My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
We are gathered here in his Name to celebrate his memorial, the sacrament of our salvation and to listen to his Word, which is light and strength for our journey through life. And it is in the context of the Eucharist that we are once again holding our Salesian Missionary Expedition.
Just as in 1875, when Don Bosco sent the first Salesians to America, so today the Rector Major, in his role as Successor of Don Bosco, is sending 45 Salesians, 15 Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and 11 lay volunteers from Italy. We thank the Lord who continues to raise up in the Church men and women, boys and girls, consecrated persons and lay people such as you who have heard the words of the Lord Jesus before his Ascension: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1,8). We thank each one of you because with your generous response to the missionary vocation you make possible the “missio ad Gentes” which is an essential part of the nature of the Church, called to share “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the world.”
The Word of God that we have heard and the Sacrifice of the Cross that we are celebrating, the highest expression of the love of the one who gave himself totally throw light on this occasion.
To be a missionary is in fact a gift of the Spirit who ceaselessly calls all Christians to be disciples, witnesses and apostles of the crucified and risen Lord, and to go everywhere even to the remotest ends of the earth to proclaim the salvation that God had offered us in his Beloved Son, and to translate it into a commitment to make the life of everyone more human through the gift of one’s own life in the fields of education, of human development and of social commitment. Proclamation and witness are the two ways of continuing the revealing action of Christ who came to “bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give sight to the blind, to free the oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4,18-19).
Precisely because they are “signs and bearers of the love of God,” Salesian missionaries give proof to what the author of the First Letter of John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (4:12). This is the greatness of love, which leads to the fullness of the one loved and the one loving. The Eucharist, my dear Brothers and Sisters, therefore ought to be the most important place and time of your life, of your day, because it will strengthen you in your mission and continue God’s revelation shown in Jesus the first missionary of the Father.
Certainly, nowadays the way of understanding and being a missionary has greatly changed especially since the whole world has now become mission territory – Europe as well as America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, – and also because nowadays we have to deal with a whole series of new scenarios in which human life is lived and the mission of the Church develops.
The economic situation nowadays put under strain by a crisis without precedent, is the cause of migrations, of tensions and various forms of violence, of a renewed and even more marked divide between the rich and the poor. The political world situation is being put to the proof by the presence of new players, such as the world of Islam, and by emerging powers of large Asian States. Scientific and technological research while from many points of view something beneficial does not seem to recognise any limits or moral considerations. Sometimes it fosters unlawful aspirations, forgetting to discuss important values which are the basis of human morality. Indeed it presents itself almost as a kind of new religion. Finally we have the challenge of the world of social communication. On the one hand this offers new greater access to information, a greater possibility of being informed, of exchanging ideas, of new forms of solidarity, the ability to promote a culture that is ever more on a world-wide basis, while on the other hand it promotes a focus on the needs of the individual, adding to the weakening and the loss of the objective value of a deeply human experience, reducing ethics and politics to a side show - all dangers which encourage a cult of the ephemeral, of the instant, of appearances, without a memory of the past nor a future.
My dear Brothers and Sisters I don’t want to give you a negative impression of today’s world. We have to recognise that all these challenges are also opportunities, and it is in this way that the Church wants to consider them. In fact she is trying to respond with a “new evangelisation,” characterised by the effort to give a positive response to the great needs of the human race. It wants to transmit what is certainly the good news that fills life with light, with meaning and with hope. From this follows the need to be grown up, joyful and convinced believers capable of handing on the faith, certain that only in Christ can men and women reach the fullness of life, long-lasting fruitfulness and the happiness for which they long.
For this reason the personal communication of the faith by word of mouth can never be imposed but takes place in a climate of freedom and of a proposal which opens the way to inter-religious dialogue among men and women of all beliefs, to ecumenism among Christians of different confessions, to in inculturation where we are invited to work.
Along these lines the Word of God that today has been proclaimed invites us to have a large welcoming heart which accepts all those who have some love for the truth even though they may be active outside and flock of Christ: «Anyone who is not against is for us ».
In fact if it is not well understood there is the danger that the faith becomes an element of “discrimination” among people, that it creates opposing factions among them. On the other hand, Jesus teaches us to take down the fences and to welcome all the “seeds of truth, of beauty and of goodness” in the world: every “truth”, even a partial one is always an opening for the faith, or a predisposition for the faith! Above all the person who proclaims the Gospel has to know how to find the points of contact with others in order to sow there, one might say even naturally, the message of salvation. Only in this way will the faith avoid ever becoming “polemical” and divisive but only and essentially a force of unity and “charitable,” and therefore always open to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.
Already in the first reading there is a reflection along these lines. At the invitation of God Himself, Moses had chosen seventy men among the “elders” of Israel, so that they might assist him in leading the people. However, to be able to do so they needed the “spirit” that God had so abundantly bestowed on Moses. On the appointed day they assembled around the “tent of meeting” and received the “spirit” of prophecy.
