When Pope John Paul II writes that “Missionary Activity Is Only Beginning,” I wondered about the perspective. Is he thinking that we’ve been mostly asleep lately on the issue of evangelization? He might be accurate to say so.
When I saw that title, I was thinking about the fullness of time ahead of us–uncounted millennia of the human future. If people will continue to live and spread through the universe in the coming million years or more, then twenty centuries are barely a beginning at all.
Before you protest my science fiction musings on the future, the Holy Father himself suggests we are “on the move.”
Our own time, with humanity on the move and in continual search, demands a resurgence of the Church’s missionary activity. The horizons and possibilities for mission are growing ever wider, and we Christians are called to an apostolic courage based upon trust in the Spirit. He is the principal agent of mission!
Courage is an accurate assessment of what we need, whether we believe we will be bringing the Gospel to the far reaches of the universe, or probing deeply into human hearts that live far from the Gospel.
I suspect that this paragraph shows John Paul II has more the human frontiers in mind:
The history of humanity has known many major turning points which have encouraged missionary outreach, and the Church, guided by the Spirit, has always responded to them with generosity and farsightedness. Results have not been lacking. Not long ago we celebrated the millennium of the evangelization of Rus’ and the Slav peoples, and we are now preparing to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the evangelization of the Americas. Similarly, there have been recent commemorations of the centenaries of the first missions in various countries of Asia, Africa and Oceania. Today the Church must face other challenges and push forward to new frontiers, both in the initial mission ad gentes and in the new evangelization of those peoples who have already heard Christ proclaimed. Today all Christians, the particular churches and the universal Church, are called to have the same courage that inspired the missionaries of the past, and the same readiness to listen to the voice of the Spirit.
These centenaries are of mixed blessing in my view. First evangelizers, even non-saints, should be remembered and celebrated. But many mission lands have been infantilized in previous centuries. The Americas? Let’s recognize the first generation of fruits. It’s time for generation #2.
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