WORLD MISSION SUNDAY 2020 18TH OCTOBER
The annual celebration of World Mission Sunday gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of mission for the life of the Church.
Undeniably there are missionary challenges that we face at home: a secular and consumer society for whom God is not important; or a post-modern society for whom institutions, such as the Church, are not to be trusted; or a society in which ethnic and religious difference flare up into conflicts and divisions.
But Mission Sunday also gives us a chance to reflect on the Church’s mission worldwide, where the specific missionary challenges are different from ours. Their challenges may come from an oppressive, controlling or persecuting government; or from the poverty, hunger and famine of their people; or from ethnic conflicts or lack of education.
We are reminded on this day that we cannot be so absorbed in the challenges that face us that we can be indifferent to the challenges our brothers and sisters face elsewhere.
All three readings in today’s Mass have a missionary dimension to them.
In the first reading God addresses a king. What is amazing is that it is the God of Israel addressing a Persian King. God makes the statement that even though the King does not know Him, the King will carry out God’s will for Israel so that people will know: ‘I am the Lord, unrivalled; there is no other God besides me.’ This reading reminds us of the mystery we often face in looking at the experience of mission in today’s world. God does not always carry out His plans in the way we might expect. To see God’s concern for the world we must look not only at what the Church does but also at what God does through others.
So, sometimes what looks like a disaster for the local Church turns out to be a blessing in disguise. When the Communists took over China in 1949, excluded all foreign missionaries, and did everything in their power to suppress the Church, there were about three million Catholics. When the Church surfaced again the 1980s there were eight million Catholics. Today, after more than fifty years of State control there are more than twelve million Catholics. How is it that God can accomplish His plan through secular forces that do not acknowledge Him? We must always be aware it is God’s world and God’s mission, and many take part in it, without even knowing it.
In the second reading Paul is writing to the local Church in Thessalonica to assure them that they are remembered in prayer. Paul is grateful to God for the way they accepted the Gospel which came to them ‘not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.’ He says that they are remarkable for their show of faith, hope and love. Their faith produces fruit, the most significant of which is the love they have for others. Paul reminds missionaries everywhere that conversion is God’s work. We can present the Gospel, but it is the power of God and the Holy Spirit that provide the converts.
The Gospel relates how the Pharisees and Herodians were looking for a way to entrap Jesus. There was a dispute among these Jewish leaders about whether or not good Orthodox Jews could pay the poll tax. Some argued against it on the grounds that the Jewish nation was subject only to God and that the coin used for the tax bore an image of Caesar (for other commercial exchanges the Romans allowed the use of coins without images out of respect for Jewish sensitivities). Others argued for collaboration in order to preserve the privileges and liberties they had. It was a perfect trap. Jesus could not choose one over the other without either getting himself in trouble with Roman authorities or alienating some of his followers.
But Jesus avoided the trap. His response: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s told his followers clearly that his kingdom was not about political revolution but about committing oneself to serving and worshipping God. Love, service and adoration were to be everyone’s priorities. Jesus was not laying down guidelines for Church-State relations but rather was stating that one could be a good citizen as long as the claims of God were recognised.
While the principle seems clear enough the practice is not always so straightforward. There are Caesars even in today’s world who would claim that loyalty to the nation or national leader must come above any religious obligation. There are also Caesars who will not even allow their citizens to carry out any religious practices. In these situations missionaries and local Churches must walk a fine line between loyalty to God and being a good citizen, recognising that persecution will often follow.
On this Mission Sunday we are invited to remember those Churches and missionaries who are faced by persecution, to pray for them, and to be one with them as they try even in these difficult situations to witness to the love of God.
Mission Sunday is indeed a gift to the Church. It reminds us that we are one with the Church around the world and that we are all committed to carrying on the mission of Christ, however different our situations may be.