Gifted to Give: Pope Francis and the Call to Mission

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Gifted to Give By Joel Jason

In his message, Pope Francis praised the Filipino Catholics’ vibrant and faithful treasuring of the Christian faith and challenged the faithful to continue to let the Christian message bear fruit as a fitting gracious response to the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines.

“It is my hope that this important anniversary will point to its continuing fruitfulness and its potential to inspire a society worthy of the goodness, dignity, and aspirations of the Filipino people,” he said in his January 16, 2015 address.

In his World Mission Day message in October 2020, Pope Francis alluded to the Acts of the Apostles and spoke about the impetus to mission as a natural and expected response to a divine encounter. “Once we experience the power of God’s love and recognize his fatherly presence in our personal and community life, we cannot help but proclaim and share what we have seen and heard” (emphasis added).

Quite fittingly, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines chose the theme “Gifted to Give” as a response to this challenge. We have been given the gift of faith; it is now our turn to share the same.

The loving shepherd and pastor that he is, reaching to everyone most especially the “disenfranchised” and those who feel they are not part of the Church, Pope Francis noted that “the history of evangelization began with the Lord’s own passionate desire to call and enter into friendly dialogue with everyone, just as they are.”

Cognizant of the current coronavirus pandemic that still afflicts the world, we can learn from Pope Francis what kind of celebration of the faith is more in keeping with the evangelical inspiration.

A Mission That Unmasks

For Pope Francis, the celebration of the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines is not to be reduced to revelry. It should be marked by a renewed commitment to charity—“the charity of Christ that impels us” (see 2 Corinthians 5:14).

Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis writes that the virus has “brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty, and the injustices experienced by so many people. It has unmasked our false sense of security and revealed the brokenness and polarization quietly growing in our midst.”

While the pandemic has forced us to cover our faces with masks, the charity of Christ should impel us to show our face of compassion to the needy and to see the very face of Christ Himself in the face of the suffering: “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

A Mission That Draws Near

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to be apart from one another and to avoid one another for fear of being contaminated. But it should not make us aloof and indifferent to the plight of each one, especially the most vulnerable among us and those who are losing hope.

Pope Francis goes on to say that “those who are most frail and vulnerable have come to feel even more so. We have experienced discouragement, disillusionment, and fatigue; nor have we been immune from a growing negativity that stifles hope.”

As we continue to learn to live with the pandemic, Pope Francis reminds that “when there is a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, there is urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care, and promotion.”

A Mission That Brings Joy

While the continued threat of the COVID-19 virus and its new strains continue to paint an uncertain future, the joy of the Gospel and Christian solidarity and brotherhood is to be a balm of comfort and consolation.

For Pope Francis, whose papal ministry has often been described as a “ministry of gestures” that embraces, touches, and smiles with fraternal and paternal tenderness, joy is a convincing sign of the Gospel message. In his encyclical entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), he wrote, “Salvation history is a ‘great stream of joy’ which we must also enter. Let the joy of faith be revived, because God’s mercies never end” (EG 5).

Mission, therefore, is not the task only of those who are officially mandated to preach, but the natural calling of anyone who has received the joy of being called a child of God through baptism.

To God’s mission, we give our yes!

*This excerpt is taken from Feast Magazine April 2021 issue*
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