My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last week, we celebrated the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the early Bishops of the Church who was ordained a bishop by the Apostles themselves. He was born in the Year 50 in Syria, and he died in Rome sometime after the Year 100 as a Martyr. His remains were taken back to Antioch, today the modern city of Aleppo, which is referred to frequently in news about the current war in Syria. I am not sure what remains of Aleppo. The ancient Antioch, crossroads of the world and a major stop on the trade route to the Far East, was a city of many cultures. It was also the founding site of the early Church, to which the name Christian was first applied.
Today, the title of Ignatius is passed on to the various Eastern Churches that venerate him as their founder. My good friend, Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan, is the Catholic patriarch of the Syriac Rite. His residence had been moved to Lebanon years ago because of the unstable situation in Syria.
St. Ignatius, whose feast we celebrated on Oct. 17, is a wonderful example of the founding bishops of the Church. His writings, although some are disputed in their origin, give us a wonderful understanding from the earliest days of the Church of the central tenets of our faith. Without dispute, he named the three parts of the sacrament of Holy Orders; Diaconate, Priesthood and Episcopacy. Ignatius attributed their foundation to Christ Himself. We also learned much about the doctrine of the Eucharist, as for the first time it is referred to as a “blessed sacrament.”
Also, we see the phrase “Catholic Church” used to designate all Christians first used in the writing of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Sometimes we fail to realize the beginnings of the Church in the Near East were developed for centuries before the rise of Islam.
We celebrate Mission Sunday as a time when we recognize not only the missionary achievements of the Church, but also the challenges still before us. The theme for the 2015 World Mission Sunday is “Is Our World a Mission?”
Mission Sunday gives us an opportunity to join in prayer for the work of the many missionaries around the world and to support them with our monetary donations. The Society of the Propagation of the Faith is the instrument set up by the Church to gather donations and to make the Church aware of its mission character.
Perhaps the greatest influence in our country in making the Society of the Propagation of the Faith known was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose Cause for Canonization is being pursued amid some controversy. He was, however, the early apostle of television. Those who grew up in the 1950s knew that every Tuesday evening was the time to listen to his program, “Life Is Worth Living.” It was a program followed not only by Catholics, but many non-Catholics since his preaching had universal appeal. His aim always was to make known the existence of the Propagation of the Faith, instill a missionary character in the life of Catholic Christians, and to solicit donations for the work of missionaries throughout the world.
Unfortunately, we have no Bishop Sheen today to make us constantly aware of the missionary character of the Church. In the past, people knew about the missions through his preaching and remembered the Society in their wills. In the past, our own Propagation office was able to be the beneficiary of these donations, another for proceeds of a will, which are directly passed on to the national society of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome to be distributed throughout the world.
Unfortunately, the older generation is passing and the newer generation does not understand the responsibility we have for the missions, not only by remembering them in our wills, but also by contributing to them on a regular basis.
I take this time to commend Msgr. Joseph Nagle, Diocesan Director of this office and his staff, for their work in overseeing the good works that are responsible making the work of the Society known.
Just as St. Ignatius of Antioch of the past defended the faith and explained it so well, we must assist others today who take his place in the missionary Church to make the faith known to those who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ.
Each missionary, who takes responsibility in the world to further the mission of the Church, truly puts out into the deep. We need to assist them by our prayers and offerings so that their work will accomplish the evangelization so desperately needed in mission countries.