Homily of Cardinal Oswald Gracias on World Mission Sunday, October 23, at the general conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Thailand.
In the Gospel [on October 23, World Mission Sunday], we just heard a parable that all of us have heard so very often, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. We reflect about that and see the example of humility and example of pride. But going a little deeper, perhaps we could see in this pride and humility even deeper, the question of a person, of his relationship to God, positioning himself in relationship to God.
The Pharisee in his prayer to God, in the English translation saying “I” several times, four times. “I thank you,” “I am not like this man,” “I fast,” “I give tithes.” On the other hand, the prayer which Jesus gives us in this parable of the publican, a tax collector is “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” One was “I”-centered, the other was God-centered.
One positioned himself towards God as if he was doing a favor to God in fasting, in giving donations. The other is all nothing but his own misery. Positioning himself to God as if God was not his supreme benefactor. The other one realizes that all he has is just receiving the mercy of God.
So, in our own path of spirituality, as Jesus gives this parable walking to Jerusalem for His final journey, His passion and death, apostles accompany Him. And in these Sundays, we heard Jesus teaching His apostles and disciples accompanying Him how to be truly a disciple — different elements. We complete Jesus’ journey two Sundays from now in the Gospel of Luke, and then we come to another part of the preparation of ourselves in holiness.
As Jesus walked to Jerusalem a hundred kilometers to tell us His journey, He is helping us, you and me, all of us participating in the Eucharist to continuously improve our own holiness. The Pharisee needed to be removed from this pedestal of “I”-centeredness, the pedestal of thinking God as almost an equal to his real position. It is also his relationship to God, his relationship to the Pharisee, “I am not like this man,” “Thank you, I am not like this man,” a relationship of superiority, a relationship of feeling that he is better.
So, as we make our own pilgrimage of holiness, we try to see how we could make our lives more God-centered, and also more others-centered, giving them importance.
Today is also a very special day for all of us here in Bangkok because it is Mission Sunday, World Mission Sunday.
Mission Sunday reminds us, reminds everybody, the whole world, not just the mission countries, so-called mission countries, that the Church is meant to be a mission. That is the essence I would think of the Church’s existence. Jesus established the Church for us to proclaim the Gospel.
In the very moving testimonies that we’ve heard at the beginning of this whole conference from 29 countries, we saw the challenges, opportunities, and the anxieties. And I think we must make clear to ourselves and to the world that we, the Catholic Church, are not in the numbers game, who try to get more than other religions. Our mission is to make Jesus real in the world, the gospel real, that’s evangelization. It is not just baptizing people.
I believe that all our moving testimonies showed us how much work is going on, in different places. And I would think that in a small school, where a few girls have taught in a rural area is evangelization. I would think that a small dispensary in Vietnam or Cambodia, where people have given medicines is also evangelization. I would think that in places where human rights have been defended and promoted is evangelization. I would think that when we dialogue with Hindus, with Muslims, and talk to them about our beliefs and their beliefs and try together to come to a better understanding of God, that is evangelization. I would think that when we talk to our ecumenical brothers and sisters, and speak about their work and concept of Jesus, of the saints, about the future life, that is evangelization.
We are called to continue the work. With difficulties, many difficulties in some places we heard, difficulties because of personnel, shortage of priests, shortage of nuns, difficulties because of shortage of finances, difficulties because of loss of enthusiasm to spread the gospel. We’ve heard about difficulties because of some regulations which hinder the preaching of the gospel.
But that is we as Church, we as leaders here present, have got to think of creative ways of fulfilling the mission. We are not in the worst situation ever. The apostles were in a worst situation, many countries were in a worst situation. We got challenges and we, because of our commitment, our creativity, our energy, and the greater sources that we have. We had the pandemic, we were stuck and the Churches were closed, but we began the ministry online and we connected online. People began getting spiritual solace online, the word of God was being spread online, that is also evangelization, that is also spreading the word of God.
That I think is something that we reflect, discuss, deliberate, share, disagree, and debate that comes to a truth, listen to the Holy Spirit as Pope Francis continuously tells us, listen to the Holy Spirit, what does the Church want, what does the Holy Spirit want of the Church in Asia today. But in this project, making Asia a better place, making Asia a better Asia, which we have come for, is also evangelization, is also spreading the word of God, is also doing the will of Christ.
What Jesus came to do is what we are as his disciples were trying to do. In this, I think brothers and sisters, we are not alone. All of the whole masses of Asia, our collaborators are also priests, religious, all are lay people. Today we are in an age of synodality that Pope Francis has consistently been talking about and we are preparing ourselves for this change in our mindsets. All of these are inspired by the teachings of the Vatican Council, speaking of the people of God, and the importance of our baptism.
With baptism, all of us are called to be part of the Church, fully part of the Church. Not just bishops, priests, and religious. All lay people are called to be part of the Church, and all therefore have the same mission of spreading the gospel, all have got to be conscientize once again on Mission Sunday, World Mission Sunday, of our responsibility for mission.
And in this, I want to make a call over here to all our youth, generous, authentic, committed, wanting to change the world, join us. We want you to be part of us. You are not just a second or tertiary in this evangelization, in our work, you are our fullest collaborators. Women, who sometimes feel that they are not given the rightful place, you are fullest collaborators. I would say even non-Christians, our ecumenical brothers and sisters, are our collaborators in this big project.
Let us work together, we have a few days more, this week we will continue our discussions, but this week it will be more of our output to the input that we receive, our response, our commitment. Let us ignite the fire of mission back in our hearts. First as bishops and then in the hearts of our people. So that we can make, by our work, by our life, by our words, Asia a better Asia.
God bless you and Happy Mission Sunday to each one of you!
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay has a doctorate in canon law and a diploma in jurisprudence. He is convenor of the general conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Thailand from October 12-30, 2022.