Missionary Activity

Author: Pope John Paul II

Missionary Activity

Pope John Paul II

May 10, 1995

1. Let us continue the reflection we began in our last catechesis on the objections and doubts about the value of missionary activity, and in particular, about its evangelizing goal.

There has been no lack of people who have wanted to interpret missionary activity as an attempt to impose one's own convictions and choices on others, in contrast to a certain modern spirit that boasts absolute freedom of thought and personal conscience as a definitive achievement.

According to this viewpoint, evangelizing activity should give way to interreligious dialogue, which would consist in an exchange of opinions and information in which each party makes known his own "creed" and is enriched by the others' thought, with no concern about reaching a conclusion.

This would entail—it is said—that Christians renounce guiding non-Christians to the way of the Gospel, refrain from proposing or encouraging conversion, and exclude the prospect of Baptism.

Thus the way of salvation followed by each according to his own education and religious background would be respected (cf. Redemptoris missio, n. 4).

2. But such a concept appears incompatible with Christ's mandate to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15) handed down to the Church, and with the authentic ecclesiology to which the Second Vatican Council referred in order to show the obvious need for missionary activity.

It is a question of several basic truths:  God desires salvation for all.

Jesus Christ is the "only Mediator", the One who "gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:5), since "neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12).

"Everyone, therefore, ought to be converted to Christ, who is known through the preaching of the Church, and they ought, by Baptism, to become incorporated into him and into the Church which is his body.

Christ himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism" (Ad gentes, n. 7).

The Council mentions the words of Jesus Christ on the necessary missionary mandate entrusted to the Apostles.

Expressly inculcating the need for faith and Baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), at the same time, he confirmed the role of the Church into which one ought to enter and persevere if one desires salvation (cf. Ad gentes, n. 7).

This necessity of faith, received by means of the Church's preaching, in relation to salvation, is not only a theological deduction but a doctrine revealed by the Lord.

The urgency of missionary activity through preaching the Gospel and conferring Baptism derives from it and guarantees entry into the communion of the Church.

The Church's traditional teaching illustrates the inconsistency and superficiality of a relativist and irenic attitude regarding the way of salvation in a religion different from that based on faith in Christ.

3. Doubtless we must believe in the existence of hidden ways in God's plan of salvation for those who, through no fault of their own, cannot enter the Church.

Nevertheless, one cannot, in the name of these ways, slow down or abandon missionary activity.

On this topic the Council observes:  "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him (Heb 11:6), the Church, nevertheless, still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize.

And so, today as always, missionary activity retains its full force and necessity (Ad gentes, n. 7).

4. The Council explains the ecclesiological reasons for the "full force and necessity" of missionary activity with regard to the Church's inner life.

"By means of this activity the Mystical Body of Christ unceasingly gathers and directs its energies towards its own increase (cf. Eph 4:11-16)".

The members of the Church are "impelled to engage in this activity because of the charity with which they love God and by which they desire to share with all men in the spiritual goods of this life and the life to come".

God is glorified because through that activity "men fully and consciously accept the work of salvation which he accomplished in Christ".

Thus God's plan to which Christ submitted is realized:  "that the whole human race might become one People of God from one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit" (Ad gentes, n. 7).

Missionary activity fully responds to the plan of the Creator to which the patristic tradition cited by the Second Vatican Council drew attention.

It will be realized "when all who possess human nature, and have been regenerated in Christ through the Holy Spirit, gazing together on the glory of God, will be able to say 'Our Father'".

But at the same time, evangelization "answers to a profound longing in all men" (Ad gentes, n. 7), who more or less consciously and—we could say—almost instinctively, seek God, fraternal harmony, peace, eternal life. Missionary activity aims precisely at all this.

5. Among man's fundamental aspirations to which the Church's missionary activity brings the light of Christ's revelation, there is the knowledge of the truth about oneself and one's own destiny.

The Council states:  "In manifesting Christ, the Church revels to men their true situation and calling, since Christ is the head and exemplar of that renewed humanity, imbued with that brotherly love, sincerity and spirit of peace to which all men aspire.

Both Christ and the Church which bears witness to him transcribed the distinctions of race and nationality, and so cannot be considered as strangers to anyone or in any place" (Ad gentes, n. 8).

What we have pointed out several times must be repeated here:  the truth of the Gospel is not linked to a specific nation or culture; it is the truth of Christ that enlightens every man regardless of tradition or race.

This is why it is essential that it be proclaimed to all humanity:  "Christ is the Truth and the Way which the preaching of the Gospel lays open to all men..." (Ad gentes, n. 8).

6. We can conclude today's reflection by confirming the full validity of the missions and missionary activity for our time, too, as an excellent way to put into practice the Church's mission to preach Christ the Incarnate Word, the Redeemer of man.

Indeed, through missionary activity, the Church applies the Lord Jesus' saving power to the whole good of man, as she awaits his new coming into the world in the eschatological fullness of God's kingdom.

Regarding missionaries, the words about Paul, who came to Rome as a missionary, can be repeated today: "from morning to evening he laid the case before them, bearing witness to the reign of God among men.

He sought to convince them about Jesus" (Acts 28:23). The passage from the Acts of the Apostles refers to a meeting with the brothers of the Jewish community in Rome.

On that occasion "some, indeed, were convinced by what he said; others would not believe" (Acts 28:24).

The Apostle, however, made his great resolution in one final word: "Now you must realize that this salvation of God has been transmitted to the Gentiles—who will heed it!" (Acts 28:28).

We can say that on that day, in Paul's rented lodgings, a new phase began in the development of the history of Christianity: a history of faith, civilization and Gospel values, ever rich and fruitful for the good of humanity.

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