This weekend, the Church observes World Mission Sunday. Admittedly, for most Catholics in the pews, this designation simply means one more extra envelope in the offertory packet. But, beyond the petition for funds, World Mission Sunday is a reminder and an opportunity for believers to recommit themselves to the Great Commission.
Of course, that assumes that most Christians know the Great Commission. And, based on talks that I’ve given over the past several years, it appears that the words of the Great Commission haven’t found themselves in the majority of hearts and homes of believers.
This observation proves the point – and emphasizes the importance – of World Mission Sunday.
And so, what is the Great Commission? Who gave it? Why is it “great”?
In the Christian Tradition, the expression “the Great Commission” refers to the exhortation of the Lord Jesus at the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. The summons is given right before the Lord ascends into glory. These are his final words to his apostles. And so, the speaker, the context, and the extent of the exhortation, make this commission truly “great.”
For our further reference, the Great Commission reads: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Once heard, the words of the Great Commission resonate in the hearts of believers. Every truly formed Christian knows of the responsibility to generously share the Gospel with those around them. While Saint Paul reminds us to “speak the truth in love” and that “love is patient, love is kind,” the words of the Gospel must first be spoken, if they are going to be kind.
While the soul of contemporary Western culture is struggling with secularism, and our culture seeks the privatization of faith, the Christian is put between a rock and a hard place. What is a believer to do? The question seems to have been anticipated as the Scriptures indicate that the Lord (and therefore his disciples) will be “a sign of contradiction,” namely, countercultural.
And so, believers have to ask themselves whether they will accept the commission of our culture and remain quiet and compliant to secular norms, or whether they will follow their Lord, heed the Great Commission, and boldly – but respectfully – share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Will believers be countercultural and speak the words of the Gospel?
Of course, the Gospel can be shared in many different ways, and a certain diversity and creativity are needed, in order to share the Good News within our culture. No one is asking everyone to be a preacher on the streets, but everyone has to “preach” is some way. Every baptized Christian shares in the Gospel mission and no one gets a legitimate pass. All Christian hearts are bound by the demands of the Great Commission.
With the challenges of secularism and privatization of religion before us, the Christian disciple in today’s world is called to make (and renew) an intentional commitment to be a public witness to Jesus Christ and a participant in the Church’s work of evangelization.
This Gospel summons and its internal dynamism is summarized in the popular expression, spoken by many recent popes, that the Church is “in a constant state of mission.” There are no plateaus, no sidebars, and no breaks in this work. The Church’s mission of evangelization is a journey, in regular motion, and always pushing believers forward.
But, again, this commission has to take root in the hearts of believers. As such, it has to be repeated. The invitation needs to be echoed. And this, among many other opportunities, is where our World Mission Sunday comes in.
Once again, on this special Sunday, we are all given the exhortation of the Lord Jesus to “go and teach.” Yes, we are reminded to support our foreign missionaries, even as we are also called to accept the mandate to preach the Good News ourselves and to become missionaries in our own backyard.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby