Tuesday, June 28, 2005

M&I: The Missionary Church

Throughout the latter part of Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II discusses the idea of the Church as missionary. He tells us that the Church's missionary identity is not limited to a particular time or a particular place, but that we are always called to reach out, to teach, to evangelize, to reinvigorate.As he says on pages 115 and 116 of the book:

It is absolutely essential to develop a strong sense of mission. The Church in Europe and in every continent has to recognize that it is always and everywhere a missionary Church (in statu missionis). The mission belongs so much to its nature that at no time and in no place, not even in countries of long-established Christian tradition, can the Church be other than missionary...

In this mission, received from Christ, the Church must work tirelessly. She must be humble and courageous, like Christ himself and his Apostles. If she encounters obstacles, if she is criticized in various ways - maybe accused of so-called proselytism or trying to clericalize social life - she should not be discouraged. Most of all, she should not cease to proclaim the Gospel.
A few chapters later, JPII describes Europe as a "continent of devastation" and also notes that the Church's approach in the countries of the first, second and third worlds is slightly different. In the "first world," the
Church must "promote just progress among the peoples of the capitalist world, yet without yielding to the processes of dechristianization rooted in the old Enlightenment traditions." In the "second world" (Communist
countries), the Church had the responsibility of "aligning herself, above all, with the defense of human rights and the rights of nations." In the "third world," the Church's duty is to "introduce Christianity to the people, (as well as) draw attention to the unjust distribution of goods, not only between different social groupings but between different regions of the world."

The key here, of course, is that the Gospel must be proclaimed in a way that shows its relevance and relation to the particular circumstances in which people are living. I think it was Ghandi who said that if people have no bread to eat or water to drink, we must show them God through bread and water. That whole dynamic of relevance and relation to our lives is, I think, an important part of the Church's missionary identity and why that identity is a permanent one. The Gospel always holds keys to show us how to live, but we need to find the ways to unlock them. By this I don't mean, of course, to dismiss Tradition. Just the opposite, in fact. In his homily at his installation Mass, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the "Church is young." And she is young in many ways because of her Tradition - one which is living.