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No. 36

No. 36 of Ad Gentes, the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, addresses all the faithful, whatever their position in the Church, about their role in spreading the faith.  All have a responsibility to help in this work because God wants all men to become one in faith and the knowledge of His Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature (cf. Eph. 4:13).

This being said, it is instructive to read what the Fathers of the Council say are the duties of the faithful in regard to the missions.  There is no mention of donating money, although they do envision that, once people are on fire for the spread of the Gospel, they will spontaneously pray that, among other things, the missions will receive the support they need.  Nor do they mention a responsibility of going to the missions, since most of the members of the Church cannot possibly go there. 

What they do mention is that the “children of the Church” should have “a lively consciousness of their own responsibility for the world,” i.e., for the salvation of all their brothers and sisters.  They should have a “truly Catholic spirit,” i.e., a spirit that looks not only to its own interests but is interested in the welfare of the entire world.  And finally they should “spend themselves in the work of the Gospel,” i.e. in doing the things Jesus did and told us to do.

But then the Council Fathers make one of those statements that reach down deep into Catholic spirituality: “However, let everyone be aware that the primary and most important contribution he can make to the spread of the faith is to lead a profound Christian life.”  It was this conviction that led Pope Pius XI in 1927 to make St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), a cloistered nun who never set foot there, patroness of the foreign missions. 

They go on to say that the fervor of good Catholics will act like a tonic for the whole mystical Body of Christ, the Church (cf. Rm 12:4-5; Col 1:24): “Their fervor in the service of God and their love for others will be like a new spiritual breeze throughout the whole Church, which will appear as the sign raised up among the nations (cf. Is 11:12), ‘the light of the world’ (Mt. 5:14) and ‘the salt of the earth’ (Mt. 5:13).”  It will bring forth prayers and works of penance for the fruitfulness of missionaries’ work, for missionary vocations and for the support of the missions.  Its effect will be even greater if this witness of Christian life can be done in cooperation with other Christians (cf. Decree on Ecumenism, 12).

Information about the missions should be published so that the faithful can feel they have a part to play in them and help them to open their hearts to the needs there.  This can be done in cooperation with national and international bodies.

Let us pray to Mary, Queen of the Missions, that this fervor grow daily stronger among Catholics for the good of the missions and for the good of the whole Church.  Amen.