SUPPORTING OUR MISSIONARIES
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 11:21-26. 13:1-3; MT 10:7-13 ]
In the gospel, Jesus sent out the apostles on a mission. Just as the Father sent Him, the Lord in turn sent forth the apostles, and then the disciples, into the vineyard of the Lord to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:21) Initially, the disciples were sent only to the Jews. Jesus sent them out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 10:5f) This was in line with scriptures because Israel was the chosen people of God called to be the light to the nations. “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isa 42:6f)
Going out to the Jews first had also been the practice of the early missionaries. Whenever St Paul and the other apostles went to a place, they would first seek to preach in the synagogue before they preached to the Gentiles. This was because Christianity was not an entirely new religion. She saw herself as the fulfillment and completion of Judaism with Christ as the Promised Messiah. Therefore, it was expedient for the first announcers of the Good News to be Jews since they understood the Old Testament much better than anyone else. Accepting Jesus as the Messiah did not mean a discontinuity in their faith but the completion and fulfillment of the hope of Israel. Hence, they would make the best evangelizers to their fellow Jews and the Gentiles.
In today’s first reading, we see this mission progressing to the next stage, with the apostles intentionally directing the gospel at the Gentiles. This outreach to the Gentiles had been prepared earlier on when during the persecution, Philip the deacon went to preach to the Samaritans who were no longer pure Jews because of intermarriage with foreigners. Later on, Peter baptized Cornelius, a non-Jew. Until now, even though the Samaritans were non-Jews and Cornelius was a Gentile, they were believers of the same God. However, at prayer in Antioch, the Holy Spirit asked that Barnabas and Saul be set apart for the mission to the Gentiles. “So it was that after fasting and the prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
Today, as we celebrate the memorial of St Barnabas, we can learn from him and his fellow missionaries on what it takes for the Church to be on fire for the mission. Firstly, it is important for us to form leaders and missionaries for Christ. No mission can be undertaken unless our people are set apart for this work. This was what the early Church did when they set apart Barnabas and Saul for the mission. This was what our Lord did when He chose the Twelve. Whilst all of us are called to bring the Good News to the world, some of us are called to be set apart for this specific work of proclaiming the gospel by forming our Catholics in faith and then together with them, proclaim the gospel to the entire world. The work of mission is ad intra before it is ad extra. Before we can reach out to the whole world, we must form ourselves.
Consequently, all Christians have a duty to support those who have been set apart for the work of evangelization. Firstly, in terms of discernment. We read that “In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” More than ever, we need prophets in our churches today. When we speak of prophets, we are not referring to those with the gift of prophecy at prayer meetings only. We are referring to the office of prophets, which is a charism that goes with the office, unlike a passing utterance of some prophetic words. Unfortunately, the Church has lost this office of prophets and integrated it into the ordained priesthood. In truth, the gift of prophecy cannot be limited to the ordained priesthood, but it is given to the entire Church by virtue of our baptism. So today, we have prophets that speak in different capacities. Anyone who is visionary, who is able to understand and predict the future of the Church or the trends of the world, is a prophet. Prophets are those who point out to the Church the direction she should move and focus on in view of what is needed in the future or face the consequences of inaction.
Secondly, missionary activities must always be accompanied by prayer and fasting. This was what the early Church did. The Holy Spirit spoke to them “while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast.” When they discerned it was the voice of the Lord, “they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” Without prayer, we will always have lots of disagreement. Of course, we know that where there is disagreement and infighting the devil is present because he is the father of lies and a cause of division whenever he is around. This is why we must always pray before we make any decision, and as a community pray together to hear the voice of God so that we can make a common discernment in unison with the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, most organizations hardly pray for their projects. We spend more time deliberating on our initiatives and planning our programs than asking whether that is what the Lord wants or whether that is what we want. This shows that we do not depend on God. As the Lord told the disciples when they were asked to proclaim the gospel, they were to carry with them minimal possessions so that they could only rely on God and no one else.
Thirdly, missionary activities need support from the Christian community. Jesus in the gospel made it clear that “the workman deserves his keep.” It is therefore the duty of every Christian to contribute to the mission of the Church by supporting the missionaries and those set apart to do this work, regardless of whether they are ordained ministers, religious, full-time workers, or voluntary workers. The Church is a non-profit organization because her task is to provide the good news for free, as the Lord said, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You have received without charge, give without charge.” Without financial support, the mission cannot continue. All of us who have received much from the Lord must freely give for the mission of the Church, which is for the good of humanity.
Finally, this support goes beyond financial considerations. Missionaries and collaborators need moral support and encouragement. This was perhaps the strongest quality of St Barnabas. His name means the “son of encouragement.” He was the one who was sent to encourage the Christians at Antioch. He was instrumental in helping to restore Saul’s confidence after he fled Jerusalem by bringing him to work with him in Antioch. Otherwise, Paul would have failed miserably in Tarsus where no one knew him. It was Barnabas who introduced him to the apostles at Jerusalem. Again, when Mark was rejected by Saul because he deserted them in their first missionary trip, it was Barnabas who took him in. As a consequence, Mark became a great evangelist.
We, too, must also give support and encouragement to those working in the mission, for the Church and for us. Instead of always putting them down, complaining about their inadequacies and failures, we must give them encouragement and let them know they are appreciated. Indeed, encouragement will do us more good than negative criticisms. Many of us are already diffident and unsure of ourselves. When we receive destructive criticisms rather than encouragement, we lose our confidence and zeal. It does not mean we cannot provide constructive feedback, but it must be done in a most charitable and gentle way. We can also help them whenever we can by contributing our time, resources, and skills. Most of all, we must pray for the mission. In this way, the gospel can reach to the ends of the world.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.