THE TEACHING is unequivocal. ‘The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary’ (Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes), 2). With these words Vatican II laid the responsibility of proclaiming the Good News to all the world on all of us. In this issue of Compass we reflect on missionary activity and the many forms it takes.
The first article, by Gerard Hall, provides an overview of the developments in missionary theory and practice since Vatican II, and the variety of challenges to which the Church is trying to respond.
In the second article, written by Dennis Murphy at our request, the focus is on one style of missionary endeavour. On 21st October next we are celebrating the centenary of the death of Jules Chevalier, the Founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. We felt it appropriate to include a reflection of Chevalier’s mission.
My review (p. 44) of Damien Cash, The Road to Emmaus. A History of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation in Australia serves to remind us that the work and witness of religious men and women, and the ways they have enabled lay people to be involved, are significant missionary efforts.
Gerard Hall, in the first article, mentioned the need for appropriate evangelising strategies and ministries. Today lay ministers are assuming a large responsibility for furthering the mission of the Church. This is a new and welcome development which needs to be carefully managed so that right practice is followed. The situation has changed—we cannot thoughtlessly follow old practices. So Sharon Messina’s article on Human Resource Management addresses a subject that needs careful consideration. The article is somewhat longer than what we normally include in Compass but the relevance and importance of the topic recommend inclusion in this issue on mission and ministry.
Those of us who live anywhere near Sydney might have the impression that the biggest Catholic Church event in 2008 will be World Youth Day. A Sydney Morning Herald journalist believes it will be the biggest religious event Australia has ever seen (SMH 18.08.07). There is a poster in the rear of our church that proclaims that World Youth Day 2008 will be ‘big BIG like the Olympics big’. There is no doubting that the event will be very big, and there is a deal of confidence abroad that it will all be worth it. Wish us Sydney people well!
However, for the Catholic Church globally there will be another event that will be bigger in its own way even than World Youth Day. That will be the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of Synod of Bishops—‘The Synod’ for short—that will be held in Rome 5th-26th October, 2008. The assembled bishops from all over the world will deliberate on ‘The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church’. Their point of reference will be Vatican II and its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum).
It is well recognised that the most fundamental and potentially far-reaching achievement of Vatican II was the re-instatement of the Word of God in the Catholic Church as called for in Dei Verbum. The Synod will review and assess the reception of that re-instatement of the Word—how the teaching in the document has impacted on the People of God, what have been its effects, its fruits in the life and mission of Christ’s faithful.
The preparatory document (Lineamenta) published on 27th April last (cf. www.vatican.va then click on ‘Latest Updates’) asks us to reflect on practical matters, such as the ease or otherwise of access by our people to the Scriptures, and what programs are available for assisted reading of Scripture. We are also asked to reflect on deeper topics, such as the power of the Word of God ‘to take hold of and convert a person, making him [sic] discover its riches and secrets, widening his [sic] horizons and promising freedom and full human development’ (Lineamenta no. 33). These two reflection topics—how the Word of God is offered and how it is received—sum up the missionary task: to tell the Good News and enable all peoples to hear it.
The Church is on mission in obedience to Christ’s command, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation’ (Mk 16.15). This mandate is far more than a mandate to preach. The Gospel is proclaimed in as many ways as there are Christians who witness to it. St Francis of Assisi is reported to have urged his hearers to tell the Good News at all times, sometimes even in words. The richness of the Good News is unfathomable and inexhaustible. To witness to the love of God in Jesus’ human heart and to witness to the love of God in the Eucharist are but two of many ways of proclaiming the Good News.
It is important for us to remember that it is God’s mission that we are sent on, and that we are but blunt instruments that God in his wisdom has chosen to use. That should save a lot of anguish on our part. God can write straight on crooked lines. God only asks that we do our best to get things right, and He wants us to leave the rest to Him.
—Barry Brundell MSC, Editor.