To this background is linked the episode presented in the first reading: two “elders,” Eldàd and Medàd, who had been chosen to form part of the seventy but had not gone to the tent of the covenant, were unexpectedly seized by the Spirit and “they prophesied in the camp.” The people were amazed, and rather too zealously a “young man” Joshua the son on Nun quickly went to tell Moses. «But Moses answered him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”».
Moses’ reply to the over-zealous request of the young Joshua is marvellous: there is no need to imprison the “Spirit,” almost as though one were trying to control him and make him walk only along certain paths, those perhaps that might seem safer!
The attempt to “imprison” the “spirit” is a sin twice over: first against God by trying to have some kind of control over Him – He who is the supremely “free one”! Secondly against one’s brothers and sisters whose capacity to respond to God’s initiative we would want to decide according to the rules we determine, as though we were the “Lords” and not the “servants” of the others. Would it not be indeed a great gift for all if everyone in Israel and in the Church, were “prophets”, just as Moses wished?
It cannot be denied that more than once in the long history of the Church attempts have been made to stifle the “Spirit”, when it upset preconceived ideas, or threatened certain ways of understanding and of managing the “institution” which certainly does not have a “monopoly” of the truth and even less of holiness.
The Second Vatican Council rediscovered the fundamental “prophetic” vocation of the “whole” of the Christian people on the basis of the one faith and the one baptism: «The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office. It spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give honour to his name.» (LG, n.12).
The first part of today’s Gospel gives us a scene which is not unlike the episode in the Book of Numbers we have just spoken about: with the difference that instead of prophecy it is concerned with an act of “exorcism”, carried out “in the name” of Jesus by someone who was not a disciple of his.
Here too there is a rather over zealous young man who immediately tells Jesus about something he considers unacceptable: «Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we tried to stop him because he is not of our company.». That young man was John.
We notice the young apostle’s expression of discrimination: “We tried to stop him because he is not of our company,” almost as though Jesus was something to be jealously possessed and not rather a “gift” to be shared with the greatest number of people possible!
The lengthy reply of the Teacher therefore is interesting: «Do not try to stop him. No man who performs a miracle using my name can at once speak ill of me. Anyone who is not against us is with us.»
At first sight it appears that Jesus’ reply is opportunistic, aimed at creating an aura of sympathy around him: there cannot in fact be anyone “who performs a miracle using my name and at once speaks ill of me”. In reality it is much more far reaching than that: it is aimed at educating the apostles not to consider themselves “possessors” of the truth but “seekers” with the others. In this way they automatically become “open” to all those who have something in common with them: at the very least being men and women and if believers in Christ, a great deal of the truths of the faith.
With the surprising affirmation « Anyone who is not against us is with us.», Jesus is laying down in anticipation the foundations for inter-religious “dialogue” among people and for “ecumenism” among Christians, which in recent times the Church has very clearly taken up again.
The contrast with another very well-known expression of Jesus is only an apparent one: «Anyone who is not with me is against me and anyone who does not gather with me scatters». In fact Jesus here is presenting Himself as the Absolute reality for everyone: anyone who knows Him for who He is cannot but be with Him, otherwise he would be scattered and be lost! However that does not take away the fact that if there are also “portions” of truth, beauty and goodness elsewhere they are already a sign of His presence in the world: this can be just the way that slowly leads to Him. It is for this reason that one should never obliterate even the faintest pathway in the desert: for Jesus this is sufficient for Him to arrive in a mysterious manner at peoples’ hearts.
This naturally applies to the Church as such and to the individual Christian, but in a special way to you my dear missionaries: the “Spirit” of Christ is at work well beyond the boundaries of the Church and even of faith itself. Precisely because Christ is the whole “Truth” He is to be found wherever there is a fragment of truth: in this way I would say that Jesus is far greater than His Gospel proclaimed and preached.
There is no need to be jealous as was John or Joshua, that others may have the “Spirit” of the Lord, or that they invoke or show respect for his “name”: one should simply rejoice and thank the heavenly Father for it!
Christianity is not a label, but a way of life, which sometimes is to be found in a mysterious manner in someone who is not a Christian! Above all this having to rely on the goodness and generosity of others requires a sense of humility and discretion: so that from the start the apostle of Christ recognises that he or she does not have any power over others but only a “service” to offer.
There then my dear missionaries are the criteria and the attitudes to be cultivated so that your mission may be fruitful. May the Spirit you have received in baptism guide and assist you always. May Mary Help of Christians in whose house we now are for this celebration be for you Mother and Teacher. May Don Bosco be your model and source of inspiration in your preferential love for the “poor and the young.” On our part we shall always accompany you with our affection and our prayer. Go to the whole world and proclaim the Good News: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Pascual Chávez V.
Turin – 30 September ’12