Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Missionary Mandate.

In 1990 Pope John Paul II, of  beloved memory, wrote Redemptoris missio on the theme of “the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate”. His primary concern was to re-assert the centrality of the missionary thrust of the Church, particularly in areas of the world where Christianity has not yet been established.

    A missionary thrust is a vital sign of the spiritual health of the Church. When the Church is confident of its message and the contribution it can make, not only to individuals but to societies and cultures, the Church will actively engage in missionary activity. But voices have emerged in the Church to question whether we should still be seeking to spread Christian teaching among non-Christians. Thus some ask:
·    Has evangelisation not been replaced by inter-religious dialogue?
·    Is not human development an adequate goal of the Church’s mission?
·    Does not respect for conscience and for freedom exclude all efforts at conversion?
·    Is it not possible to attain salvation in any religion?

These are significant questions. They deserve a considered response.
 ·Has evangelisation now been replaced by inter-religious dialogue?
In the years following the Second Vatican Council the Church has given particular attention to developing both ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. It is now a significant aspect of the Church’s engagement with the world. The Church recognises those things that are true and holy in the great religious traditions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, and the Church seeks to build bridges of understanding and co-operation particularly in efforts to promote peace and the advancement of peoples. This, however, does not lessen the primary task of the Church to proclaim unambiguously that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.

·    Is not human development an adequate goal of the Church’s mission?
    The many challenges that face the world today occupy the minds and hearts of many people of good will. The efforts to establish peace, or overcome poverty, or pandemics like HIV AIDS, or to tackle the questions associated with climate change all have their validity. Yet these are not the first pre-occupation of the Church. Certainly Christians involved in these areas must avoid the danger of reducing the Gospel to the horizontal plane.

    Nor can the message of the Church become just another competing ideology, or the subject of political or social objectives. The Gospel is transcendental and proposes the Kingdom of God which is not just “food and drink” (Romans 14:17). The true and full liberation of humanity is found not on the material level, but on spiritual level. “Here is no lasting place” (Hebrews 13:14). Each person is passing through this world, our homeland is, as St Paul advises, “in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

·    Does not respect for conscience and for freedom exclude all efforts at conversion?
        In an age of relativism when many declare that all religions are as good as each other; at a time when more and more people     declare that there is no objective truth; in an environment in which     people claim a personal freedom to choose what they believe is best for them, there is a great challenge issued to the Church     about its right to proclaim its message as definitive.
    Pope John Paul meets this criticism of the Church by stating: On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honours the sanctuary  of conscience
(Redemptoris missio, n. 39).

    The Church readily acknowledges the inalienable right of each and every human person to authentic religious freedom.     Each person has the dignity of exercising freedom according to their conscience, and the Church proposes that this freedom be exercised in choosing the way of truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Faith is not a denial of freedom, but becomes the liberation of  the human spirit for the “freedom of the Children of God” (Colossians 1:12-14).

    ·    Is it not possible to attain salvation in any religion?
    The Church answers this question in the affirmative. Quoting from Redemptoris missio, “While acknowledging that God loves all     people and grants them the possibility of being saved (cf. 1 Timothy2:4),     the Church believes that God has established Christ as the one mediator and that she herself has been established as the universal sacrament of salvation” (Redemptoris missio, n. 9).     Christ is the one saviour of mankind and salvation is intended for all. Again quoting the Holy Father, The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. (Redemptoris missio, n. 10).

    But this being true does not lessen the responsibility of all Catholics to proclaim the faith and enable all to come into a real and personal relationship with Christ through his Church and hence walk more clearly in the ways of grace. Coming to know Jesus Christ enables a person to walk in the Light, to have the advantage of grace offered in sacraments, to have the supportive environment of the Church.

Some implications
    To whom does the task of evangelisation belong? Very simply, to each one of us who are believers. It is time to put the Church on a missionary footing once again. This was its great beginning in apostolic times and during the period of persecution, and we have witnessed wonderful flowerings of missionary zeal at different moments in the Church’s history.

    We need to take up the missionary mandate given to the Church. Each of us needs to see that we are called to become evangelisers, each in his or her own way. This is not something we can hand over to others; it belongs to each of us. We have a treasure in our lives – our faith in and knowledge of Jesus Christ – this we must share.

    Let me conclude with the words of Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris missio, Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission. The Church cannot elude Christ’s explicit mandate, nor deprive men and women of the “Good News” about their being loved and saved by God. “Evangelisation will always contain-as the foundation, centre and at the same time the summit of its dynamism – a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ ... salvation is offered to all people, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 27: loc. cit., 23). All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church’s mission and life, as the hinge on which all evangelisation turns (Redemptoris missio, n. 44).                               

Fr. George Thanchan CMI
Managing Editor

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