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Pope Francis Stresses ‘Witness’ in Opening of Extraordinary Missionary Month

October 01, 2019. ‘By living as witnesses: bearing witness by our lives that we have come to know Jesus.’

Pope Francis on October 1, 2019, launched the Extraordinary Missionary Month with the theme: “Baptized and sent: the Church of Christ on mission in the world ”.

The Holy Father marked the occasion by presiding over the liturgical prayer of Vespers in memory of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, patroness of the Missions, in the Vatican Basilica.

In his homily for the service, the Holy Father stressed what he called the “keyword” for being a mission: Witness.

“But how does one set about being a missionary? By living as witnesses: bearing witness by our lives that we have come to know Jesus,” Pope Francis said.

“Witness is the keyword: a word with the same root as the word ‘martyr’. The martyrs are the primary witnesses of faith: not by their words but by their lives. They know that faith is not propaganda or proselytism: it is a respectful gift of one’s life…Let us ask ourselves this month: how good a witness am I?”

Pope Francis cited the examples of three renowned missionaries:

  • Saint Therese of the Child Jesus shows us the way: she made prayer the fuel for missionary activity in the world.
  • Saint Francis Xavier, perhaps, after Saint Paul, the greatest missionary of all time.
  • Venerable Pauline Jaricot, a laborer who supported the missions by her daily work: with the offerings that she made from her wages, she helped lay the foundations of the Pontifical Missionary Societies.

“We are accompanied by a religious woman, a priest, and a laywoman,” Francis stressed. “They remind us that no one is excluded from the Church’s mission.”

Following is the Pope’s Full Homily provided by the Vatican

In the parable we have heard, the Lord appears as a man who, before leaving on a journey, calls his servants and entrusts his property to them (cf. Mt 25:14). God has entrusted us with his greatest treasures: our own lives and the lives of others. He has entrusted any number of different gifts to each of us. These gifts, these talents, are not something to be stored in a safe, but a true vocation: the Lord calls us to make our talents bear fruit, with boldness and creativity. God will not ask us if we jealously preserved our life and faith, but instead whether we stepped forward and took risks, even losing face. This extraordinary Missionary Month should jolt us and motivate us to be active in doing good. Not notaries of faith and guardians of grace, but missionaries.

But how does one set about being a missionary? By living as witnesses: bearing witness by our lives that we have come to know Jesus. Witness is the keyword: a word with the same root as the word “martyr”. The martyrs are the primary witnesses of faith: not by their words but by their lives. They know that faith is not propaganda or proselytism: it is a respectful gift of one’s life. They live by spreading peace and joy, by loving everyone, even their enemies, out of love for Jesus. Can we, who have discovered that we are children of the heavenly Father, keep silent about the joy of being loved, the certainty of being ever precious in God’s eyes? That is a message that so many people are waiting to hear. And it is our responsibility.  Let us ask ourselves this month: how good a witness am I?

At the end of the parable, the Lord describes the enterprising servant as “good and trustworthy”, and the fearful servant as “wicked and lazy” (cf. vv. 21.23.26). Why is God so harsh with the servant who was afraid? What evil did he do? His evil was not having done good; he sinned by omission. This could be the sin of an entire life, for we have been given life not to bury it, but to make something of it; not to keep it for ourselves, but to give it away. Whoever stands with Jesus knows that we keep what we give away; we possess what we give to others. The secret for possessing life is to give it away. To live by omission is to deny our vocation: omission is the opposite of mission.

We sin by omission, that is, against mission, whenever, rather than spreading joy, we think of ourselves as victims, or think that no one loves us or understands us. We sin against mission when we yield to resignation: “I can’t do this: I’m not up to it”. How can that be? God has given you talents, yet you think yourself so poor that you cannot enrich a single person? We sin against mission when we complain and keep saying that everything is going from bad to worse, in the world and in the Church. We sin against mission when we become slaves to the fears that immobilize us when we let ourselves be paralyzed by thinking that “things will never change”. We sin against mission when we live life as a burden and not as a gift when we put ourselves and our concerns at the center and not our brothers and sisters who are waiting to be loved.

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). He loves the Church on the go. If it is not on the go, it is not Church. A Church on the go, a missionary Church is a Church that does not waste time lamenting things that go wrong, the loss of faithful, the values of the time now in the past. A  Church that does not seek safe oases to dwell in peace, but longs to be salt of the earth and a leaven in the world. For she knows that this is her strength, that of Jesus himself: not social or institutional relevance, but humble and gratuitous love.

Today we begin the Missionary Month of October in the company of three “servants” who bore much fruit. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus shows us the way: she made prayer the fuel for missionary activity in the world. This is also the Month of the Rosary: how much are we praying for the spread of the Gospel and our conversion from omission to mission? Then there is Saint Francis Xavier, perhaps, after Saint Paul, the greatest missionary of all time. He too gives us a jolt: can we emerge from our shell and renounce our comforts for the sake of the Gospel? Finally is the Venerable Pauline Jaricot, a laborer who supported the missions by her daily work: with the offerings that she made from her wages, she helped lay the foundations of the Pontifical Missionary Societies. Do we make a daily gift in order to overcome the separation between the Gospel and life? Please, let us not live a “sacristy” faith.

We are accompanied by a religious woman, a priest, and a laywoman. They remind us that no one is excluded from the Church’s mission. Yes, in this month the Lord is also calling you, because you, fathers and mothers of families; you, young people who dream great things; you, who work in a factory, a store, a bank or a restaurant; you who are unemployed; you are in a hospital bed… The Lord is asking you to be a gift wherever you are, and just as you are, with everyone around you. He is asking you not simply to go through life, but to give life; not to complain about life, but to share in the tears of all who suffer. Courage! The Lord expects great things from you.  He is also expecting some of you to have the courage to set out and to go wherever dignity and hope are most lacking, ad gentes, where all too many people still live without the joy of the Gospel. The Lord will not leave you alone in bearing witness; you will discover that the Holy Spirit has gone before you and prepared the way for you. Courage, brothers and sisters! Courage, Mother Church! Rediscover your fruitfulness in the joy of mission!

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[01546-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]