A prototype of mission

With the rapid and upsetting changes we are experiencing in our time, the call for new evangelization has never been more urgent. The present pandemic, for instance, has practically forced us to explore new ways of bringing the word of God and the sacraments to our people.

The unsettling shifts in the psychological, social, cultural, and practically all aspects of our life present formidable challenges for the Church to be more relevant and effective in carrying out its mission.

While we recognize the need for new evangelization (new ardour, new methods, new expression…), we are also aware that the subject and content of evangelization is Jesus Christ, who remains “the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hb 13:8)

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives instructions to his apostles as he sends them on their mission. Jesus’ parting words to them offer us precious insights into the essentials of evangelization.

“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them.” Before sending the apostles, Jesus calls them and makes them live with him. The mission starts from an experience of Jesus because the mission is nothing else than passing this experience to others. Fulton Sheen rightly remarked that Jesus’ first word recorded in the gospel was “Come,” and his last, “Go.”

When asked what new evangelization means, then-Card. Ratzinger gave an interesting answer: “To evangelize means to teach the art of living. . . But this art is not the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified.”
To evangelize is to communicate Christ, who is Life.

“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey… no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” With this instruction, Jesus tells the disciples to have total trust in God who provides for their needs. At the same time, he suggests that they avoid using the mission for personal gain (as practiced by acquisitive priests of the time). Thus, the disciples are asked to travel light.

To travel light means to live a lifestyle of simplicity and poverty, which makes us and our message credible. The picture of a light traveler that instinctively comes to my mind is that of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Without much resources, they go to the poor to bring Christ and his love. No wonder they are more effective in evangelizing than many of us, with all our props and provisions.

“Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there …” The prophet is not always received. In fact, rejection and persecution seem to be his lot, as demonstrated in our first reading.

When our ministry is not welcomed, Jesus advises us to leave and move to another place. We are to remain focused on the mission and not allow rejection and discouragement to distract us. We do not give up, but move on, for many more await the word of God.

Our gospel story opens with the scene of Jesus sending his apostles two by two to every town and village. After his rejection from the synagogue, the locus of Jesus’ ministry shifts to people’s homes.

Here we have the prototype of a missionary expedition, which unfortunately we have forgotten and stopped using. In one of my pastoral visits (in Kabankalan), the people complained that they were losing many of their BEC members due to the aggressive proselytization of other sects. “What do they do?” I asked. “They visit our parishioners’ house to house, and eventually succeed in bringing them to their churches.”

Our ecumenical brothers were simply using the original strategy for evangelization taught by Jesus to his disciples. Thank God, the problem was soon arrested when our BEC’s launched their own Home Evangelization Program (HEP). Pope Francis himself reminds us to stop being a self-referential Church. He exhorts us not to wait for people to fill up our churches, but to go to the peripheries and bring Christ to them.

I’ve heard this story about Bishop Teofilo Camomot many times since I was small. After his ordination, the young Fr. Camomot was assigned to a town which was predominantly Aglipayan. In the beginning, he found himself celebrating Mass every morning in front of two or three old women and the rest of the day having nothing to do in the rectory.

No one was coming to church. He, therefore, decided to spend each day visiting the homes of his people, doing “kumustahan,” visiting their sick, making friends with their children… By the time he was transferred to another parish after some years, the whole town had returned to their original Catholic faith.*

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