The reading for this Sunday of the Ascension is taken from Matthew’s presentation of what is known as the Great Commission of the Faith. This is Jesus’ command to “Go, therefore, and make disciples from all nations. Baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to fulfill all that I have commanded you. I am with you always until the end of this world.” This is before Jesus is ascended into heaven, and is now giving his disciples, the early church community, their marching orders and mission on earth. The church’s ad gentes (“to the world”) mission cannot be overemphasized. It is the central mission of the church – Go, therefore, and make disciples from all nations.
After the close of the Vatican Council Pope Paul VI issued Evangelii Nuntiandi where he stated that the Church “exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of his death and glorious Resurrection.”
In his is encyclical Redemptoris Mission Pope (now St.) John Paul II differentiated three spheres of evangelization – (a) Missio ad gentes, directed to people who do not yet believe in Christ; (b) Reevangelization, aimed at rekindling Christian faith; and (c) Pastoral care, the deeper insertion of the gospel in the hearts and minds of faithful Christians. In it he said that “what was done at the beginning of Christianity to further its universal mission remains valid and urgent today. The Church is missionary by her very nature, for Christ’s mandate is not something contingent or external, but reaches the very heart of the Church.”
The new Evangelization, a term coined by St. John Paul II; an “evangelization will gain its full energy if it is a commitment, not to re-evangelize but to a New Evangelization, new in its ardor, methods and expression”. In Redemptoris missio, he wrote: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
In his pontificate, Pope Francis released in 2013 a related apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (English: The Joy of the Gospel) on “the church’s primary mission of evangelization in the modern world”. According to Pope Francis, the Catholic Church must follow Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel to every person, otherwise it will not fulfill its mission of bearing witness to Christ.
Reflecting on evangelization, the Pope said that to evangelize means to deliver Christ’s teachings “in simple and precise words like the apostles did” without the need to “invent persuasive discourses.” According to him, “The Church is either on the move or she is not (the) Church. Either she evangelizes or she is not (the) Church. If the Church is not on the move, she decays, she becomes something else,” And so, the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon was convened by Pope Francis precisely to bring the Good News to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon; those who because of isolation have not heard of Christ, and who are “often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future”.
We Filipinos find ourselves in a most unique situation to become missionaries as our diaspora has made us missionaries in the world. We bring our faith wherever we go, whatever work we do. As Cardinal Tagle, who himself has been missioned globally as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in the Vatican, observed, “Now, with the West facing emptier pews, it’s time for the “heirs” to become missionaries themselves and bring the faith back to Europe and other parts of the world as it is time for Asia to come back to Europe and America in order to give back the faith.”
The pandemic will not change this great commission of Filipinos. Many in our diaspora are health care workers and caregivers. Like it or not, they will find themselves bearing witness to God’s love and mercy to patients and people they care for and their families. Many overseas Filipinos, as I have personally experienced, are active in their adopted parishes.
But we don’t have to go abroad to become missionaries.
Each one of us is called to share the Gospel of Salvation, not necessarily in the most dramatic of ways but in simple ways according to our vocation, and the circumstances we find ourselves in We may be married or unmarried persons, working as a simple labourer or a corporate executive, a frontliner in this pandemic or required to stay at home because of age and co-morbidity, the Lord is asking us to show our families, neighbours, friends and the world the beauty of our spiritual inheritance. As said, we need not become martyrs, although martyrdom is a wonderful grace, we only need to witness Christ by obedience to his teachings. Above all, we are called to love God and our neighbor which to me means to protect the planet and be in solidarity with the poor to ensure social and environmental justice.
Visit this website to access the article.