Why mission? This perennial, persistent question
admits of a variety of valid responses. Asking why is fundamentally a question of “mission motivation.” Why evangelize? Why be Jesus’ disciple? Why concern yourself? What ends does mission really serve?
The bishops of Asia continually grapple with these questions as they explore the evangelizing mission of the church on this vast continent of four billion people, where
less than three percent of the burgeoning masses are Christian. Although these leaders of the church in Asia have elucidated several reasons for engaging in mission, what is striking is the “mission motive” they
mentioned first during the fifth plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
Collectively they forcefully asserted: “We evangelize, first of all, from a deep sense of gratitude to God, the Father ‘who has blessed us in Christ with every
spiritual blessing’ (Ep 1:3) and sent the Spirit into our hearts so that we may share in God's own life. Mission is above all else an overflow of this life from grateful hearts transformed by the grace of God” (FABC
The Asian bishops vigorously affirm: “That is why it is so important for us Christians to have a deep faith-experience of the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rm 8:39),
that love which has been poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rm 5:5). Without a personal experience of this love received as gift and mercy, no sense of mission can flourish”
Note some of the words and phrases that the FABC uses to describe this motive for mission: “gratitude to God,” “grateful hearts,” “spiritual blessing,” “given to us,”
“love received as gift and mercy.” Indeed, mission is viewed as a gift, graciously given, gratefully received, and generously shared. Gratitude is a powerful motive for energetic evangelization.
The Image of Gift
All cultures and peoples give gifts, particularly on special occasions and at significant life events: birthdays, weddings, holidays, anniversaries. Gifts bond people
together, they express gratitude and appreciation. Gifts are chosen personally and carefully, to please each recipient. Often gifts are exchanged at the same moment, further cementing families together, and friends
Asians have elevated gift-giving into an art. What would Chinese celebrations and the Lunar New Year be without generous gifts offered in red envelopes (angpao)?
In Korea the ritual celebration of one's sixtieth birthday (hwangap) is an occasion for lavish gifting. No Filipino feels comfortable without bringing some pasalubong--large or small-when returning home.
Probably it is the experience of giving and receiving gifts-so deeply human-that prompted Asia’s bishops to see gratitude for abundant grace received as a fitting image and motive for mission. This gift image expresses Christian thankfulness for God’s unique, gratuitous gift-Jesus the Son. Each day in the Eucharist, a Greek word that means thanksgiving (eucharistein),
we say “we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.” Frequently in the Mass the Prayer over the Gifts refers to the “holy exchange of gifts.”
To help in grasping the deep meaning in the image of mission as gift, this “Asian” reflection now presents three interrelated moments of what might be termed
“gift missiology.” Three “R” words capture mission-as-gift: Recognize, Receive, and Reciprocate. Recognize by being profoundly aware of the uniqueness of God's gift. Receive by personally appropriating God’s gift. Reciprocate by sharing God's gift with others.
Recognizing the Gift
The first moment in appreciating “gift missiology” is to become deeply conscious of the depths of God’s love, the love of the Trinity. The mission decree of the Second
Vatican Council (Ad gentes) noted: “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. This decree [divine plan] flows from that ‘fountain of love’ or charity within God” (AG 2). Mission originates in the centrifugal love of the Trinity; our missionary God shares of his
essence which is love. God the Father gifts us with his incarnate Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One can receive no greater gift. Prayer and contemplation facilitate a depth-awareness of this great gift.
The New Testament is replete with expressions of God’s magnanimous generosity. Paul reminds the Romans: “Adam prefigured the One to come, but the gift considerably outweighed the fall… Divine grace, coming through the one man Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. The results of the gift also outweigh the results of one man's sin... Jesus Christ will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve” (Rm 5:15-17). As one contemplates God's profound generosity, gratitude wells up in the heart, leading one to proclaim “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift”
(2 Co 9: 15).
Recognizing God’s gifts also means being profoundly aware that we do not earn or merit the gifts; they come from God’s generosity, as Paul explains to the Ephesians:
“This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your
own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art” (Ep 2:7-10). Paul encourages the Romans to humbly receive God’s gifts: “I want
to urge each one among you not to exaggerate his real importance... Our gifts differ according to the grace given us” (Rm 12:3-8)
As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, he promises them: “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that Spirit of
Truth…” (Jn 14:16). Jesus’ promise is fulfilled at Pentecost: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit... The Spirit gave them the gift of speech [to] proclaim the marvels of God” (Ac 2:1-12).
The early Christian community-and our church today-have been assured of God’s continuous generosity: “You will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while
you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1Co 1:7). Paul notes that all gifts have one source: “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit... All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit, who distributes different gifts to different people just as he chooses” (1 Co 12:1-12).
God’s generous gifts are for all peoples, whatever their religious, ethnic, or cultural background; thus, “the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners... All were
astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too” (Ac 10:44-45). Peter proclaims God’s graciousness in Jaffa, saying: “I realized then that God was giving them the
identical gift he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who was I to stand in God's way?” (Ac 11:17).
Mission originates in this profound consciousness of what the Father has graciously wrought in Christ Jesus and their Spirit, continually manifested in the church. St.
Therese of Lisieux expressed her awareness of God’s gift when she concluded: “My vocation is Love! In the heart of the church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus, I shall be everything.”