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William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
The omission of mission?
Published: October 09, 2008 08:07 AM
The omission of mission?

In a message for World Mission Day 2008, Pope Benedict XVI says, "It is therefore an urgent duty for everyone to proclaim Christ and his saving message." How are we responding to that urgent duty here in Asia?

A friend in a distant place contacted me and asked how he could get to know about Christianity. He was looking for direction in his life, something to pass on to his children. His traditional religious background was insufficient for him, and he thought the Church might offer something to help his search.

I suggested that he get in touch with a priest I knew in his area.

The next time I heard from my friend, he said he had contacted the priest, who told him not to bother changing his religion.

The priest I had recommended is a man of deep faith and prayer. His selfless service is an inspiration to many people, including me. Still, though he is a missioner, he did not feel it essential to his mission to encourage another to come to belief in Christ and the Church, even when that person came looking for what Christ and the Church might have to offer.

If this were an isolated case, it would merely be sad. However, it is not an isolated case. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati in India has commented that, "Christians in our times seem embarrassed to speak enthusiastically about their faith."

Here in Japan, the bishops´ conference or its committees issue statements for various "Days" that the Church marks with prayers and collections.

As usual, however, this year´s World Mission Day will pass without any official notice from the Church leadership. We seem to be infected with a missionary malaise.

When we read the letters of Saint Paul, the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospels, it is very clear that the priority for the Church in the first century was to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The Church at that time was a minuscule community of several hundred, perhaps a few thousand, believers among millions of people largely ignorant of the Church´s very existence. Those who were aware were often hostile to it, sometimes bemused by it and occasionally interested in what it had to say.

The Hellenistic world in which Christians proclaimed their faith was home to ancient philosophic and religious traditions, and a multitude of cultures coexisting within the globalized Greco-Roman social, economic and political world order.

In other words, first-century Christians lived in a context that in many ways was like that of Asia´s Christians living in our twenty-first century.

Even so, we seem to differ as to where we place our priority as Christians. We carry on with our parishes and institutions directed toward the maintenance of the Christian community. We continue making essential contributions to serve the needs of the world outside the Church in medical care, education, social and economic development, the empowerment of women and minorities, and other activities that we define as "integral human development."

However, in our dealings with the world outside the Church, we often seem to leave out the most integral part of being human -- the relationship with God in Jesus Christ that each person has through the Creation and Incarnation.

Christians face persecution in India and other places, and being a Christian is challenging in more places, but we are for the most part comparatively free to live and proclaim our faith in Asia.

The constraints on that proclamation are generally not outside us, but within ourselves and our communities.

I easily recommend books, movies, music, restaurants and websites to others, but am I as forthright in recommending what Saint Paul calls the "surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus?"

If I truly believe that the proclamation of Christ is the will of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, I might be another Paul, who said, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel."

The fact is that billions of our brothers and sisters on this year´s World Mission Day will not "know Christ and the power of his resurrection." They will not know they are children of a loving God.

But they have the right to know this, and our timidity in proclaiming the Gospel is an injustice against them and against God who commissioned us in baptism to be heralds of the Gospel.

Do I have the right to deprive others of that knowledge through my sins of omission?

World Mission Day is an opportunity to renew my faith that knowing Christ is indeed of "surpassing value" for me. Then, having renewed it, I can commit myself to sharing it with all who deserve to know it as well.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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