UCA News
Contribute

Re-envisioning the Christian mission

Mission is not distant; it's right here, around us, within our immediate communities and neighborhoods
A nun from the Missionaries of Charity walks in a lane adjacent to the Mother House in Kolkata, India on Aug. 26.

A nun from the Missionaries of Charity walks in a lane adjacent to the Mother House in Kolkata, India on Aug. 26. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 05, 2023 04:23 AM GMT
Updated: November 01, 2023 04:59 AM GMT

On the penultimate Sunday of every October, the Catholic Church observes Mission Sunday, providing us a chance to reflect on the significance of the mission and the responsibilities it entails.

The mission is a sharing of what discipleship of Jesus means and helping people live that out in their everyday lives. It is not so much a mission on Jesus as a mission of Jesus; it has to do more with dying like Christ than for Christ.

It is a witnessing to what Jesus preached and stood for, namely the Reign of God. Disciples follow the footsteps of Jesus in his life, preaching, and death. It is as simple as that, but with enormous consequences for our present-day world and society, and for ourselves personally.

This understanding and approach to mission breaks the stereotype of mission on a territorial basis — as if some lands are mission countries and others mission-sending countries. Mission should be pursued in every corner of the globe each with distinct focus and emphasis, dictated by the local context and socio-political conditions.

Mission is not distant; it's right here, around us, within our immediate communities and neighborhoods. 

Way back in 1943, a French priest, L’ Abbé Henri Godin, startled the Christian world with his booklet, France, pays de mission? (France, a mission country?). Today, increasingly, we understand that every nation is a mission nation.

"In some Western countries, it's not unusual for a daughter to schedule an appointment with her mother for dinner"

The mission encompasses people, society, nature, and the environment.  Vatican II provides a document, Ad Gentes, explicitly addressing the mission. However, the true mission document of Vatican II is Gaudium et Spes, delving deeply into the Church's presence and engagement in the modern world. It offers inspiration for living out Jesus' teachings in the political, social, cultural, and economic spheres we encounter daily, either directly or indirectly.

Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi — a mission document — surpassed earlier approaches to evangelization by intimately connecting it to the social message of the Gospel and the Church's social teachings.  Ultimately, evangelization should bring about a transformation from within, permeating the various layers of human life (EN 18). 

Our current environment, characterized by capitalism, consumerism, market relationships, competition, technology, and the pursuit of power, drains the wellsprings of humanity within us.

Relationships become automated or taken for granted; resembling the machines we create — devoid of heart, empathy, love, grace, and compassion. In some Western countries, it's not unusual for a daughter to schedule an appointment with her mother for dinner.

The mission encourages Christians everywhere to engage in respectful conversation with people of different beliefs, promoting mutual understanding, friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood, and cooperation.

History would tell us how the missionaries who traveled across the globe to preach the Good News encountered religions of other peoples and races. These were disparaged and viewed as idolatrous. 

A positive understanding of other religions today has led to a re-envisioning and renewal of mission in a different key.

Other religions, in which we acknowledge the presence of God and the working of the Spirit, are no longer adversaries to be conquered through Gospel preaching but partners in God's mission.

This means that we can no longer think of the mission without inter-religious dialogue and cooperation with people of other faiths.

Dialogue offers an opportunity for mutual learning from different religious traditions and scriptures. Even more, respect for other religions and mutual learning should be able to lead us to visit the sacred places of one another.

"The fragility of human life, both individual and collective, and the limits of human power should spur us on to shape a different world and society"

Pope John Paul II set an example and contributed to a renewed understanding of dialogue as part of the mission when he prayed together with believers of other faiths in Assisi on Oct. 27, 1986. Since then, more such encounters have followed.

Pope Francis practices the new understanding of mission he outlined in his Evangelii Gaudium. He did not hesitate, for example, to visit respectfully a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, on Jan. 13, 2015, and earlier the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (2014) and Asl-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (2014).

Imagine how wonderful and promising it would be if more Christians worldwide reverently visited the sacred places of worship of their neighbors — temples, mosques, synagogues, pagodas,  shrines, and gurudwaras.

This could contribute significantly to religious harmony, peace, and mutual understanding.

In the contemporary world, Christians face numerous challenges that require joint efforts with people of other faiths. This conviction is grounded in the idea that all of humanity shares the same origin and destiny, something we have experienced acutely through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fragility of human life, both individual and collective, and the limits of human power should spur us on to shape a different world and society that increasingly reflects the Reign of God, the spirit of the Gospel, and the life of Jesus

At the core of the Christian faith lies the mission to spread a message of love, compassion, and justice, inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Today, the Christian mission is intrinsically tied to the pursuit of justice and equality, reflecting an evolving understanding of faith's role in addressing contemporary social issues. Jesus saw his divine mission as that of proclaiming the Good News to the poor (Luke 4: 18). He also made it clear that individuals and their salvation are ultimately judged based on their treatment of the poor and the marginalized (Mt 25:31-46).

Throughout history, missionary zeal drove Christians to establish churches, schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations worldwide. The Church viewed acts of charity and welfare as preparations for the Gospel mission.

However, Christianity's historical entanglement with colonialism and imperialism led to the exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples. Missionaries were often seen as instruments of cultural assimilation, exerting power over vulnerable populations. These historical injustices have profoundly influenced the contemporary Christian mission and the pursuit of justice and equality

This is the first part of a two-part article, Read part two here

* Father Felix Wilfred is a Catholic theologian based in Chennai, India. He has been a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission and a visiting professor at several international universities. A former secretary of the theological advisory committee of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), the 75-year-old priest was also president of the International Theological Review Concilium published in seven European language editions. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Lent is the season during which catechumens make their final preparations to be welcomed into the Church.
Each year during Lent, UCA News presents the stories of people who will join the Church in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The stories of how women and men who will be baptized came to believe in Christ are inspirations for all of us as we prepare to celebrate the Church's chief feast.
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
comment

Share your comments

1 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
a non-christian once asked me...what did i think about religions. my answer: every religion is like a road with its own name and different sign posts to guide people and to prevent accidents/harm. they all lead to the same CREATOR. i believe that people should be permitted to freely chose which road they want to follow, NOT THIER PARENTS WISHES. as for the CHRISTIAN road, how many christians are there to lead and attract others through their life examples/behaviour? if we profess to be christians, which part of our lives ( compared with our non-christian neighbours), prove our faith or living in footsteps of christ? does having western names, wearing western clothes, eating beef and going to church on sundays/feasts make us followers of christ? ARE WE LOST ON THE CHRISTIAN ROAD?
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia