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Some thoughts for Mission Sunday 2011

Catholics need to rediscover their zeal to spread the Word worldwide

  • Father William Grimm MM, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • October 19, 2011
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Sunday 23 October is World Mission Sunday
Q: What is a seven-letter word for "Church"?

A: "Mission," a word that means "sending."

That is the "vocation" of the Trinity and the basis of our relationship with God. The Father sends the Son into the world in the Incarnation. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The Spirit empowers and impels those disciples to proclaim the Gospel. It is the sending that makes the Church. We gather (the root of the word Church) in order to be sent. It is the whole reason the Church exists.

This month, the world population reached seven billion. As the number of people in the world is growing, so is Christianity. In some places, the growth is explosive, so much so that some predict that Christians may in the not-too-distant future be a majority of the world’s people. But, not Catholic Christians. Catholic Church growth is not keeping pace with the growing world. Already, there are more Muslims in the world than Catholics, and the growing Churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America are evangelical communities. Islam and evangelical Christianity are growing at more than twice the rate of Catholicism.

Of course, for Catholics, mission is not a numbers game. But, we still must ask why others are doing so much more about sharing their faith. If we do not do mission, no longer see ourselves as sent, we are no longer being Church. Might that be the reason for the shrinking percentage of the world that follows Christ as Catholics? Are we being less of a Church than we should be?

The sociologist Pierre Hegy has observed that, "The post-Vatican II insight that the evangelical mission belongs by baptism to all has not yet been put into practice."

He goes on to point out in his book Wake Up, Lazarus! that even those who claim to be evangelizers have a limited view of their vocation.

"In fact, in my cursory survey of the reports of US lay missionary societies, I found that all dedicate themselves exclusively to works of charity, not evangelization. Moreover, many missionary congregations of priests emphasize in their pamphlets their charity work, seldom highlighting their missionary accomplishments, as if missionary work were mainly charity work abroad. Parish outreach programs often offer soup kitchens, food pantries, and thrift shops, but this is not very different from what secular social agencies do; usually they do not offer spiritual help to any great extent."

Each October, we mark, more or less, World Mission Sunday. Someone in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples writes up a message, the pope signs it, it goes on the Vatican website, few read it, fewer take it to heart and we go about business as usual until next year.

But, dare we carry on as usual? Unless Catholics — each of us and all of us — reawaken zeal to let all our brothers and sisters know God’s love for us shown in Jesus Christ, we will become nothing more than a cult. A big cult, but a cult nonetheless, focused on itself and its rituals, rules, hierarchies and practices. Those rituals, rules, hierarchies and practices should exist only for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Seven billion people deserve to know their Father. If every Catholic does not take part in sharing that Good News along with our other Christian brothers and sisters, the world will be deprived of a unique and essential way to know Christ. In addition to Mission Sunday, we need Mission Monday-through-Saturday every week.

Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.
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