Prepare to be heard

Homily of the month

On a mission

Jesus asks us to embrace his path, to follow him, to imitate him. The love of God goes out to all and all are called to share in that love, and share it with others, writes Joel Schorn in PREPARE THE WORD's featured homily for World Mission Sunday.

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Occasion: World Mission Sunday
Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

We hear a lot about sacrifice in today’s readings. Isaiah speaks of a servant who gives his life as an offering for sin. The Letter to the Hebrews talks about Jesus the high priest who sacrificed himself for human sins but who also knows our humanity. This sacrifice does not happen only at some hidden heavenly altar; it has a human face, Hebrews says. Jesus gave himself for us by becoming one of us, and so we can go to him for mercy and help, not in fear but in confidence and hope.

But Jesus’ invitation to come to him, the gospel tells us, involves something else besides mercy and grace: a challenge. He asks us to embrace his path, to follow him, to imitate him. Jesus opens up for us the fact that the love of God goes out to all and that all are called to share in that love, and share it with others.

On a Sunday the church devotes to calling to mind the mission of the church, it’s good to hear these readings. They remind us of that call—that mission—and where it comes from. Notice how after all the posturing and misunderstanding of the apostles in the gospel story, Jesus “summoned” them—called them—to tell them something very important: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” Those words describe very well what mission means.

Mission Sunday is a time to realize that mission is at the heart of the church—that the church, as theologians say, is missionary by nature, that it reaches out. We can say that because we believe God, in whom the church is rooted, reaches out. God wants to share divine life and divine love with us. That’s why God created the world and gave us Jesus. Through Jesus, who proclaimed, revealed, and called others to the reign of God, God reaches out and calls people to communion with God and one another. What are we members of the church to do in response to that call, we who believe in this God and follow Jesus?

A missionary church has to have a missionary people, a people who engage with their whole beings in mission, which is most simply bringing to others the Good News. That means seeing the face of Christ in everyone, especially the poor and outcast. Mission means showing compassion, spreading goodness, transforming, forgiving, healing, loving, serving, preaching, teaching, and healing. It means repenting and encouraging repentance, turning oneself and others to God. It also involves being agents of redemption in a world that has its life from the Creator and is therefore basically good and redeemable, even though sin and evil, both personal and social, sometimes seem to dominate.

A missionary church has to have a missionary people, a people who engage with their whole beings in mission, which is most simply bringing to others the Good News.

And mission is a call for all of us because of our Baptism. As Pope John Paul II put it, “Life according to the Spirit, whose fruit is holiness, stirs up every baptized person and requires each to follow and imitate Jesus Christ, in embracing the Beatitudes, in listening and meditating on the word of God, in conscious and active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church, in personal prayer, in family or in community, in the hunger and thirst for justice, in the practice of the commandment of love in all circumstances of life and service to the brethren, especially the least, the poor, and the suffering."

All members of the church, whatever their roles, have a common responsibility to evangelize. We exercise this vocation through different roles to be sure, but being apostolic is a mark of the whole church, as we profess in the Creed, and a task of every member of church.

Laypeople—and that’s the vast majority of us—call all of us to find God in all the tasks and relationships of life. Priests call all of us to exercise our common priesthood of believers, to lead us to lives of self-offering. Those in consecrated life call all of us to live the values of poverty and the generous use of resources, of chastity and right relationships, and of obedience, responsibility, and community, and to open ourselves to the influences of particular charisms like prayer, teaching, and so on. Missionaries call all of us to see the importance for Christian witness of encounters across cultures and boundaries.

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” To go to others we have to go to God first. To learn that we are called to serve—and to learn how to serve—we have to go to the servant, Jesus, the one who shows us what it means to give one’s life for many. Such is our faith and our church, and such is our mission.

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