Valdocco, 28 September 2008
"Servants and Apostles of Christ Jesus"
26th Sunday Ordinary Time (A)
Homily for 139 th Salesian Missionary Expedition
Ez 18:25-28; Ps 24; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
Dear brothers and sisters
We are gathered around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist in this Basilica of Mary Help of Christians which has been the normal place for Salesian missionary expeditions.
Today we are re-connecting with 11 November 1875, when Don Bosco sent his first Salesians to Argentina. 133 years have passed and the Congregation has succeeded, by the grace of God, in sending confreres and lay people year by year to carry out the Lord Jesus' command to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth; confreres and lay people who have made real Don Bosco's dream of seeing young people throughout the world discover the fulness of happiness and life in Christ.
On this occasion I feel duty-bound to take up the Message of the Holy Father for World Missionary Day, because it is particularly enlightening and full of proposal:
“The missionary mandate continues to be an absolute priority for all the baptised, called to be “servants and apostles of Christ Jesus” at the beginning of the millennium. My revered predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, already said in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi that “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” (n. 14). As a model of this apostolic commitment, I would especially like to indicate St Paul, the Apostle of the Nations, because this year we are celebrating a special jubilee in his honour. It is this Pauline Year which offers us the chance to familiarise ourselves with this outstanding Apostle, who was called to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, as the Lord had previously commanded him: “Go, I am sending you out to the pagans, far away” (Acts 22:21). How could we not accept the oportunity offered by this special jubilee to the local Churches, Christian communities and individual faithful, to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, God's power for the salvation of whoever believes (Rm 1,16)?
Humanity needs to be liberated and redeemed. Creation itself - says St Paul – groans and retains the hope of entering into the freedom enjoyed by the children of God (cf. Rm 8:19-22). These words are also true in today's world. Creation groans. Humanity groans and awaits true freedom, awaits a different, better world; awaits “redemption”. Deep down it knows that this new and hoped-for world presupposes a new man, presupposes “children of God”. Let us look more closely at the world's situation today. The international panorama, though on the one hand offering perspectives of promising economic and social development, on the other draws our attention to some deep concerns regarding the very future of man himself. Violence, in not a few cases, marks the relationships between individuals and peoples; poverty oppresses millions of the world's inhabitants; discrimination and persecution driven by racial, cultural and religious motivations, force so many to flee their country to seek refuge and protection elsewhere; technological progress, when not directed to the dignity and good of man and not in view of a supportive development, loses its potential to be a factor of hope and even risks increasding the imbalance and injustice already there. There is also a constant threat to the relationship between man and his environment owing to the indiscriminate use of resources, with repercussions on the physical and mental health of the human being. Man's future, then, is put at risk by attempts on his life, events taking on various guises and shapes.
Faced with this scenario “we are buffeted between hope and anxiety” (Const. Gaudium et spes, 4) and we ask with concern: what will happen to man and creation? Is there hope for the future, or better, is there a future for humanity? And what will this future be like? The answer to these questions comes to us believers from the Gospel. It is Christ who is our future and, as we find written in the Encyclical Letter Spe salvi, his Gospel is the communication which “changes our lives”, gives hope, throws open the obscure door of time and enlightens the future of humanity and the universe (cf. n. 2).
St Paul had understood well that only in Christ can humanity find redemption and hope. Therefore he warned how pressing and urgent is the mission to “proclaim the promise of life in Christ Jesus” (2 Tm 1:1), “our hope” (1 Tm. 1:1), so that all peoples may join in the same inheritance of being participants in the promise by means of the Gospel (cf. Eph. 3,6). He was aware that without Christ, humanity is “without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2,12) – without hope because it is without God” (Spe salvi, 3). In effect, “whoever does not know God, even though he may have many hopes, deep down is without hope, without the great hope that is the foundation of all life (Eph 2,12)” (ibid, 27).
It is then an urgent duty for everyone to proclaim Christ and his message of salvation. “Woe to me", St Paul said, "if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). On the road to Damascus he had already experienced and understood that redemption and mission are the work of God and his love. Love of Christ led him along the roads of the Roman Empire as a herald, apostle, flag-bearer, teacher of the Gospel, and one who would call himself “an ambassador in chains” (Eph 6:20). Divine love made him “all things to all people, in order to save some at any cost” (1 Cor 9:22). Looking at St Paul's experience, we can understand that missionary activity is a response to the love with which God loves us. His love redeems us and urges us to missio ad gentes; it is the spiritual energy capable of giving growth in the human family to harmony, justice, communion amongst people, races and nations, which everyone aspires to (cf Enc. Deus caritas est, 12). It is God therefore, who is love, who leads the Church towards the frontiers of humanity and who calls on evangelisers to drink from “that first and original source which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows God's love” (Deus caritas est, 7). Only from this source can we draw the attention, tenderness, compassion, acceptance, availability, involvement in people's problems, and other virtues needed by messengers of the Gospel in order to leave everything and dedicate themselves completely and unconditionally to spreading the perfume of Christ's charity throughout the world.
