10/01/2019, 12.05
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The extraordinary missionary month and mission 'without Christ'

by Bernardo Cervellera

Pope Francis points to Benedict XV's Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud issued 100 years ago. The need to redevelop the mission and the announcement of Christ the Savior, warning against a mission reduced to "rituals" or "NGO activities", without life and without Christ. Today mission requires the commitment of all the baptized, especially the laity, in a world indifferent to God and to man.

Rome (AsiaNews) – This evening, the celebration of vespers presided over by Pope Francis in the basilica of St. Peter opens the extraordinary missionary month, an initiative the Pope wanted to launch on the 100th anniversary of Benedict XV's Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud.

The fear is growing that this document and its centenary will be overshadowed by the other event celebrated in Rome in October: the special Synod on the Amazon, with the mounting hysteria and polemics on the idolatry of ecology (referring exclusively to nature, not to the "human" ecology of the popes) and on married priests.

This truly would be a pity, because the resurrection of Maximum Illud, which Francis has championed, is the perfect corrective to the possible incongruities of the Amazon Synod, which are already perceived in the Instrumentum laboris.

Benedict XV published his Apostolic Letter November 30, 1919, almost a year after the end of World War I (which he himself called "the useless massacre"). But rather than weeping over the destruction wrought, over the failures of man, rather than looking for culprits or pondering technical and economic solutions, Benedict XV had wanted to awaken the whole Church to the primary task of all Christians: the proclamation of Jesus the Savior of the World, in which bishops, apostolic administrators, missionaries, religious and laity participate. In short, all the baptized.

Taken in this perspective Maximum Illud is similar to Francis' Evangelii Gaudium, which is also aimed at bringing the joy of the Gospel into the world. Pope Francis, in his Message for this year's World Mission Sunday, dedicated to the centenary of the Maximum Illud, notes "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”.

In some ways, Maximum Illud points to one of Pope Francis’ catchphrase "outgoing Church", which has been present in the life of the Church for centuries, because it is part of its deepest identity, which is to make all peoples who do not know Christ "participants in the divine redemption".

Unfortunately, a divergence in ecclesial mission is taking place at present in the Church. On the one hand there are those who think that in order to preserve the identity of the Church, then we should condemn the world and separate ourselves from it, living as if in a besieged citadel, without seeking languages ​​to speak to the contemporary world.

On the other hand there is an attempt to mingle with the world, to reveal how close Christians are, but forgetting to bring the salvation of Jesus Christ, who is greater, deeper, more total than any human conquest. In both cases we are witnessing a mission "without Christ", where the gift received in baptism in the Church is reduced to functions that are either "sacred" (rites, formulas, novenas, vestments, ...) or "worldly" (pledges, denunciations, social projects similar to NGOs, ...). In both cases, Jesus Christ, His salvation, are taken for granted, consigned to the past, superseded devoid of relevance or impact on the present.

Pope Francis has often warned against pelagianism, that is, the attitude that sees salvation as a product of one’s own hands. Both these positions, the "sacred" and the "worldly", the "traditionalist" and the "liberal" are victims of this pelagianism.

The current Pope has also warned against a Church in which everything is reduced to "gray pragmatism", in which even in the midst of great activities, the heart is dead, both in practicing the rites, and in working as an NGO.

We must renew our hearts by allowing ourselves to absorbed by the new life present in the sacraments of the Church and in the witness of the saints. As St. Paul says (2 Cor 5,14-15): "For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.". Only in this way will the Church be "outgoing" in the world, but having and offering the face of her Beloved.

Maximum Illud urges bishops, apostolic administrators, missionaries to this task, having "solicitude for all the Churches" (2 Cor 11:28), not only for their parishes. But, anticipating the Second Vatican Council, Benedict XV also pushes the laity to participate in this universal mission. This mission of the laity is something absolutely urgent for the witness of the Risen to be found in our world that has become indifferent to God and neighbor.

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