TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: You are a mission!

Once again Sunday night has arrived and I have returned home from Mass to take up a place at my desk to craft yet another message. The intention of these weekly messages is an attempt to keep the readers, and hopefully our diocesan community, up to date with what is happening in our diocese, in the wider church and in the local community.

The month of October in many Catholic parishes, schools and communities here in Australia and around the world is a time of focus and celebration of mission. In his message for World Mission Sunday on October 18, Pope Francis encourages us to be witnesses of faith and action that manifests God’s love “that can touch and transform hearts, minds, bodies, societies and cultures in every place and time” and he also says “every man and woman is a mission. That is the reason for our life on this earth.”

This seems synonymous with the intent of the Plenary Council and our Diocesan Synod journeys, for as we listen to the Spirit, we learn how to be people of mission, participating in God’s mission for all of creation -- a mission of hope and new life.

We have many people in our diocese who give generously to Catholic Mission, while also giving to Caritas, St Vincent de Paul, their parishes and local community appeals. Due to the size of our diocese, an annual appeal for every parish on this Sunday is not usual, and in non-COVID times the mission appeal takes place in various parishes over a few months of the year with a visit from our Diocesan Director of Catholic Mission, Mark Toohey, or one of his helpers.

If you visit the Catholic Mission website (www.catholicmission.org.au) you will be invited to share in the stories of people and communities who are supported by our giving. I am moved with compassion and an urge to share my time, talent or treasure, and prayer as I watch these inspiring stories from Cambodia, Myanmar, India and other parts of the world in which lives are changed.

I am of an age when, at school, I was led to believe that to be truly missionary I would need to become a religious and go overseas to help in countries where people had less than we had, or had not heard about God. I now know that we are all called to mission, some of us in our local communities, while others move to other communities in need.

During the week, I finally took time to read an article, The Mission has a Church – An Invitation to the Dance, by Stephen Bevans SVD, a professor of Mission and Culture at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. Bevans writes in the abstract for the article:

The starting point for missiological reflection is not the church, but God’s engagement with the world and the church through the communicating Word and empowering Spirit. ……. (this article) lead us to think church and mission less in terms of onerous duty than divine invitation to join in the dance.

Bevans opens the article by making reference to his realisation that the God revealed to us, by Jesus of Nazareth, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might be described as a verb, not a noun.

God is a Movement–more personal than we can ever imagine–who is always and everywhere present in God’s creation, present in the warp and woof of it, working for creation’s wholeness and healing, calling creation to its fullness, and calling women and men on a small planet in a minor galaxy in this vast universe–billions of years old, billions of light years in extension–into partnership in God’s work. These women and men, Genesis tells us (1:26-27), God created in the divine “image and likeness.”

He goes on to explore God’s deepest identity as a relationship, a communion:

This life in communion spills out into creation, healing and sanctifying, calling all of creation, according to its capacity, into that communion, and once in that communion, sending that creation forth to gather still more of it into communion. It is though God as such is a dance–a great conga line, I like to imagine–moving through the world, inviting the world–material creation, human beings–to join in the dance. And the more that join the more attractive joining becomes.

This is what we are all called to – to join in God’s dance, to be in relationship with each other and our world. It is God who is the mission, not that God has a mission. This is one of the key elements we will be trying to break open in our diocesan synod. We are God’s Word becoming flesh. God is present now and forever, back in time and in future time. For us Christians, God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and we have been following Matthew’s version of God’s self-revelation in Jesus during this liturgical year. According to Bevans:

Gradually, as Jesus’ disciples experienced his living presence among them–and especially after the extraordinary experience that took place some fifty days after his death, on the day of Pentecost–they realized that they had been given the task to continue Jesus mission of proclaiming, demonstrating and embodying God’s Reign.

The disciples gradually came to the realisation that Jesus had begun something new, outside of Judaism, and they were called “to continue this mission to the end of the earth – in every nation, every culture, in every period.” It was in these days after Jesus‘ death and resurrection that it dawned on the disciples that God’s mission has a church. 

For us 2000 years later, we have inherited an institution, and we are now in the process of deconstructing that institution in the hope of re-discovering God’s mission which calls us to go into the world and be God’s saving, healing, and challenging presence. That makes the church and us, by our very nature, missionary. The church does not have a mission, but the mission has a church.

I think that in this time of COVID we are being shown the lack of real substance in our notion of the church having a mission. I am very conscious of our gaps to really address the many issues facing those people who are being heavily impacted by the pandemic – spiritually, socially, physically, psychologically and economically.

Towards the end of his article Bevans writes:

We are most church not when we are building up the church, but when we are outside of it: being good parents, being loving spouses, being diligent and honest in our workplace, treating our patients with care if we are health-workers, going the extra mile with our students if we are teachers, living lives responsible to the environment, being responsible citizens, sharing our resources with the needy, standing up for social justice, consciously using inclusive language, treating immigrants fairly, trying to understand people of other faiths, etc., etc

So on this Mission Sunday, I am reminded just how much we are all called to minister in ordinary and extraordinary ways in our daily lives, dependent on our God of love and mystery.

The prayer of this Sunday’s Entrance Antiphon from Psalm 16:6-8 might form our prayer for this week:

To you I call; for you will surely heed me, O God; turn your ear to me; hear my words. Guard me as the apple of your eye; in the shadow of your wings protect me.

Peace and blessings as we entrust our prayers to the One beyond knowing.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.