Over one billion Catholics all over the world observe today as the 93rd World Mission Sunday. This annual observance was instituted 93 years ago in 1926 by a Papal decree issued by Pope Pius XI. Every year since then, the universal Church has dedicated the month of October to reflection on and prayer for the missions. On World Mission Sunday, Catholics gather to celebrate the Eucharist and to contribute to a collection for the work of evangelization around the world. Of the 3000 dioceses in the world, about 1000 are missionary dioceses—they need assistance from more established dioceses to build catechetical programs, seminaries, Religious Communities, chapels, churches, orphanages and schools. This annual celebration gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of mission work for the life of the Church. It reminds us that we are one with the Church around the world and that we are all committed to carrying on the mission of Christ, however different our situations may be. The greatest missionary challenge that we face at home is a secular and consumerist culture in which God is not important, moral values are relative and institutional religions are unnecessary.
The Holy Fathers’ Mission Sunday Messages: It is because of the modern challenges to evangelization that, in his World Mission Sunday Message, for 2003, Pope St. John Paul II called on the Church to become “more contemplative, holy, and missionary-oriented, grounding its work on fervent prayer.” Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2006 message, stressed the importance of Christian charity in action as the keynote of evangelization. “All the Churches for all the World” was the Pope’s theme for World Mission Sunday, 2007. Pope Benedict encouraged the sending of missionaries from Church communities which have a large number of vocations to serve those communities of the West which experience a shortage of vocations. In 2008, the Pope encouraged everyone “to take renewed awareness of the urgent need to proclaim the Gospel” in this Pauline Year, following the example and imbibing the missionary zeal of St. Paul, the greatest missionary of all times. In 2009, the Pope clarified that the “the goal of the Church’s mission was to illumine all peoples with the light of the Gospel as they journey through history towards God.” He asked all Christians to redouble their commitment to participate in the missionary activity that is an essential component of the life of the Church. Pope Francis, in his first World Mission Sunday message (2013), challenged us to proclaim courageously and in every situation the Gospel of Christ, a message of hope, reconciliation and communion, a proclamation of God’s closeness, His mercy and His salvation, and a proclamation that the power of God’s love is able to overcome the darkness of evil and guide us on the path of goodness. In the light of the conclusion of the Year of Faith, the Pope offered his thoughts about Faith: the necessity of sharing it, some roadblocks missionary efforts can encounter, and the importance of generously responding to the missionary call of the Holy Spirit. In his 2014 Mission Sunday message, Pope Francis challenges the Church to become a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples and the source of rebirth for our world through the intercession of Mary, the model of humble and joyful evangelization. In his 2015 message Pope Francis says, “The Church’s mission is faced by the challenge of meeting the needs of all people to return to their roots and to protect the values of their respective cultures. This means knowing and respecting other traditions and philosophical systems, and realizing that all peoples and cultures have the right to be helped from within their own traditions to enter into the mystery of God’s wisdom and to accept the Gospel of Jesus, who is light and transforming strength for all cultures.” “The Church is on a mission in the world,” Pope Francis writes in his 2019 World Mission Day message, Baptized and Sent. “This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission.” Hence, the Holy Father calls on all Catholics and the Church to revive missionary awareness and commitment.
We pray every day and the importance of prayer is emphasized in the Scriptures today. In the first reading (Ex 17:8-13) Moses holding up his arms is an Old Testament gesture for prayer. As long as Moses holds up his arms in prayer everything goes well. When Moses no longer holds up his arms in prayer there are problems. I think we can also see Moses holding up his arms in prayer as anticipating Christ holding up his arms in prayer on the Cross winning the battle over evil and sin for us.
In the Gospel today (Luke 18:1-8) Jesus teaches a parable about the importance of constant prayer. The widow in the parable receives her request because she was persistent and we ought to be equally constant in prayer. There is some humor in the Greek that is not evident in the English translation; the judge gives in to the widow because if he doesn’t he fears she may give him a black eye. Jesus uses a metaphor from boxing to make his point about the need to continue in prayer. Be as persistent as a boxer in the ring when it comes to prayer. Jesus gives a second teaching in the parable. If an unjust judge answers the pleas of a widow how much more will God answer our prayers. “Very well” you might say, “but what about unanswered prayer?” This is always a mystery that we leave ultimately in the hands of God because we believe that prayer is always answered although perhaps not in the way we have hoped. However God sees the overall plan and knows what is best and we may sometimes have to wait until the next life to see that overall plan and understand that God knew better. Luke demonstrates this when he writes that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13) whereas in Matthew’s Gospel (7:11) we read that the Father will give good things to those who ask. The important thing is to persevere in prayer. Today’s parable is the second one Jesus teaches in Luke’s Gospel on the necessity of prayer. Earlier Jesus told a parable about a man going to his friend in the middle of night to ask for bread and even though at first the friend may not want to get up if he persists his friend will get up and give him the bread (Luke 11:5-8). Next Sunday we will hear another parable on prayer, the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), reminding us that our prayer is to be humble.
Prayer is very important in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus in prayer more often than in the other Gospels. Obviously prayer was important in Luke’s life but we can say that Luke is teaching us that prayer was central in the life of Jesus and ought to be central in our lives too. The following instances of Jesus in prayer are only in Luke. Jesus was praying after his baptism when the heavens opened (Luke 3:21). After the cure of the leper Jesus withdrew to the wilderness and prayed (Luke 5:16). Jesus spent all night on the hills in prayer before he chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16). Jesus was praying alone when he asked the disciples “Who do the people say I am?” (Luke 9:18-22). Eight days later he took Peter, James and John and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28) and while praying he was transfigured (Luke 9:29). Jesus was praying when his disciples asked him to teach them to pray so he taught them the “our Father”, the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4). Therefore in Luke the Lord’s Prayer has a special context; it arises out of Jesus’ own prayer. Jesus prayed for Simon that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:32). Only Luke tells us that Jesus prayed for his crucifiers (Luke 23:34) and as he died committed his spirit into the hands of Father (Luke 23:46). In Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Church at prayer many times. So the disciples in Acts are doing what Jesus the master did in the Gospel. Once again I think we can see this as Luke teaching us. Prayer was central in Jesus’ life and ought to be central in our lives also.
How do we pray? For our meditations and Holy Hours we make good use of Sacred Scripture to aid us in our prayer. Therefore our second reading today reminds us of the importance of Sacred Scripture:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
The importance of Sacred Scripture was emphasized by St. Jerome the patron saint of Scripture study who wrote, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Dei Verbum 21 of Vatican II, and the Catechism (§103) state, “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” So when we use Sacred Scripture to aid our prayer, our Father comes to meet us and talks with us.
Prayer was central in the life of Jesus as we see especially in the Gospel of Luke. That centrality of prayer continues in the life of the disciples in Acts. Luke is teaching us that prayer is to be central in our lives because it was central in the life of Jesus. Jesus teaches the Parable of the Persistent Widow about the importance of constant prayer. We are to be as constant in prayer as that widow, even to the point of persistence like a boxer in the ring, and if the unjust judge answered that widow’s request how much more will our heavenly Father answer us.
Have a Wonderful Sunday
Fr. Michael