While first evangelisation is urgent and essential for not a few regions in the world, a lack of clergy and vocations today afflicts many dioceses and Institutes of Consecrated Life. It is important to insist that, while faced with growing difficulties, Christ's mandate to evangelise all people remains a priority. There can be no reason which justifies a slowing down or pause in its regard, since “the mandate to evangelise all men constitutes the life and essential mission of the Church” (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, 14). It is a Mission that is “still in its beginnings and we must commit ourselves with all our strength to its service” (John Paul II, Enc. Redemptoris missio, 1). How could we not think here of the Macedonian, who appeared in a dream to Paul crying out: “Come over to Macedonia and help us”? Today there are many who await the proclamation of the Gospel, who thirst for hope and love. How many there are who feel deeply challenged by this cry for help from humanity, leave everything for Christ and hand on faith and love for him! (cf. Spe salvi, 8).
Dear brothers and sisters, “duc in altum”! Let us set out on the sea of the world, following Jesus' invitation, casting our nets without fear, trusting in his constant assistance. St Paul reminds us that it is no advantage to preach the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 9,16), but a task and a joy. Dear brother Bishops, folllowing the example of Paul each one feels that he is “a prisoner of Christ for the Gentiles” (Eph 3,1), knowing he can count in his difficulties and trials on the strength which comes from Him. The Bishop is consecrated not only for his diocese, but for the salvation of the entire world (cf. Enc. Redemptoris missio, 63). Like the Apostle Paul, he is called to extend himself to those far off who still do not know Christ, or who have not yet experienced his liberating love; his task is to make the whole diocesan community missionary, willingly contributing, according to his possibilities, to sending priests and laity to other Churches in the service of evangelisation. The missio ad gentes thus becomes the unifying and convergent principle for all his pastoral and charitable activity.
And you, dear religious men and women, your vocation marked by a strong missionary element, bring the proclamation of the Gospel to everyone, especially those in far-off places, through a consistent witness to Christ and a radical following of his Gospel.
All of you dear lay faithful are called to take part in an ever more relevant way in spreading the Gospel. All of you who are working in various sectors of society. You have a complex and multifaceted areopagus opening up before you to evangelise: the world. Witness with your life that Christians “belong to a new society, the goal of their common pilgrimage and which is anticipated in the course of that pilgrimage” (Spe salvi, 4).” (OR, 11 May 2008)
And you, dear new missionaries, in order to carry out this mission of evangelisation and transformation of peoples' hearts and, through this, the world. You have no better model than Jesus, as presented by Paul in his letter to the Philippians. In fact the Apostle invites us to make our own the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus, meaning, serving our neighbour with the greatest humility. In order to succeed in overcoming our selfishness, which leads us to proclaiming the Gospel in a spirit of rivalry or moved by vain glory, there is no other way than the imitation of Christ, whosee "though his state was divine yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, deah on a cross." Here is the model of true inculturation, essential for evangelising and touching the heart of the cultures of the peoples and leavening and transforming it. To go on "missio ad gentes" involves stripping ourselves of all that can separate us from the peoples to whom we are sent, from our presumptions, our knowledge, our titles, our financial means, etc., and beginning humbly to learn as babies would: their language, their culture, appreciating what is good, true and beautiful in it, in a word loving them as Christ has loved them, to the point of giving himself for them.
This imitation of Christ will be easier and more faithful if you succeed in uniting your mission with the Eucharist. This is your way to holiness, so you can live what you celebrate and celebrate what you live. Thus will the Eucharist become the source of your mission and spirituality, and the mission will become an extension of your celebration of the Eucharist, completing in your body what is lacking in the passion of Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, may celebrating this new Salesian missionary expedition encourage you all to a new awareness of the urgent need for proclaiming the Gospel.
While we entrust these new missionaries and the apostolic work of all missionaries to the Lord, we call on the intercession of St Paul and Mary Help of Christians, Star of evangelisation on behalf of everyone.
Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
Basilica of Mary Help of Christians – 28 September 2008