Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
Initiation into the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist has an essential missionary dimension. The Church by its very constitution is missionary. “Go, make disciples!” Our mission is to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ by our words and by the witness of our lives. We are called to be light for the world and salt for the earth. Pope Francis often has reminded us that when the Church becomes merely self-referential – more concerned about maintenance than mission – it becomes anemic, at best. The Church exists in a permanent state of mission, and all of us are called to be missionary disciples.
When I was a child, the idea of missions and missionaries conjured images of exotic places. I recall the colorful Maryknoll magazine that regularly came to our home and filled me with admiration for the work of those generous missionaries laboring in faraway places. Those foreign missions still exist and the work of those dedicated men and women remains important. But, in our post-Christian society, there is a mission field much closer to home that requires our attention.
It is the mission field of our homes and neighborhoods, our professions and social networks. It is the mission field of culture and education, of politics and public life. Many people have abandoned the Church and drifted toward indifference and atheism. And though many others still claim to be Catholic or Christian, and may even attend church on Sunday, they act as if God has nothing to do with their daily lives. For many of us, faith has been privatized and consigned to the narrow silo of our personal lives.
This new mission field is where the work of the New Evangelization must unfold. The proclamation of the Gospel invites a personal response of faith and an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ in our lives. Faith brings us into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the heart of his Church.
But, as Pope Francis writes in “The Joy of the Gospel,” “Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of ‘charity a la carte,’ or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world.” (180)
Accepting the Gospel and living our Catholic faith has social implications. “Our redemption has a social dimension because ‘God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men.’” (178)
Pope Francis continues, “Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. An authentic faith — which is never comfortable or completely personal — always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” (183)
Acknowledging that the just ordering of society and the state is a central responsibility of politics, Pope Benedict wrote that the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”
As Catholics, all of us are required by the demands of charity and justice to show concern for building a better world. We are called to roll up our sleeves and make a difference in laboring to alleviate the suffering of the poor and vulnerable, to promote the common good and be a voice for the voiceless. As Catholics, we have a rich body of social teaching rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to guide us in working for a more just ordering of society based upon the dignity of every human person.
Responsible citizenship is a virtue. Advocacy is an expression of responsible citizenship. When informed by faith and animated by the Spirit it can be a work of evangelization and an expression of our missionary discipleship.
Within this context, I want to invite your participation in our annual Catholic Advocacy Day at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on March 24. The day will provide an opportunity to learn about the legislative process, to consider bills that have important moral implications, and to engage our legislators about these bills and other matters that are important to us as Catholic citizens and residents of Oklahoma. This is an important opportunity for the Catholic voice to be heard in shaping the kind of society that reflects the Gospel that we profess and the vision of human dignity and the sanctity of life that we hold most dear.