that if we have been missionary in our lives, constantly aware that we need to maintain a deep relationship with Jesus, truly showing Christ to others in a conscious way, that instead of having smaller and smaller carbon footprints, we leave behind larger and larger bodies of evidence of having made Christ known and loved because we realize that we have first been known and loved by Christ. This, I believe, is our very first missionary calling. Once we know this, we will find it much less of a challenge to be actual missionaries in the world.