Mercy … to the ends of the earth

| Deacon Mickey Friesen | October 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Where are the mission fields today? How do we know where to go to bring the Gospel to our world? We could take inspiration from Jesus’ parting words to his friends, “ … you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ great commission was to go to three distinct destinations, three areas of focus for living out the missionary call. Jerusalem was where the disciples lived at the time. Judea-Samaria was their region or land, which included faithful Jews and separated Samaritans. And, then there is the rest of the known and unknown world of our planet — the ends of the earth. And yet, despite the place, the call is the same: “Be my witnesses.”

Whether at home or abroad, our words, deeds and very lives are to give witness to Jesus — to share and to continue his mission to bring good news to the poor, healing to the sick, light to those in darkness and liberty to those held captive. Jesus’ mission is a mission of mercy to the ends of the earth. Mercy is more than just praying or wishing others well. The mission of mercy is about going to the margins to serve others, and it can be quite practical at times. Maybe the reason he sends us to all three destinations is because he wants his Church’s mission to be universal (as we say, catholic), and he wants us to care about everyone.

World Mission Sunday is the day for Catholics around the world to renew their commitment to these great commissions through their own witnesses of life, love and service to others. In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis wrote that the great commissions have not ceased. Rather,  “This command commits all of us, in the current landscape with all its challenges, to hear the call to a renewed missionary ‘impulse.’ … Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).

Today, the peripheries are another way of describing the ends of the earth. They can be geographic, but there are other kinds of frontiers, borders, edges and margins in our world that still exist in darkness. On World Mission Sunday, we join Catholics around the world to witness to the light in the darkness and to support the mission of Christ’s mercy across the miles and across the borders of the human heart and the many souls who seek the light.

One of those places that feels like the end of the earth on many levels is Alaska. Alaska is known as “The Last Frontier.” It is still a vast and wild terrain that is as large as a third of the size of the lower 48 states. The Diocese of Fairbanks is the only remaining fully missionary Catholic diocese in the U.S. It is also among the poorest. This diocese serves both the city of Fairbanks and the very remote regions that embrace many cultures. With very few clergy and religious sisters, the diocese has called upon deacons and the lay faithful to provide sacraments and pastoral leadership.

Missionaries must travel great distances and endure harsh environmental conditions, difficult terrain and extreme poverty to do their work. Mission activity in Fairbanks can be very basic at times. It means providing basic human services and simple churches. It means providing means of transportation to remote regions and providing expensive fuel oil for enduring the harsh winter. It can mean addressing the physical and mental strain that comes with living in near total darkness for several months a year. Providing transportation and basic services to mission villages is a great challenge to mission work.

As we come to the end of the Year of Mercy, now is the time to renew our call to be missionaries of mercy. We are each called to go to the margins in our world. We can pray and support those who go to the ends of the earth and offer our support for those who bring light to those in darkness. Let us each take our place at the table of God’s mercy and be a witness to Christ at all times and to the ends of the earth.

Deacon Friesen is director of the Center for Mission in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Category: World Mission Sunday