WORLD MISSION SUNDAY
Today we observe “World Mission Sunday” which is always on the third Sunday of October each year. Practically speaking, a Second Collection is taken up at Mass today for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, a Pontifical Mission Society. These funds are then distributed among 1,150 mission dioceses in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands and remote regions of Latin America.
More than the Collection, however, World Mission Sunday invites us to consider the great, on-going task of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church to all the peoples of the earth. Here it is important to underscore the efforts of what is called today “primary evangelization”.
Primary evangelization is the very first preaching of the Gospel in geographical places where the people who live there have not yet heard it. This is a different work from what we think of as “evangelization”, say, in our own place here in the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts. Here “evangelization” is trying to re-awaken and re-vitalize an already wel lestablished Catholic Church in a place where the cultural markers of Christianity are still familiar. Faith may have withered and charity may have grown cold, but this is still very different from a place where Christianity has never been.
We see primary evangelization at work particularly in St. Paul’s missionary journeys in the Acts of the Apostles. For example, we see Paul preaching the Gospel to the Athenians (Acts 17): Now whilst Paul waited for [Timothy and Silas] at Athens, his spirit was stirred within him, seeing the city wholly given to idolatry. He disputed, therefore, in the synagogue with the Jews and with them that served God: and in the market place, every day, with them that were there. And certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics disputed with him. And some said: What is it that this word sower would say? But others; He seemeth to be a setter forth of new gods. Because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
In speaking in the local synagogue and in disputing in the marketplace Paul was making use of the customary ways in which people made speeches and joined in controversial debating before an audience. He was, in other words, working within the cultural framework. He was not preaching Christ by making a public nuisance of himself, which is how people nowadays can misapply “witnessing”. And the success rate is entirely up to the work of the Holy Spirit. In Athens: And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some indeed mocked. But other said: We will hear thee again concerning this matter. So Paul went out from among them. But certain men, adhering to him, did believe: among whom was also Dionysius the Aereopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Fr. Salako has explained to us how long the process of evangelization took in his home country of Benin which began in the later 1800’s. It was 70 years before the first native priest was ordained. The growth of the Kingdom does not obey human plans.