by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision… We are prophets of a future not our own.”
These wise and healthy words from St. Archbishop Oscar Romero come to mind this week as we celebrate World Mission Sunday and consider the enormous task which Jesus left us. As He took leave of His small group of followers, the Lord told them – and all who would come after them: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) On Mission Sunday we take the “long view” of our response to this command, helped as always by Pope Francis who has written a pastoral letter for this occasion.
The Holy Father naturally writes of mission and missionary activities within the framework of the household of faith, the Church. Once again it is clear that when he speaks this way he is identifying “the Church” as all of us, the People of God. This, then, is the fundamental context for everything Pax Christi is and does. And as one reads the letter it is impossible not to connect our missionary vocation at this time of human history with Catholic Social Teaching: work on behalf of justice, peace, and care for creation. He also makes the important point that we are proclaiming the Kingdom of God in a time in human history when no human reality is foreign to the concern of the disciples of Jesus; the Church’s (our) mission reaches to the ends of the earth in our globalized world.
Another fundamental observation of Pope Francis has a direct application to Pax Christi: “In carrying out the mission, the presence of a community, regardless of its size, is of fundamental importance.” No need to belabor the fact that Pax Christi USA and International are first and always communities.
Another key phrase in Francis’ letter is a quote from St. Pope Paul VI in his 1974 message on mission, “Evangelii Nuntiandi”: “Modern people listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers; and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Whatever the work Pax Christi is doing, we do it as witnesses to Christ’s principal message of “proclaiming the Kingdom of God.” In this regard Francis says, “The Christian does not proselytize but proclaims.” Clearly, we have moved far beyond an outdated understanding of mission and missionary, that of bringing Jesus and the Catholic Church to natives in far off exotic countries. As Gustavo Gutierrez once observed, this motivation was driven understandably by the conviction in those centuries that “outside of the Church there is no salvation.”
Then the pope circles back to the command of Jesus and His assurance that “you will receive power from the Holy Spirit.“ “It is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in prayer. The same Spirit also inspires ordinary women and men for extraordinary missions… It is the Spirit who gives us the right word, at the right time, and in the right way.”
The pope concludes repeating his constant theme: “I continue to dream of a completely missionary church and a new era of missionary activities among Christian communities.” Pax Christi can well take this call of the Holy Father as a personal invitation to continue and expand our vision.
There is the saying: “The Church does not have a mission; the mission has a Church.” We are instruments as Church/People of God/Pax Christi proclaiming “thy Kingdom come… on earth.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.