02 October 2019, The Tablet

Francis warns Catholics against having a "sacristy faith" as he launches a month dedicated to mission

 Francis warns Catholics against having a "sacristy faith" as he launches a month dedicated to mission

Pope Francis leads a prayer vigil opening a month dedicated to missionaries, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis is urging Catholics to stop wasting time worrying about the past and to start finding ways to take their faith out into the world. 

The 82-year-old Jesuit pope has called for October to be an extraordinary month of mission which, he says, should “jolt us and motivate us to be active in doing good.”

During vespers in St Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday 1 October to launch the initiative, Francis warned Catholics about keeping their faith confined within the walls of church buildings. 

“Please, let us not live a ‘sacristy’ faith,” he said, referring to the place where a priest dresses for liturgical services and where vestments and sacred vessels are kept. 

The Church, he says, needs to become a community believers which is “on the go” rather than a static institution. To do so, Catholics need to stop brooding over past mistakes or what might have been. 

“If it is not on the go, it is not Church,” Francis stressed. “A Church on the go, a missionary Church is a Church that does not waste time lamenting things that go wrong, the loss of faithful, the values of the time now in the past.”

He added that the Church should not “seek safe oases to dwell in peace", but instead look to become "salt of the earth and a leaven in the world.”

The October mission month comes as the Pope leads a Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, three-week gathering focussing on how the Church can better serve a region suffering from environmental devastation and where communities go for months without sacraments due to a lack of priests. 

To be missionary in outlook, Francis stressed, requires focussing on what it means to witness, a word which has the same etymological root as the word martyr.

“The martyrs are the primary witnesses of faith: not by their words but by their lives,” he told the gathering in St Peter’s. “They know that faith is not propaganda or proselytism: it is a respectful gift of one’s life. They live by spreading peace and joy, by loving everyone, even their enemies, out of love for Jesus.”

The “sin” against mission, he said, is “omission”, whereby believers become fearful and resign themselves to a view that nothing can be done. 

“We sin against mission when we complain and keep saying that everything is going from bad to worse, in the world and in the Church,” the Pope said. “We sin against mission when we become slaves to the fears that immobilise us when we let ourselves be paralysed by thinking that ‘things will never change’.”

Francis stressed that the “secret for possessing life is to give it away”, adding that “whoever stands with Jesus knows that we keep what we give away; we possess what we give to others.” 

And he ended his homily with an appeal. 

“In this month the Lord is also calling you, because you, fathers and mothers of families; you, young people who dream great things; you, who work in a factory, a store, a bank or a restaurant; you who are unemployed; you are in a hospital bed,” he said. 

“The Lord is asking you to be a gift wherever you are, and just as you are, with everyone around you. He is asking you not simply to go through life, but to give life; not to complain about life, but to share in the tears of all who suffer. Courage! The Lord expects great things from you.

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