“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!’” (Lk 12:49) we hear our Lord teach us in today’s gospel.  As Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to “set the earth on fire” so he has sent all of us followers to share his saving mission with the whole world.  We recognize our missionary mandate – to make disciples of all nations – to be our primary task; every other work we do flows from it.

Next Sunday, we will be privileged to have Fr. Denny Joseph, RCJ, who represents the Congregation of Rogationists, with us as we participate, once again in the Missionary Cooperation Plan.  In preparation for his coming, allow me to provide you with some important information about the Congregation of Rogationists.  It is a community of priests and brothers founded in 1897 in Italy by St. Hannibal Di Francia dedicated to evangelizing the poor and underprivileged.  Responding to our Lord’s declaration: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers to gather in his harvest” (Mt. 9:37-38), the members of this congregation strive to be good laborers in the Lord’s harvest by bringing a wide range of services and ministries throughout the world.  The community leads movements of prayer for the increase of vocation in the Church.  It is also involved in the education of youth and the social assistance of the underprivileged, especially children, orphans and the poor.  And, it is committed to the parishes and its missions around the globe.  Fr. Denny Joseph is the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Reedley, CA and the delegate treasurer of the USA-Mexico Delegation of his congregation.

Our participation in the annual Missionary Cooperation Plan directly assists the Congregation of Rogationists this year.  Please be as generous as you can in your support next week.

In his recent address to the Pontifical Mission Societies, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, once again offered some very insightful reflections on the essential mission of the Church:

The Church is missionary by nature; otherwise, she would no longer be the Church of Christ, but one group among many others that soon end up serving their purpose and passing away. So it is important to ask ourselves certain questions about our Christian identity and our responsibility as believers in a world marked by confusion, disappointment and frustration, and torn by numerous fratricidal wars that unjustly target the innocent. What is the basis of our mission? What is the heart of our mission? What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying out our mission?

The Church’s mission, directed to all men and women of good will, is based on the transformative power of the Gospel. The Gospel is Good News filled with contagious joy, for it contains and offers new life: the life of the Risen Christ who, by bestowing his life-giving Spirit, becomes for us the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6). He is the Way who invites us to follow him with confidence and courage. In following Jesus as our Way, we experience Truth and receive his Life, which is fullness of communion with God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. That life sets us free from every kind of selfishness, and is a source of creativity in love.

God the Father desires this existential transformation of his sons and daughters, a transformation that finds expression in worship in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:23-24), through a life guided by the Holy Spirit in imitation of Jesus the Son to the glory of God the Father. “The glory of God is the living man” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses IV, 20, 7). The preaching of the Gospel thus becomes a vital and effective word that accomplishes what it proclaims (cf. Is 55:10-11): Jesus Christ, who constantly takes flesh in every human situation (cf. Jn 1:14).

The Church’s mission, then, is not to spread a religious ideology, much less to propose a lofty ethical teaching. Many movements throughout the world inspire high ideals or ways to live a meaningful life. Through the mission of the Church, Jesus Christ himself continues to evangelize and act; her mission thus makes present in history the kairos, the favorable time of salvation. Through the proclamation of the Gospel, the risen Jesus becomes our contemporary, so that those who welcome him with faith and love can experience the transforming power of his Spirit, who makes humanity and creation fruitful, even as the rain does with the earth. “His resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force” (Evangelii Gaudium, 276).

Let us never forget that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1). The Gospel is a Person who continually offers himself and constantly invites those who receive him with humble and religious faith to share his life by an effective participation in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. Through Baptism, the Gospel becomes a source of new life, freed of the dominion of sin, enlightened and transformed by the Holy Spirit. Through Confirmation, it becomes a fortifying anointing that, through the same Spirit, points out new ways and strategies for witness and accompaniment. Through the Eucharist, it becomes food for new life, a “medicine of immortality” (Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Ephesios, 20, 2).

The world vitally needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the Church, Christ continues his mission as the Good Samaritan, caring for the bleeding wounds of humanity, and as Good Shepherd, constantly seeking out those who wander along winding paths that lead nowhere.  (Pope Francis World Mission Day Address)

Since this mission of the Church – to spread the Gospel and make disciples of all nations – is so important, every diocese in the world has a mission office to promote this essential mission awareness among the faithful.  I had the privilege of being the director of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office for the Propagation of the Faith (the official name of the mission office) for four years.  And, since I was born in Indonesia (a country with 275 million inhabitants – making it the fourth most populous country in the world – that is still a missionary country; only 3.1% of the total population is Catholic), and have visited many missionary countries around the world, it was a ministry that was – and remains – very close to my heart.  When we experience for ourselves the difference our faith makes in the everyday lives of people, we are renewed in our response to the missionary mandate our Lord left us because we want everyone to benefit from the Good News of Salvation and the fullness of God’s love!

Every year, every parish in the Archdiocese is invited to respond to this universal missionary call in a variety of ways.  On the second-to-the-last Sunday of October, we join with the universal Church in observing Mission Sunday.  The collection taken up on Mission Sunday benefits all of the missionary dioceses throughout the world, including the 13 missionary dioceses in the U.S.A.

Additionally, once a year, we participate in the Missionary Cooperative, through which particular missionary organizations visit parishes and share their missionary work with them.  This allows each parish to learn a little more about the missionary ministry of a specific missionary organization.  And, to assure that all missionary organizations that want to participate are able to do so, the Archdiocesan mission office assigns missionary organizations on a rotation basis throughout the Archdiocese.

I encourage everyone to participate next weekend through prayer and your usual, very generous financial support.  Remember what Jeanne Jugan (one of the founders of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith) said – “Some give to the missions by going and some go to the missions by giving” – and please be as generous as you can to this important ministry!  And, keep Fr. Joseph Denny and all missionaries in your daily prayers as they spread the Good News of God’s love around the world!