Week 1: Mission today
Missionaries who work in cross-cultural situations are acutely aware that the poverty they encounter in one part of the world is structurally related to decisions and behaviour in another part, perhaps in the missionary’s home country. Therefore questions of justice loom large for the modern missionary. One of the most intractable of these justice issues is the wholesale destruction of the environment in order to facilitate Western cultures’ insatiable consumption. Practical efforts to encourage respect for God’s creation are encouraged and missionaries are involved in a kind of international mediation.
Another point which distinguishes the modern missionary from his or her colleagues in the past is a more positive attitude towards the other religions. Many missionaries find that through genuine dialogue with other religions, their own religious experience is deepened even to the extent of being able to pray together. And they may find common ground for cooperation in dealing with justice issues.
Sean Dwan (Korea, Ireland)
Reflect: How have understandings of mission developed since the Second Vatican Council?
Week 2: Indifference kills
A lot of the Christian churches don’t see justice and peace as a core Christian activity. If there is any justification for calling yourself a Christian, it is because you have compassion for the poorest of the poor. Yet somehow the poverty of the majority is not impinging on us. When I’m in church preaching, I can often see the resistance, I sometimes feel like shaking people and saying, “What if you had to sell your child into slavery just to exist?” Because it’s not going on here we don’t want to know about it, and even when we do know, we don’t want to respond.
My job as a priest and missionary here in Australia is not to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable. I suppose I’m trying to touch the consciences and hearts of people and say, “This is just not acceptable, that we, the 20 percent have for our disposal more than 86 percent of the world’s wealth; the bottom 20 percent have something like 1.4 percent, so that divide has to be breached”.
Brian Gore (Philippines, Australia)
Reflect: How far would you agree that missionary outreach is not just about comforting the afflicted but afflicting the comfortable?
Week 3: Enthusiasm for Mission
It can be hard to keep one’s initial enthusiasm for mission. Enthusiasm can be eroded by increasing age, diminishing energy, the struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds, the constantly changing situation, and the lack of success for one’s best efforts. It’s easy to slip into the ‘survival mode’ and settle for what can be handled comfortably and without hassle.
Perhaps one of the best antidotes for the erosion of enthusiasm is a deep sense of being called and sent on mission. The prophets of old had that conviction of being called, empowered and sent by God and that kept them going in trying circumstances. As one filled with the Spirit, Jesus too had a strong sense of being called and sent to bring good news to the poor.
For the ancient Greeks, enthusiasm (enthousiasmos) had to do with being inspired, being possessed by a god. We can keep our enthusiasm for mission only if we remain open to the Spirit and allow God to take possession of us.
Tom O’Reilly (Pakistan, Ireland, Britain)
Reflect: Identify the ways in which we can keep up our enthusiasm for mission.
Week 4: Water of Life
Water is life. That is why it has a central role in the liturgies of many religions. Life began in the oceans 3.8 billion years ago. It remained there for almost 2 billion years. All the creatures in our world emerged from a watery environment and carry around this water with them. Human beings are almost 70 percent water. If we continue to abuse and poison water then humans and all other forms of life will be adversely affected. If our waters are polluted our tears will be toxic and the water in the wombs of women who nurture new life will also be toxic.
Caring for water globally and locally is a major ethical and religious challenge for Christians today. Each local Christian community must ensure that the water used for baptism is truly ‘living water’ with the ability to carry all the symbolic dimensions highlighted. We need to respect water as Jesus did and do all in our power to ensure that it remains living water and a source of life for all creation.
Sean McDonagh (Philippines, Ireland)