The award-winning movie “The Mission” tells the story of Jesuit missionaries who attempt to bring the good news of the Gospel to remote regions of northeastern Argentina and Paraguay as they evangelize the native Guarani people who inhabited that beautiful, rugged land. The story unfolds against the backdrop of 18th-century rivalries between the political powers of Spain and Portugal who seek to expand the wealth and power of their global empires.
At first, the Guarani resist the Jesuits’ evangelizing efforts but gradually they come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Jesuits established plantations, protected by Spanish law, as places of refuge where the newly baptized Christians were educated in language and agricultural and trade skills to make them self-sufficient.
The story focuses on the difficult choice the Jesuit missionaries faced as a new treaty among European political powers required that their Christian territories were transferred to the Portuguese, who permitted slavery. Two main characters, Father Gabriel and Father Mendoza, struggle with how best to protect and defend the Guarani who they have nurtured in the Christian faith. Father Gabriel chooses the path of nonviolent resistance, while Father Mendoza, a former mercenary and reformed slave trader, chooses to fight the invading colonists.
In one of the movie’s many poignant scenes, Father Gabriel challenges Father Mendoza’s decision to take up arms, reminding him that his decision undermines everything their mission stood for. Father Gabriel sums up his passionate argument in the words of Scripture — “God is love!”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus responds to a question posed by one of the scribes of the law who wants to know which is the first of all commandments. And as he does so often in the Gospels. Jesus invites the scribe, and each of us, to see with eyes of faith.
Jesus gives the scribe not one, but two commandments, that are inextricably linked — the command to love God and to love neighbor. By connecting the two commands to love God and one’s neighbor, Jesus sums up what our life should look like if we call ourselves Christian.
In these early days of November, the church invites us to contemplate the saintly men and women whose witness to holiness echoes across the centuries. In the glorious company of heaven we call the communion of saints, we find holy men and women from every time, place, language and race. These diverse men and women are united by their love of God and love of neighbor.
Each saint in his or her own unique way makes Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel a living reality in their witness to love. For the grace to live the double command to love God and neighbor, we join the church in humble prayer saying, “speak to me, Lord.”