SUPPORTING THE MISSIONARY ACTIVITIES OF THE CHURCH
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 3 JOHN 5-8; LUKE 18:1-8]
How do we know that we are a mature Church? The Church must be vibrant, alive, full of activities and evangelistic in reaching out to lapsed and nominal Catholics and non-Catholics. But even if our churches appear to be alive because of activities, yet this is not the real sign because we can be vibrant but inward- looking. Some parishes organize many activities for their parishioners, which is a good thing, but there is always the danger of parochial-mindedness. When we are only concerned about our parish and not the archdiocese or the country, or even the universal church spread throughout the world, we cannot truly call ourselves Catholic. This is because to be Catholic means to belong to the universal Church of Christ.
Indeed, the most telling sign that a church is truly vibrant and alive is not in the number of activities they organize for their parishioners but whether the people have grown in faith. But how do we measure the depth of the faith of our people if not in the fruits of priestly and religious vocations on one hand, and support for the missionary activities of the universal Church on the other. Indeed, the increase in priestly and religious vocations and the support of the missionary activities of the Church show that the faith of the people is deep and strong. Only because the faith of the people is deep, will some members of the community be inspired to give up their lives for the service of the Church and the spread of the mission. Only because their love for Christ is passionate, will they also be like St Paul, enthusiastic in proclaiming Christ and the gospel to the whole world. If priestly and religious vocations are lacking and if missionary zeal to spread the gospel is weak, then clearly, it manifests the lack of a real, personal, loving relationship with the Lord. If we are not careful, all the activities we organize in our parishes will turn out to be merely social activities that do not spring from faith.
Of course, not all are called to be priests or religious or even missionaries. But this does not mean that the laity is exempted from the work of mission. Even if we cannot give up our life for the mission of the Church, we are called to support the missionary activities of the Church in our own ways according to the resources we have. This is what we read in the first reading when St John commended Gaius for his hospitality to the itinerant preachers of their days. “My friend, you have done faithful work in looking after these brothers, even though they were complete strangers to you. They are a proof to the whole Church of your charity and it would be a very good thing if you could help them on their journey in a way that God would approve.” Supporting our missionaries, whether using our time or resources, is the means by which we can assist the spread of the gospel. As the local church, the basic sign of our contribution to the missionary activities of the universal Church is expressed on Mission Sunday and Peter’s Pence Sunday when all the Sunday Collections at all the masses are given to the Pontifical Missionary Society and to the Holy Father respectively.
But it is more than just giving our collections to the mission. Rather, we must see ourselves as partners in the missionary activity of the Church. Giving to missionaries and their activities is not paying them or even doing them a favour, as if they owe us gratitude. In truth, we are all working for the same mission and the same Lord. As Catholics, Jesus commands us all to “make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:19) Supporting missionary activities in kind or financially is but our partnership with those who are actively and directly involved in the mission of spreading the Good News. They are helping us to fulfill our obligation as much we are helping them to do their work.
Indeed, our non-Catholic Christian communities are more evangelical and missionary-minded than our Catholics. Most Protestants have no reservation in donating their money for the spread of the gospel and the work of missionaries. Many give beyond the 10% tithe for the church and her evangelistic activities. They are always seeking opportunities to spread the gospel and to sponsor those who wish to be trained as missionaries to go abroad to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Christian Protestants spare no effort in wanting to make Christ known and loved by everyone, far and near. And this is because they have encountered Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, been healed and touched by Him and, like St Paul, seek to announce Him to all those who yet have come to know Him.
For ourselves, we have backtracked from where we started. The Catholic Church right from the start saw herself as a missionary Church. The spread of the gospel to the East, the African continent and America was due to the missionary zeal of the Christians in Europe. Faith in Europe was so alive. There were many religious orders and many churches were built, so much so Europe’s culture is synonymous with Christianity. Alas, over the years, when the Church became too established, it became a maintenance Church. The zeal for the gospel, the love for Christ, the encounter with God was diluted. The clergy was not well formed and many were corrupt and living scandalous lives. This is the current state of Europe. The churches are dying and many of them have been closed, sold or demolished. The flame of faith is extinguishing, overtaken by secularism.
Indeed, our Catholic churches tend to function as a maintenance Church. If we do not change and revive our faith, we will surely follow the way of Europe. The writing is on the wall. We have seen what is happening in Europe, so we have no excuse for being ignorant. Christian churches are building new churches with a view to expansion. Catholic churches are contented to build out of need. We are quite contented looking after our own flock well. We are complacent with regard to bringing people to know Christ. As a Church of 383,000 Catholics, our conversion rate of 1000 adult baptisms a year, by Asian and African standards is considered poor. It is a sign of a weak faith, a lack of enthusiasm, a faith that is not truly alive and active.
That is why Catholics must step up in their support for evangelistic and missionary activities for the spread of the gospel. We need to help form our priests, religious and lay missionaries as well. It is not enough to give our token donation for the maintenance of the Church on Sundays but we need to set aside money for the work of evangelization and mission if we do not want the Church to become apathetic. Missionary works of course also include works of charity as well, although in this respect, we are doing quite well through the work of Caritas and Charis and their affiliated organizations.
Regardless whether it is direct or indirect proclamation of the gospel, no Catholic is exempted from this obligation to assist. The responsorial psalm says, “He is a light in the darkness for the upright: he is generous, merciful and just. The good man takes pity and lends, he conducts his affairs with honour.” Of course, we must be watchful that the funds donated are properly used according to the intention of the donors. We must be alert to those who ask for funds to finance their own lavish lifestyle and their greed. There are many of these so-called missionaries that give a bad name to the Church. St Paul warns us, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim 6:9f) We need accountability at all times.
Finally, it is not enough just to support missionaries but most of all, we need to pray like the woman in the gospel. We need to pray with faith, and fervently, because this is what the Lord asks of us. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:37f) When we pray with faith, our faith will grow as well. In this way, the community’s faith grows with us so that more would respond to the Lord’s concerns. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36) What is your response to this cry for shepherds and missionaries?
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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