Even Lay Catholics Are Called to Be Missionaries

Catholic Apologetics #48

The second to last Sunday of October is World Mission Sunday. Mission Sunday was created in 1926 by Pope Pius XI as a day of prayer for the missions and for the Propagation of the Faith. An additional Collect prayer for the propagation of the Faith was in the Tridentine Mass for World Mission Sunday. Sadly, this was not kept in the 1962 Missal, but it is retained by those who keep the 1954 Missal.

We should not underestimate the impact we can have on the missions and the conversions of pagan souls to the True Faith instituted by our Divine Lord.

One year after naming World Mission Sunday, Pope Pius XI in 1927 named both St. Francis Xavier and St. Thérèse of Lisieux as the patron saints of missions. St. Francis Xavier was a prolific missionary. Despite language problems, lack of funds, resistance from the Europeans as well as the natives, he persevered. St. Francis quite likely converted more people in his life than anyone else and he is frequently referred to as the Church’s greatest missionary after the Apostle St. Paul. He baptized over 50,000 in 10 years, converted the entire town of Goa in India, and he labored long in Japan.

But why St. Thérèse of Lisieux along with St. Francis Xavier? She died at the young age of 24, after spending several years in a cloistered monastery. She did not teach catechism, she did not baptize anyone, and she did not go on any foreign missionary trips. So why is she a co-patron of missions? In her heart, she had desired to be a great missionary in foreign lands, bringing many souls to Christ; yet in her humility she knew this was not Divine Providence’s plan for her. Instead, the Little Flower willingly offered her life as a victim soul to gain those graces necessary for the conversion of others. In a sense, we could consider her a ‘spiritual missionary’ as opposed to one who physically goes out to labor in missionary lands. Pope Pius XI recognized that prayer and the contemplative life was essential to support those who were active in the mission fields. This is a reality of grace, an unchanging truth, which many Catholics today, even amongst the hierarchy, seem to have forgotten.[1]

St. Thérèse wrote in her autobiography:

“Our vocation is not go to reap in the fields of the mature crops; Jesus doesn’t tell us: ‘Lower your eyes, look at the fields and go and reap’. Our mission is more sublime still. Here are Jesus’ words: ‘Lift your eyes and see. See how in Heaven there are empty places.’ He asks you to fill them. You are my praying Moses on the mountain; request workers of me, and I will send them. I only wait for a prayer, a sigh of your heart! The apostolate of prayer, is it not so to say, higher than that of preaching? Our mission, as Carmelites, is one of forming evangelical workers that will save millions of souls whose mothers we will be.”

In accordance with our own state in life, we can all join the spiritual missionary work of St. Thérèse. In fact, as confirmed Catholics we are called by Christ to cooperate, as our vocation and duty permits, with His great Mandatum: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

As we celebrate the great Nativity of Our Lord, let us meditate upon how His Incarnation, the great mystery of the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling amongst us, is The Great Missionary Initiative and The Source for all our missionary efforts. Our Lord and Savior came to be lifted up and so draw all things to Himself (cf. Jn 12:32), to bring all peoples into the unity of His One Church.

In fact, the more convinced we are of the truth of the infallible dogma, extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation), the more we shall be motivated to pray for the grace of missionary zeal.[2] Christmas is an ideal to time to pray[3] that by the grace of the Incarnation, our faith may be strengthened and our charity inflamed so that we will be ever more committed to the Church’s missionary activity.

Likewise, it helps to recall Our Lady of Fatima’s lament that so many souls go to hell because there is no one who prays for them. She asked us to pray and do penance. We can consciously unite our various prayers and penances, through Our Lady, to the Church’s missionary efforts and for the conversion of souls.

Let us make it a point to specifically pray on Mission Sunday every year and even daily for the conversion of non-Catholics, for the reversion of lapsed Catholics, and for the success of foreign missionaries. Missionaries are needed in both foreign lands and in many of our own cities and streets.[4] We pray for all of them to be successful. We pray for the Lord to send more missionaries into the harvest.

Collect Prayer for the Propagation of the Faith:

“O God, Who willest that all men should be saved and should come to the knowledge of the truth: we beseech Thee, send forth laborers into Thy harvest, and grant them grace to speak Thy word with all boldness, so that Thy word may spread swiftly and be glorified, and all nations may know Thee, the only God and Him Whom Thou hast sent: even Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.”

[1] Many rightly view the Church’s missionary activity as an excellent indicator of the strength and vitality of the Church. Yet an even better ‘litmus test’ for the Church’s health and influence upon society is the state of contemplative religious life. This is because contemplative religious can be likened to a great ‘generator’ or ‘power source’ for the rest of the Church Militant. Across all historical ages it has been true that the more numerous and fervent is the contemplative religious life, the stronger is the Church and the greater her missionary activity. This truth parallels Pius XI’s selection of St. Francis Xavier and St. Thérèse of Lisieux as co-patrons for missions.

Sadly, since Vatican II we have seen a tremendous and unparalleled decline in both the Church’s missionary activity and in vocations to the contemplative religious life. In their stead has arisen the heresy of religious indifferentism, described by Gregory XIV as a perverse opinion which is the source of many evils (Mirari Vos, 1832) and repeatedly condemned by Pius IX, Leo XIII and St. Pius X.

[2] In a recent post, the issue of praying the mysteries of the Rosary for specific fruits was discussed. When meditating upon the Third Glorious Mystery, we can pray for the grace of missionary zeal and for the grace to consciously unite our prayers and penances for the conversion of souls and the missionary work of the Church.

[3] During each liturgical season, God makes specific graces more readily and abundantly available, graces which are particularly associated with the Mysteries being celebrated at that time by Holy Mother Church.

[4] Today, a tremendous missionary effort is greatly needed in lands which have known the True Faith for centuries with the end of recovering and restoring all Catholic Tradition.


Want to read more?
Latest Articles by Matthew Plese