30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 23 October 2022
World Mission Sunday
A little over two months ago, as many of you know, I was privileged to journey to Africa with Father Clarke, our Director of the Pontifical Mission Society and with Father Shantillo, our Vicar General. Our visit took us to the Diocese of Sunyani in Ghana – the home of eight priests who are currently serving our local Church.
To say that our visit was memorable would be an understatement. Culturally and spiritually, we were immersed in a world that is vastly different from our own. From coming to understand the impact of Christianity upon tribal traditions that are still quite prevalent and strong in Africa – to the exuberant manner in which men and women, young and old, rich and poor, express their faith during worship – to the generous hearts of so many who have little themselves yet share abundantly with the poor – to the rather mundane practice of carrying food and supplies balanced on one’s head that I could never even begin to conceive of doing – not to mention some of the food that tested even my own willingness to explore all sorts of culinary opportunities – our experiences provided us with a lens into a portion of the world and our Church that was both surprising and deeply encouraging.
Yet, for all of the experiences and lessons that we learned from our time in Ghana, it is abundantly clear that the support that you provide for developing Churches not only in Ghana but around the world is vital to the spread of the Gospel message. Most of us know that annually, we will be invited to provide resources for the missionary work of our Church. I don’t think most of us understand the depth to which that support is appreciated. I know I didn’t.
During virtually every gathering in which we participated during the course of our nine-day visit, while Father Shantillo and I were enthusiastically and warmly acknowledged and welcomed by the Bishop of Sunyani, it was Father Clarke – and particularly your missionary support that he represents – that was most deeply understood and appreciated by all.
From building churches, health clinics and schools to digging wells so that clean water would be available to those who lived in small villages and towns, your financial support and your prayers are life-giving – both spiritually and in very tangible, material ways.
Like never before in my life, it became very obvious to me that there is a bond between the people of our local Church and countless others from throughout our world – a bond built upon the foundation of our shared faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to live in faithful service to the gospel message for which he gave his life. For us in the Diocese of Scranton, this bond has been both forged and deepened by the presence of the eight priests from Ghana who serve in our diocese, along with fourteen other international priests and a number of religious sisters from Ghana, Nigeria and other parts of Africa, India and Central and South America, who have left their homelands to proclaim the gospel message in parish communities throughout our eleven counties.
Yet, brothers and sisters, the bond of which I speak reveals something else that is integral to our understanding of why we celebrate World Mission Sunday. This day not only challenges us to look outside of ourselves to support the nascent Church in distant parts of our world. It reminds us that we are recipients of the missionary work of the Church as well.
Twenty-two international priests are serving in our diocese today. They do so, however, not simply as a gesture of thanks for the support that we have provided the dioceses that they represent from around the world. They are here today as missionaries to us, serving as pastors and assistant pastors to ensure that the gospel message continues to be proclaimed in our parishes to our families. … I can’t imagine what would happen in our diocese if these twenty-two priests returned to their homes tomorrow.
It’s rather humbling to know that we in this local Church, like so many other dioceses in our land, are suddenly dependent upon others for our spiritual well-being and care. For decades, we have been a sign to the world of spiritual growth and faithfulness. And we have been the ones sharing from our bounty with those in need of our support. We shouldn’t have to be in need, should we? But we are!
Yet, doesn’t this reality capture to a certain extent the heart of today’s gospel message? … The Pharisee approaches God seeking the reward that he feels he deserves because of his righteousness and generosity. … The tax collector, on the other hand, realizes his radical dependency upon God. He comes before God seeking his mercy because of the good things God has done for undeserving sinners like himself.
The lesson of today’s gospel is less an assessment of good or bad – reward or punishment – and much more of an invitation to reflect upon our baptism and its call to authentic discipleship. All of us – whether we’re from Ghana, India, the Dominican Republic or the U.S. – all of us are in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness and sustaining love. And all of us, in turn, are called to model Jesus’ life through our selfless service and care for our brothers and sisters.
This mission of the baptized that we been given by God and that we experience through our shared faith and in support of one another because of that faith, powerfully reflects the words of Pope Francis in his message for World Mission Sunday. “Every Christian is called to be a missionary and witness to Christ. And the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. … Would that all of us in the Church were what we already are by virtue of baptism: prophets, witnesses, missionaries of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth!”
In a world where so much divides us, World Mission Sunday invites us to rejoice in our shared responsibility as missionaries of Jesus because of our baptism into his life, death and resurrection. It offers each one of us a tangible opportunity to support the life-giving presence of the Church among the poor and marginalized, particularly in the more than one thousand mission dioceses throughout the globe. This day also calls us, in turn, to be humble enough to open our hearts to countless blessings – blessings that we receive through the generous spirits of priests and religious who have journeyed to our local Church from all corners of the globe – blessings that come through their witness to the gospel of Jesus and through their willingness to walk with us as brothers and sisters in faith.