Propagation of the Faith – April 2006

“When they heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.”

Perhaps, it would be fitting for us to remember those Catholics killed in mission.  Last year according to Fides, 26 Catholics were killed in mission fields:  one bishop, the others were priests, religious and laity.  The majority of these deaths occurred in this hemisphere, including an American nun –whose community works also in this diocese.  She was murdered in Brazil.

In your work, you encourage people to be generous with the contributions of time, talent and treasure for the support of the Missions.  And their generosity is so important to this work.  We thank God for that generosity.  Thank God for their generosity of our donors and thank God for the generosity of these modern day martyrs.  The Blood of Martyrs is the seed of the Church.  At the service of human promotion and evangelization, the Church continues to grow – supported by the blood of her martyrs as well as the sacrificial giving of her faithful.

Pope Benedict last December said:  “How can we fail to admit that even in our day in various parts of the world to profess the Christian faith demands the heroism of a martyr?  And how can we fail to agree that even when there is no persecution, there is always a high price to pay for living the Gospel consistently.”

During the Great Jubilee celebrations thanks to the efforts of Pope John Paul II recognition was given to the fact that the 20th century was the century that witnessed more martyrs for the faith than at any other time in our history.  And, I would say that while this was occurring most of us in the West were oblivious to this fact.  In fact, while in many countries, the refusal to obey man rather than God meant prison, torture, death or at least persecution, discrimination and harassment, we in the West witnessed a softening of our missionary zeal to bring the gospel Ad gentes. Rather than engaging the world, we retreated into our own “comfort zones” or worse we surrendered to the spirit of the age.

No one ordered us “Not to preach in his name” – we found our own excuses not to. Peter and the apostles proclaimed to the Sanhedrin:  “God has raised Jesus up to be the leader and savior, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins”. Their zeal for souls was not the “bitter zeal” that too often today characterizes some in the Church today who spent so much energy fighting ideological battles with their fellow Catholics whom they perceived to be “either too liberal, or too conservative”.  Nor was their zeal constrained by “human respect” or the erroneous idea that preaching the gospel was some type of religious imperialism or colonialism.

Their zeal was a fruit of the Holy Spirit given to them at Pentecost.  And today’s gospel tells us that “God does not ration the gift of  the Spirit”  That loving Spirit is still given to the Church today – without measure; and the Spirit sends us “ad gentes” to still proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins” in the Lord Jesus.

The psychologist Carl Rogers in training new counselors insisted that counseling relationship would not be successful unless the counselor had “unconditional positive regard” for his clients. Now, I am not endorsing Carl Rogers.  His “psychology” did mess up a whole bunch of people – especially some nuns in California in 1960’s.  But, if Peter and Paul and all the saints of the primitive Church labored and struggled and suffered martyrdom to bring the Gospel ad gentes, it was because they felt that these souls were worth saving.  They preached the gospel to the House of Israel and then to the Gentiles.  They preached uncompromisingly – but with unconditional positive regard for the pagans they sought to save for Christ.  That same “unconditional positive regard” should still motivate our missionary activity today.

Vatican II has given us a renewed ecclesiology:  today, the Church is once again seen as a communion.  Vatican II has given us a renewed missiology:  we appreciate better that just as the Word became incarnate in a particular way, the Church in order to successfully evangelize must also enflesh the Word in a particular way.  Jesus did not just become “man in general”, he became a Jewish man, a Jewish man of his times – for he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.  So too the Church must incarnate herself to the times and cultures of the peoples she evangelizes.  Thus, the ecclesial parallel of the mystery of the Incarnation is Enculturation.  The Gospel is not inherently alien to any culture but we are called to inculturate the Gospel in each culture.  The Gospel is to be like yeast, which in becoming one with the flour at the same time transforms it.

The work that you do is validated by the sacrifices of those in the mission field, especially those whose sacrifice includes martyrdom.  With them –and with all those missionaries who like Peter and the apostles before us labored convinced that those souls were worth saving, we to must be “witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Bishop Wenski
Homily at Mass for Propagation of Faith Convention
Orlando, Florida
April 27, 2006