No One should be Lost, Fr Salvatore Pacifico, mccj
CHRISTIAN LIFE AND PASTORAL APPROACH IN A MISSIONARY PERSPECTIVE
By Fr Salvatore Pacifico, mccj
“It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost” (Mt 18: 14). It is the conclusion of the parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18: 12-14). It seems to me that it is the basic criterion of God’s dealing with the humanity. The sending itself of Jesus finds here its motivation. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 13: 16). From his part Jesus declared: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These too I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10: 14-16).
This is the project at which God works. And he works at it at two levels. He sends prophets and evangelizers on one side who make God’s plan known. He works in the heart of the people who open themselves to the Word proclaimed to them. He also works by preparing favorable conditions.
Rom 10: 9-18. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with his heart and so is justified, and one confesses with his mouth and so is saved. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what was heard from us?” Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. But I ask, did they not hear? Certainly they did; for “Their voice has gone forth to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”.
- GOD SENDS PROPHETS AND EVANGELIZERS
Already during his public life on earth, beside proclaiming himself the word of God abundantly, Jesus calls the disciples with in mind the people to whom he will send them. He called Peter and Andrew, fishers, to make them “fishers of men” (Mt 4: 18-22). Mark says that “He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve…that they might be with him and might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mk 3: 13-15). In fact, he sent the apostles, all together or two by two (Mt 10: 5; Mk 6: 7; Lk 9: 1). At the end, after the resurrection and before the ascension there is a kind of official mandate: “Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16: 15-16). A mandate that takes place only after receiving the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles say: “While meeting with them he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1: 4-5). And Jesus continues to call in order to send. Just think of the vocation of Paul. At the time of his conversion, at the objection of Ananias to go and meet him, the Lord answered: “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name’ (Acts 9: 15-16). We may think of Comboni, St Francis Xavier… but we may think of our own vocation in this context.
- GOD CREATES THE FAVORABLE CONDITIONS
But God creates also opportunities for welcoming the Gospel. There are historical situations that may facilitate the reception of the message. St Paul for example speaks of the Spirit preventing him from going to Bithynia… and go rather to Macedonia, as we read in Acts 16: 6-10: “Paul, Silas and Timothy “travelled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, so they crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us”. When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them (Acts 16: 6-10).
Of course we cannot expect that God speaks to the evangelizer telling him what to do at a certain moment, in the way he acted with St. Paul and his companions. Jesus has accepted the limits of the incarnation. You have to discern the signs of the time, and draw the conclusion. Of course with the possibility of missing the chance. Comboni was speaking of the “HOUR OF AFRICA”. His determination in carrying the mission in the Vicariate of Central Africa finds in his conviction its reason. In the history of evangelization of Sudan, we find moments when the missionaries were tempted to abandon. In the North, because the Muslims would not convert, the missionaries thought of abandoning and come all to the South. In the South the response was slow: in Wau area the first mission to open was Mbili. It took 9 years for the first baptism to be administered, and it was “in articulo mortis”. History gave the answer. In fact, in the North the presence of the missionaries became providential later on, when Southerners were displaced in the North with the persecution in the fifties and after. At that time the presence of the Church was of great help. And in the South, to the years of aridity, an abundant mess followed.
- THE HOUR
Comboni spoke of the hour of Africa. Jesus himself spoke of his hour. Only the Father knows the hour. Jesus was speaking of himself, but it applies also to everybody in the context of the call to salvation. Let us think of two cases that we find in the Gospel
- Mt 8: 5-13: HEALING OF THE CENTURION’S SERVANT
“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him: “Lord my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully”. Jesus said to him. “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this” and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness. And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you”.
Read also Mt 15: 21-28: The Canaanite Woman whose daughter was healed because of her faith.
- Lc 19: 1-10: ZACCHAEUS
He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house. And he came down quickly and received him with joy. The people commented negatively. But Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over”’ And Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house. Because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was 4. lost”.
In the episode of the centurion we read that Jesus was amazed. In the episode of the Canaanite woman Jesus seems to exclude to act in her favour because she was supposed not to be a believer. In the episode of Zacchaeus Jesus says that he too was a descendant of Abraham, an expression which means man of faith. I feel challenged very much by these three episodes of the Gospels, as a Christian and as a missionary.
- THE IMPLICATIONS
As a Christian, I am the fruit of the will of the Father. My being Christian is to be understood within this context of the universal plan of God for the salvation of all. Being the plan universal is not in contradiction with the fact that it concerns me individually. God has thought of me. He has taken me at heart. He cared of me and he cares of me for the present and the future.
I am challenged also as a missionary. God makes evangelizers available so that people, all people may hear his word of salvation.
But I am challenged in a particular way for the way I look at the others. And what I say of myself, I may say of every Christian, and particularly of missionaries and consecrated people.
I LOOK AT THE OTHERS IN THIS PERSPECTIVE. The examples of Zacchaeus, the Canaanite woman and of the Centurion help us to be permanently in a state of alert. These were people of whom it was not easy to imagine they were open to the work of Jesus. To the point that people thought of them as sinners. One was a tax collector, interested in money. The others were non-Jew, pagans. One was an officer of the forces of occupation. And yet they were opened to faith. I am invited to look at any person that I meet thinking that he/she may have the same openness to the message. She or he maybe is looking for an occasion to hear the Word, like Zacchaeus. Of course this applies to all. Starting with the ones I make my journey with. The ones I come in touch with in my pastoral work. For those I know have been object of God’s attention and care, because they have already been touched by God’s word, and responded. The heavenly Father did not want them to be lost.
But it applies also to the other persons. They may be a Zacchaeus or a Centurion, or a Canaanite woman. I am supposed to deal with them as if they were. “These too I must lead, and there will be one flock, one shepherd”. The whole of humanity is part of a unique project. I must be daring. If God has made of me what I am, in spite of my negative points… of St. Augustine’s… of St Paul’s. He may well operate in the person who is now in front of me…
Comboni looked at the Africans in this perspective. I heard that in the First Vatican Council some Bishops were doubting the Black people had a soul. It was not so for Comboni who struggled to be present and presented the famous Postulatum pro Nigris Africae Centralis. Africans are not foreign to the project of God. Comboni would say: Jesus died also for them. I am a missionary. Therefore, the missionary attitude becomes a kind of second nature, part of my DNA. Any person I meet, I look at him/her in this missionary perspective: “The heavenly Father does not want him/her to perish”. We shall have many surprises.
I am also inspired by St Teresa of Calcutta who said: “We are not asked to be successful (in terms of results), but to be faithful”.