Maximum Illud, the mission ad gentes to renew the Church 'on the right' and 'on the left'
Pope Francis wanted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Benedict XV's Apostolic Letter to "nurture the ardor of the evangelizing activity of the Church ad gentes" and "resume the missionary transformation of life and pastoral care with new enthusiasm". Without the mission ad gentes, the commitment of Christians slips towards a "gray pragmatism" of rituals, celebrations, faceless activities. Part One of Three.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The "right" and "left" divisions, between "traditionalists" and "progressives" that are perceived in many parts of the Church have one single reason: the forgetfulness for which the Church exists, which it is her mission to the world, the most advanced point of which is the mission ad gentes, towards non-Christians. The rejuvenation and strengthening of the mission ad gentes is the purpose of the celebrations desired by Pope Francis for the centenary of Maximum Illud, the Apostolic Letter of Benedict XV, as well as the extraordinary missionary month that has just ended, somewhat overshadowed by the media coverage of the Synod on Amazonia and its controversies. Here we present the first part of a reflection by the director of AsiaNews on the contemporary Church in the light of the Maximum Illud. The second and third parts will be published tomorrow and the day after.
November 30 will mark the centenary of the Maximum Illud, the Apostolic Letter by Benedict XV (1854-1922). Pope Francis wanted to recall this event by launching the extraordinary missionary month of October last. First presenting the idea in an October 2017 letter sent to the prefect of Propaganda Fide, Card. Fernando Filoni, Francis underlined the reason "to nurture the ardor of the evangelizing activity of the Church ad gentes" and "resume the missionary transformation of life and pastoral care with new enthusiasm"".
Maximum Illud is a letter that Pope Benedict XV issued about one year after the end of the Great War (the one he himself called "the useless massacre"). If in reading it one overcomes the somewhat nineteenth-century style – it speaks of "infidels", of "barbarism" of non-European cultures, etc. - we find that it is animated by a great missionary inspiration.
Addressing the faithful of the whole world, instead of crying over the ruins of the war just ended, the Pope asks the Church to resume its universal mission. He emphasizes that all Christians must be engaged in this work. He even examines, one by one, who should be involved and how: the bishops, who should not be concerned only with their dioceses, but also with those nearby and all the other dioceses in the world; apostolic administrators, who must not only stay behind the walls of their residences, but go out to meet all the missionaries who are in their territory; men and women missionaries through preaching, catechism, schools, hospitals; the priests; the laity.
He continually emphasizes that all this commitment stems from love of the Trinity for the salvation of man. This emphasis in Maximu Illud is particularly close to Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium (EG). In the EG we speak of mission precisely as flowing from the heart of the Trinity, from this tender, profound, passionate love of God towards man and of which the Church continues. And if the Church is a continuator, it means that all the baptized are continuators. And this is what Pope Francis wants to highlight.
In the Message for this year's World Mission Sunday, he states that "[Benedict XV’s] farsighted and prophetic vision of the apostolate has made me realize once again the importance of renewing the Church’s missionary commitment and giving fresh evangelical impulse to her work of preaching and bringing to the world the salvation of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again.”. And in the letter to Card. Filoni: " What Pope Benedict XV so greatly desired almost a century ago, and the Council reiterated some fifty years ago, remains timely".
In the letter to Filoni, the pope also mentions other documents (Redemptoris Missio) to reaffirm that a renewed missionary commitment is needed in the conviction that mission renews the Church, reinvigorates Christian faith and identity. This new enthusiasm in recharging the destiny of missionary passion towards the world also serves to awaken and restore missionary status to the entire life of the Church: through mission, we convert our communities; in living mission we are converted, we change.
Mission also corrects the danger that the Pope mentions in the EG: the risk of living everything as "gray pragmatism" (No. 83), preforming tasks like bureaucrats, without any internal tension. Benedict XV and Pope Francis want instead to understand that mission is the identity of the Church, mission is what defines the Church; that the Church is the continuator of Jesus' mission. Moreover, as we see in the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus defines himself as the "sent" by the Father: Jesus had no other horizon in life than to be a missionary, to bring the love of the Father into the world.
Pope Francis wants us to rediscover the universal mission drawn from this core reality, our identity as missionaries, or as he says, "missionary disciples". Why "missionary disciples"? Because the missionary is not so much the person who knows all things and goes out to tell others, he is the one who teaches himself, grows in faith and love, in his relationship with Christ; he follows Christ and for this very reason he succeeds in giving something of himself to the outside.
"Missionary Disciple": it means that he always learns from Christ, and precisely because he receives everything from Christ he continually succeeds in giving.
For Pope Francis, the rediscovery of the Catholic and universal dimension of mission and that of Christian identity - to be a missionary disciple - will undoubtedly create consequences for all ecclesial structures, pastoral methodologies and prospects for evangelization.
(End of part one)