For most people Mission Sunday is just a fund-raising activity: a second collection at Mass, a piggy bank or an envelope to contribute some money. Needless to say, Mission Sunday is much more than that. This year, the celebration of Mission Sunday will be enhanced by a very important event, namely, the canonization in Rome today of the parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Patroness of the Missions. (Read more on this in the attached feature).
First and foremost, Mission Sunday is a day to thank the Lord for the gift of our faith; for indeed, our faith is a precious gift from God which none of us could ever earn or deserve. For some mysterious design of God, it was given to us and not to others. We have been richly blessed by the gift of Christian faith. Through it we have come to know the true and triune God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the origin and purpose of our life, and our eternal destiny.
Two thousand years after Christ sent his apostles to preach the Good News to all nations, but only one third of the world population has so far received the gift of faith. This means that two out of three persons in the world—a great majority—have not heard or have not received the Good News of the Gospel. We are lucky to be in the minority of believers.
It is this awareness of being lucky, of being blessed and enriched, by God’s mercy, with the gift of faith that impels us to do mission work in order to share with others the beauty and the richness of our faith. It is not that we want to proselytize and engross our ranks for the sheer joy of being the largest religious denomination. Rather, it is the desire to share with others the treasure of our faith. We want others to enjoy the blessings we have received from God. That is our understanding of mission–and Mission Sunday.
The fact that, after 2000 years, only one third of the world’s population has received the Christian faith should make us think: Why so few? Why so slowly? Have we not perhaps been remiss in our task of proclaiming the Good News, as commissioned by Christ? An old Chinese lady, when told by a foreign missionary that he was visiting her because that is what Jesus had told us to do two thousand years ago, replied: Two thousand years ago? Where have you been all this time?
A good question indeed to ask ourselves on Mission Sunday: Where have we been all this time? You might say: But Father, you said earlier that faith is a gift from God. So, it is something we cannot give; only God can give it. You are right there. But faith is like a seed that is sown in the heart and mind of people. And Christ, in his goodness, has chosen us to help sow the seed of the Gospel. He has also told us to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest” (Lk. 10:2). God produces the yield, yes, but we have to do the sowing.
When I was sent to the missions (before Vatican II), it was widely believed that mission work was reserved for priests and religious. However, Vatican II made us aware that all Christians share in the mission of Christ. All Christians are missionaries, by the fact of being baptized into Christ.
Another important change to take place during the last 50 years has to do with mission territory. Before Vatican II, missionaries were sent from first world countries into third world countries. After Vatican II, the practice of religion has weakened considerably in first world countries and the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life has dwindled. As a result, missionaries from the third world (especially Latin America and the Philippines) are now being sent to first world countries.
Today, as we appeal for material and financial support for the missions, and as we thank God for the gift of faith, we also pray that the missionary spirit and awareness may always be kindled and alive in all of us!
The parents of St. Therese of Lisieux will be canonized Oct. 18 at the Vatican during the Synod of Bishops on the family.
Louis Martin (1823-1894) and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin (1831-1877) will be the first married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony. Other married couples are among the blesseds of the church.
Pope Francis issued the decree approving their canonization Saturday during the public consistory on canonizations at the Vatican; more than 40 cardinals attended. During the consistory, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said the couple lived an “exemplary life of faith, dedication to ideal values, united to a constant realism, and persistent attention to the poor,” according to Vatican Radio.
The cardinal said the French couples serves as an “extraordinary witness of conjugal and family spirituality.”
Married in 1858, the couple had nine children; four died in infancy and five entered religious life. During their 19-year marriage, the couple was known to attend Mass daily, pray and fast, respect the Sabbath, visit the elderly and the sick, and welcome the poor into their home.
They will be canonized along with Italian Fr. Vincenzo Grossi (1845-1917), founder of the Institute of the Daughters of the Oratory, and Spanish Sr. Maria of the Immaculate Conception (1926-1998), a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Company of the Cross, whose canonizations the pope also approved Saturday.