The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:4-6, 9, 18-20, 22
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:14-17
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 28:16-20
Each of the seven Sacraments of the Church has its own particular gifts and a well-reasoned theology explaining those graces bestowed upon the recipients of the Sacrament. Baptism, as the doorway to all of the other Sacraments – the one Sacrament bestowed upon all who profess to follow Christ, is eminently important and rich in its theological roots and implications.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” With these words from Matthew’s Gospel our Lord delivers what has been for centuries called, and rightfully so, the Great Commission. The Greek roots of the word Apostle relates directly to this moment, for an apostolos is one who is “sent forth” as a “messenger”.
The roots of the Eucharist may be slightly more ancient than the roots of the Great Commission, but both are necessary for there to be a Church. When St. Henry Newman was asked by his bishop about the importance of the laity, his reply paid tribute to the link between the Eucharist and Baptism: “The Church would look foolish without them.” The utter truth of this statement has been such a painful part of the past fourteen months – the Churches have been first empty and then almost empty. Now that we can come back and fully participate in the Sacred Liturgy, how much more will we feel to a part of the Body of Christ? And especially if the pews are filled.
The Great Commission to baptize all nations is one that can, in a world of concern for the feelings and beliefs of others, be a bit dicey. Isn’t it insultingly condescending to tell those who are not Christians that they are wrong? Aren’t we imposing a religious imperialism that is just as insidious as the political and cultural imperialism that, for example, the British and American Empires have forced on both willing and unwilling nations?
Well, to put it as succinctly as possible: no.
The teachings of Vatican II are very clear in their discussions of both the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions as well as the parameters of proper missionary activity. The document Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) accentuates that there is good in every religion, and that there are some religious traditions, most specifically Judaism and Islam, that have very strong connections with Christianity. Even the atheist or agnostic who honestly searches for the truth is on the path to find the Truth who is also the Way and the Life.
In Ad Gentes (On the Missionary Activity of the Church) missionaries are given the centuries-old advice to respect the cultures of those among whom they are visitors as they seek the best ways to bring these peoples the Good News. Finding common ground can produce fertile soil for evangelization, as the Jesuits found when they connected with the native populations in the Far East and in the Americas. It is not by luck or chance that some missionaries were more successful than others – it is by the respect shown to the indigenous peoples through the sincere enculturation of the missionaries.
Ultimately, Christians must believe that missionary activity is good because it is commanded by Jesus, the Messiah, the risen Son of the living God. If we truly believe that life in Christ is a gift – the most important gift one could possibly be given, then it would be terribly wrong to not share that gift with everyone.
To pray for the success of the missions is to pray for the furthering of the Kingdom ushered in by that same Jesus. More importantly, to pray for the success of the missions is to pray that all human persons, of every nation on earth, be given true liberation, a liberation that no political regime could ever offer – liberation from sin in the cleansing waters of Baptism through the grace of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.