On the first day of their Autumn General Meeting, October 1, 2019, the Bishops of Ireland concelebrated Mass in Saint Mary’s Oratory in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Please see below the homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin preached at this Mass to officially launch the Extraordinary Month of Mission in Ireland as designated by the Holy Father Pope Francis.
“I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation (Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, 27)”.
On this the first day of the Extraordinary Month of Mission, it is worth reflecting on these powerful words of Pope Francis, and especially so here in Ireland where more and more we are speaking of “mission” in the Church, rather than “maintenance”. In many ways, the missionary option should come as second nature to us here in Ireland, with our proud tradition of missionary outreach. But to be truly in “mission mode” within Ireland will mean opening ourselves up in the Church to a new way of being, a new way of thinking, a new way of praying, a new way of communicating our teaching.
I once thought of being a missionary priest – two of my mother’s cousins were missionaries – one a Columban who worked in the Philippines and Fiji, the other a Salesian who taught in Argentina and Ecuador, and my father’s cousin still works as an Irish missionary brother in South America. Although I opted for diocesan priesthood at home, I have come to realize more and more that all Christian vocations are missionary by nature – and I find that thought to be challenging, exciting and immensely fulfilling.
The theme which Pope Francis has chosen for this extraordinary month of mission is “baptized and sent”. Clearly he wants to rekindle in every baptized person that sense that we are all called to mission, to witness, to teach, to win others for Christ. The Holy Father invites us to reflect this month on four themes:
- Nourishing a personal encounter with Jesus Christ living in His Church.
- Remembering the witness of so many missionary saints and martyrs.
- Reaching out in charity and concrete action to support the Church’s missionary activity and communities who are too poor to support themselves
- Developing and disseminating resources – Biblical, catechetical, spiritual and theological – to assist formation for mission.
In recent days we have been remembering the visit of Pope Saint John Paul II to Ireland in 1979. Forty years ago, yesterday, he visited Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock, and the words he spoke there are perhaps even more relevant today. He said:
“The task of renewal in Christ is never finished. Every generation, with its own mentality and characteristics, is like a new continent to be won for Christ. The Church must constantly look for new ways that will enable her to understand more profoundly and to carry out with renewed vigor the mission received from her Founder”.
Every generation is like a new continent … The logo of the Extraordinary Missionary Month is a missionary cross where the primary colors refer to the five continents: red for America, green for Africa, white for Europe, yellow for Asia and blue for Oceania. White was chosen for Europe because it is the symbol of joy, and the beginning of a new life in Christ: it suggests that Europe faces a challenge to find new life and joy in Christ, to regain the evangelizing strength from which it was generated.
This challenge is one that the Church in Ireland can welcome – to rekindle the joy of the Gospel in our country; to find again the youth and courage that inspired Saint Columbanus and the great Irish missionaries of ancient times; to rediscover the adventure and excitement of the founders of the Irish missionary movements in more recent centuries.
So many of our people, especially our young people are longing for meaning, purpose, hope, and values that will last; they are not finding these in the shallow and empty promises of life without Christ. Ireland and much of Europe have again become that new continent to be won for Christ.
It is time to revive our missionary genes, to renew our hearts for mission. Today, on her Feast, we turn to Saint Therese who died before the age of 25, who spent nine of those years enclosed in a Carmelite convent yet was declared by Pope Pius XI as patroness of the missions alongside Saint Francis Xavier, the tireless Jesuit missionary in India and Japan. For though Saint Therese never traveled abroad as a missionary, her heart was missionary – her heart burned to save souls for Christ her beloved – even after her death. She wrote:
“In spite of my littleness…, I have the vocation of the Apostles. I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach your Name and to plant your glorious cross on infidel soil. But…one mission alone would not be sufficient for me, I would want to preach the Gospel on all the five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only, but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.”
May Saint Therese, Saint Francis Xavier and all the missionary saints of Ireland bless our endeavors during this extraordinary month of mission.
God our Father, when your Son Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he commissioned his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’.
Through our Baptism, you send us out to continue this mission among all peoples.
Empower us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be courageous and enthusiastic in bearing witness to the Gospel, so that the mission entrusted to us, which is still far from completion, may bring life and light to the world.
May all peoples experience the saving love and generous mercy of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Laudato Tree project
At the beginning of this extraordinary month of mission, I commend to the dioceses, congregations and especially to the young people of Ireland, the ‘Laudato Tree’ project being sponsored by the Society of African Missions. Taking its inspiration from Pope Saint John Paul II’s appeal for the Sahel in 1980, and Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on care for our common home Laudato Si, the project encourages a concrete action – the planting of trees and increasing biodiversity both in Ireland and also along Africa’s Great Green Wall, together with awareness raising and education about Faith and the environment.
It is estimated that by 2020, 60 million people from sub-Saharan Africa will have migrated because of desertification caused by Climate Breakdown. The African nations in the sub-Saharan Sahel region have come together to plant a wall of trees, 8000 km long and 15 km wide, with the aim of restoring land which is being lost to desertification. As part of SMA’s commitment to the people of Africa, and to engaging in a positive and creative way to caring for the earth, our common home, they are encouraging us to assist with the planting of the ‘great green wall’ of trees across Africa.
The Laudato Tree project invites us to educate ourselves from a faith perspective about the impact of climate change on some of the poorest peoples of the world and to raise donations towards the planting a number of trees in Ireland and at the same time five times that number along the great green wall. I think this project could especially catch the imagination of the young people of Ireland, in their youth groups, schools and colleges, and workplaces; I hope also to embrace it in a cross-community way with my brother Church of Ireland Archbishop Richard Clarke and with some of our young people; the project opens up an opportunity for us to address the climate crisis from a faith perspective, rooted in our love of God the Creator, in the dignity of the human person, in integral human development, while calling us personally to responsible simplicity of life and ecological conversion; it kindles a missionary charity in solidarity towards those most vulnerable people of the world who are disproportionately affected, and it symbolizes new life, new growth, hope for the future and love of God by caring for God’s creation.