Mission Theology in the Vatican II Era Gift and Task for the Local Churches of Asia

Mission Theology in the Vatican II Era Gift and Task for the Local Churches of Asia

By James H. Kroeger, M.M

AN INTEGRAL VIEW OF EVANGELIZATION.

Evangelization, for many Catholics, is a generally unfamiliar and relatively new term. The Second Vatican Council and recent popes have placed evangelization at the center of the Church’s identity and mission. Today the Church sees that the “principal elements” of mission and evangelization are: (a) presence and witness of life; (b) commitment to social development and human liberation; (c) interreligious dialogue; (d) explicit Gospel proclamation and catechesis; and, (e) prayer, contemplation, and liturgical life. In a word, the one evangelizing mission of the Church is comprised of several component elements and authentic forms. This integral or holistic view has served the Church well over the past decades. Viewing evangelization through five of its principal elements results in clarity, insight, and proper integration. This is the Catholic vision of evangelization.

CHURCH’S MISSIONARY NATURE.

Vatican II forcefully declared: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature. For it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (AG 2). Christians believe in a Trinitarian God, who is not  just the founder of a missionary community, the Church, but a God who is inherently missionary. The missio Dei was already operative before the Church came into existence. This theology locates mission at the very center of what the Church is and what she is called to be and to do.

Pope Paul VI asserts that missionary evangelization is the “vocation proper to the Church.” He continues: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” Evangelizing lies at “her deepest identity.” She “exists in order to evangelize.” She “is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being” (EN 14-15). The emphasis is clear: the Church is mission; she does not only do some activities that foster mission. The theologian Emil Brunner captured the Church’s missionary identity well: ““The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”

MISSIONARY RESPONSIBILITY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH.

At the time of Vatican II, ecclesiology had a clear universalist emphasis; the Council facilitated a renewed awakening of the importance of the local Church. This has resulted in a richer understanding of the full missionary responsibility of the local Christian community. Vatican II asserted that the Church of Christ is fully present “in all legitimate local congregations” (LG 26); thus, as the Roman document Dialogue and Mission (14) asserts: “Every local church is responsible for the totality of mission.”

Probably some of the best pastoral-mission theology on the local Church is to be found in the documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). The Asian bishops assert: “The primary focus of our task of evangelization then, at this time in our history, is the building up of a truly local Church” (FABC I: 9). “For the Asian Churches, the decisive new phenomenon — will be the emergence of genuine Christian communities in Asia—Asian in their way of thinking, praying, living, communicating their own Christ-experience to others:–. If the Asian Churches do not discover their own identity, they will have no future” (ACMC 14). Asia’s bishops have consistently promoted a “new way of being Church” and that “the acting subject of mission is the local Church living and acting in communion with the universal Church” (FABC V: 8.0; 3.3.1). In all of this, FABC and its vision of Church become “‘Asia’s continuing Vatican II.”

LAITY’S FULL PARTICIPATION IN THE CHURCH’S MISSION.

One could assert that the Church’s mission of evangelization is too important to be left to the clergy and religious alone; thus, in Vatican II one finds a renewed emphasis on the missionary nature of the entire Church. Every baptized member of the Church is equally an evangelizer, whether layperson, ordained, or religious. An integral vision of evangelization engages the entire Church (from top to bottom; especially, all the local Churches), all states of life (lay, religious, ordained, married, single), all apostolic activities and forms of witness (the five principal elements).

It must be noted that this emphasis on everyone’s call to mission is not superficially based on the desire to have “more workers for the job.” A profound and beautiful theology of Christian baptism and identity underlies this emphasis. Christifideles Laici (33) speaks of the laity’s missionary responsibility: “The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel; they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Laity are full-fledged evangelizers; mission is both their right and duty within the Church; they are not missionary due to some kind of “delegation of mission” coming from a priest or even a bishop.

“By the grace and call of Baptism and Confirmation, all lay people are missionaries” (EA 45). This wave of renewal is still not fully recognized; it offers great potential for the Church.