The Year of Faith and the Church's missionary role

The Year of Faith and the Church's missionary role

Fr Dennis W. Byrnes

In October 2011 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year of Faith for the whole Church, to commence on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. The Year of Faith calls us into a deep renewal of our faith through retracing the history of our faith, studying the Catechism, praying the Creed and seeking to be an active witness of what we believe, a call to be missionary.

Pope Benedict XVI in the Motu Proprio (a Latin phrase which means "on his own authority") Porta Fidei ("the Door of Faith") stated: "Through His love, Jesus Christ attracts to Himself the people of every generation: in every age He convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelisation in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering His love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy."

New Covenant

We often hear it said that the Church is missionary. Benedict XVI during his pontificate has demonstrated his passionate dedication to the New Evangelisation and the missionary vocation of the whole Church as he proclaims that we are living in a new missionary age.

In the Gospel of St Matthew (22:1-4), we have the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In the historical context, the wedding feast symbolises the New Covenant, to which the Israelites, God's elect people, had first been called. Viewed in its formal theological dimensions, the banquet would represent the life of grace here and now with culmination in eternal glory. The "feast in the kingdom of God", we are told, and the life of grace, will be opened up to all men and women.

The Gospel relates to the Church's missionary vocation. Faith is not inherited nor is it acquired simply by cultural or social assimilation. On the contrary, faith must be preached in every age and the invitations to the universal messianic banquet must be delivered and announced.

There can be no doubt as to the Gospel teaching that missionary endeavour is important and essential to the Church's calling. The Catechism Compendium reminds us: "The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, continues the mission of Christ himself in the course of history. Christians must, therefore, proclaim to everyone the Good News borne by Christ and, following his path, they must be ready for self-sacrifice, even unto martyrdom" (173).

Missionary endeavour is perennially important and relevant for the disciple. In the Gospel of Matthew we read: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt 28:19-20).

We are certain, with this mandate of Jesus, that the Church founded on Peter and the Apostles has been entrusted with the fullness of God's redeeming Word and Grace. That men and women may come to the fullness of grace and truth in this, our historic, one, apostolic, Catholic Church, is the desire underlying our missionary commitment.

Intimacy with Jesus, who is the fount and motivation for discipleship and our missionary work, is what constitutes the heart of discipleship. Being a disciple and carrying out the mission entrusted to us has its origin in Him as it brings us towards Him and also leads others to Him. This fulfils the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer.23:1-6) who speaks of a shepherd who comes to gather his dispersed flock.

This is also linked to Jesus' invitation to His disciples to rest and stay with Him and to His compassion towards the tired and hungry crowd who were like "sheep without a shepherd" (Mk 6:30-34).

Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio (24) states: "The mission of the Church, like that of Jesus, is God's work or, as Luke often puts it, the work of the Spirit. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the apostles have a powerful experience which completely transforms them: the experience of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit makes them witnesses and prophets (cf. Acts 1:8; 2:17-18). It fills them with a serene courage which impels them to pass on to others their experience of Jesus and the hope which motivates them. The Spirit gives them the ability to bear witness to Jesus with 'boldness'."

Caring witness

The voices of men and women yearning to be invited to Jesus' messianic banquet can still be heard throughout the world, in every age. As Pope Benedict says ( Porta Fidei): "The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of caring for those who are vulnerable, hungry, and in need of justice. Faith without charity bears no fruit. Through faith, we can recognise the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love. 'As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' (Mt 25:40)."

Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is a priest of the Lismore (NSW) Diocese who lives in Port Macquarie.

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