U.S. Church celebrates World Mission Sunday Oct. 21

VENICE | Some years ago, I accompanied a parish group from Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton to an art museum in Fort Lauderdale for the exhibit “St. Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes.” We saw hundreds of objects from the earliest centuries of the Church to the present: elaborate reliquaries containing the relics of ancient saints; gold and silver processional crosses; jeweled chalices; ornate vestments and the like. We saw the artistry of Michelangelo and Bernini, and the plans for the St. Peter’s Basilica, over the tomb of that first pope.

But for me, the grandest of all items were a simple glass goblet and the cover from a metal container that looked out of place among such grand items. They were used as a chalice and paten to celebrate Mass in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Blessed Pope Paul VI later received and celebrated Mass with them at St. Peter’s in Rome.

Those simple vessels surrounded by so many more attractive objects by worldly standards get at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel message proclaimed in Church this World Mission Sunday. It’s all about humble service. The “things” of our religion, however grand, mean nothing if they do not draw us to a deeper faith in Jesus Christ and selfless service of neighbor.

The readings we hear at Mass help us tap into the ancient origins of our faith. They reveal the person and priesthood of Jesus Christ, the source not only for ordained priesthood in the Church, but also the priesthood Our Lord shares with all the baptized.

On World Mission Sunday, Oct. 21, Parishes across our nation and world will be contributing to the missionary efforts of the Church. Next month, missionaries from around the world will be visiting some of the parishes of our Diocese to share their story of service and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave us the most perfect example of selfless service and true priesthood the world has ever seen. The Church has been blessed over the centuries to have many inspirational saints follow his example. It was 40 years ago that St. John Paul II began his papacy. His motto, “Totus Tuus” — “Totally Yours” — speaks of supreme service. It reminds us that there must be truth to the title of the pope as the “servant of the servants of God.” As pope, St. John Paul II lived up to his motto.

Another modern-day example of service and holiness is the late St. Teresa of Kolkata. What was her secret? Once again, service. This tiny Albanian nun who became a missionary to India saw Jesus in every person she met. She was an advocate for life from the unborn to the elderly, bringing the suffering from the streets of Kolkata to die with dignity in the care of her sisters and volunteers.

One of the beautiful fruits of the Second Vatican Council is that it has helped us see how all the baptized share in the royal priesthood of Christ. Service is the hallmark of everyone’s priesthood — ordained or lay, foreign missionary or faithful parishioner. When we engage in selfless service or contributions of any kind, there are at least two results. The first is more obvious: the good we bring about for another. The second is less so: the change that happens within us. The late spiritual writer Henry Nouwen referred to this as the “reverse mission.”

It is the way in which those we serve and help enrich us. In the end, we come to know that God is never outdone in generosity, that God is the source of any good that we do, and that we are enriched immeasurably when we reach out to others in love.

Though we may never travel to a foreign land to spread the faith, we can be powerful missionaries in our own circle of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. A missionary spirit should live within all our hearts. By praying, contributing and actively sharing the Gospel through the words and the actions of our lives, we participate in the mission of our pilgrim Church, ever ancient, ever new, moving in history and pointing to eternity with the One who has shown us the meaning of service and the way to the Father. May Our Lord bless the missionaries who answer His call to service around the world, open our hearts to support them, and help us see the ways in which we can be heralds for Christ.

Father Kantor is the Diocese Director of the Office of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (Mission Office), and Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples. He can be reached at frbob@stagnesnaples.org.