Do we remember ever having an impulse to evangelize? Maybe we were raised Catholic, and all the people we ever knew growing up were believers. When we got to school, maybe around the first grade, we realized that some of our classmates didn’t believe in God. Wasn’t it a shock? How could that be… didn’t they know? Probably we immediately had an impulse to tell them, and maybe we tried or at least we thought about saying something. What has happened to that initial impulse now that we are grown up? Today our readings are very much connected to the impulse of evangelization… to being missionaries in today’s world.
We hear in our first reading about a shepherd named Amos whom God called to proclaim his Word. When the priest there told Amos essentially to get lost, and go to another place, Amos replied, “What am I supposed to do? God sent me.” And we hear in today’s Gospel, Jesus sending forth his disciples, randomly to all the people of the area. He instructs them to travel lightly, to proclaim his Word, to confront evil where they find it, and to bring healing to the people they encounter. Obviously scripture attests to God’s plan to share his truth through messengers that he sends, missionaries of truth and healing, but missionaries who encounter difficulty along the way.
As God was building up his disciples, even before they knew that he was the Son of God, he was forming their hearts and their minds to be missionaries, people not only interested in their own salvation but in the salvation of others. This practice of evangelization occurs so early in the formation of the disciples. Today we are in chapter six of Mark. It will not be until chapter nine that he teaches his disciples to pray. In fact, Jesus’ instruction to pray occurs not alone by itself, but so they can accomplish their mission. The purpose of prayer was so that missionary work was a success.
What this means for us is that fundamentally our identity as Christians, our identity as this Catholic parish in Nipomo, is to be missionaries for Christ. Our prayer is to support this mission. Without missionary activity, our prayer doesn’t reach its proper end. It is like preparing a meal but not eating it. Even more so it is like preparing a meal but not sharing it. We receive our Lord as food, and through prayer we become food for others. If we don’t allow ourselves to be eaten, to be broken, to be shared then we are not happy for we are not being who we are in the deepest sense… missionaries. This is one reason why Jesus comes to us, blessed, broken, and shared in the Eucharist… because he is a missionary. He proclaims himself to us, forming us to proclaim himself to others… to be missionaries of Word and Spirit.
Francis in his first letter as pope sympathized with us who find it difficult to be missionaries in the world. He called the letter, “the Joy of the Gospel”, and in it he proclaimed that the fundamental identity of the Church was to be missionary. He lamented that there were so many difficulties that we face to living out this identity. He says that our media culture and some intellectual circles have been instigating skepticism, even targeting Christianity, introducing cynicism against the Christian message. We living in the world and sensing this, may develop a sort of inferiority complex, a feeling of being inferior because of our faith. We relativize or conceal our Christian identity, beliefs, and convictions. Instead of holding fast to God’s will that all hear the Gospel, we are tempted to give up and hold that every religion, every belief system, every “lifestyle” is somehow equal. But God desires all people to know his Son and to experience his love. If we let go of our mission, if we let go of our identity, we let go of our joy. Pope Francis prays that we recover the missionary identity of the Church, not only for the salvation of others, but for our own continued happiness.
In his letter, he says that the most difficult part of missionary work is being patient. Evangelization takes time, it occurs little by little and imperfectly in the hearts who receive God’s word. We know this truth in our own lives, in our own conversion. He tells us to celebrate growth no matter how small, no matter how incomplete. Any growth is cause for joy, any growth is cause for thanks to God.
All of us are already involved in mission, simply by coming to Mass, we are being missionaries. Pope Francis proclaims that Mass, the liturgy, is the source and summit of evangelization. From the liturgy we ourselves are continually evangelized, and when we go out to the world “to proclaim the Gospel with our life”, our hope is that all we meet will one day join us in receiving God’s Word and his Spirit here from his altar.
Now we may think that our friends and family are the first to whom we are called, but Pope Francis, …challenges us with the truth of scripture. Sacred Scripture witnesses, “Our mission must first be to the poor.” Now, I can imagine that many of you are already helping the poor, the homeless, and the sick. Already we have a food pantry ministry here at the parish, we also have a ministry to the grieving which plans funeral receptions, and I’m sure there are more that I’m not aware of. But Pope Francis challenges us to see these ministries not as “add-ons” to our faith, not as something optional or extra that we do. They are inseparable and expressive of Christianity at its core. To put it simply, if we are not proclaiming God’s love to the poor, we are not Christian. And if we are not authentically Christian, we are not truly happy, no matter how much we pray.
Monday we are invited to begin a time of payer and preparation using the book, “33 Days to Morning Glory”, which we have for sale in the office for low-low price of $15. =) Concluding the same letter, Pope Francis tells us, Mary is the original woman of mission. She received the mission to bear God’s Son into the world, and she was praying with the apostles when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and enabled them to continue her Son’s mission. Let these 33 days of drawing close to the Blessed Virgin Mary, be a renewal of the acceptance of our identity… to be missionaries in the world after her only Son. Hopefully God will renew our impulses to evangelize in whatever form the Holy Spirit leads us. Let it be through prayer, but let it also be our very identity, expressed also through action in our community.