– Fr Victor Mejia
The month of October is traditionally called “missionary month.” In his message for Mission Sunday (21 October), the Holy Father says that each one of us is called to reflect on this fact: “I am a mission on this Earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world.” This year, the month of October coincides with the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (taking place in Rome from 3 to 28 October) with the theme “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Reflecting about mission we are invited to understand the meaning and the origin of mission… Thus this reflection offered by Fr Victor Mejia (Comboni Missionary) during the monthly retreat of the priests in Macau.
MISSION is to be sent – The Apostles’ experience of the Risen Lord!
We will have a look at three passages of the Gospels. In all of them we get the importance of ‘being sent’:
“Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’”(Mt 28, 18-20)
“Lastly, He showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after He had risen. And He said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16, 14-16)
“In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and, after saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” (Jn 20, 1-31)
Following this text of John, we can conclude that the first missionary is the Son of God, the Word who became Flesh (the Incarnate Word). Jesus Christ was sent by the Father and now He is sending his disciples of all times… He is sending us also.
But there are other passages of the pre-resurrection experience that, actually, they are the training mission of the disciples, like in Lk 9:1-11 (the sending of the Twelve) and Lk 10:1-20 (the sending of the 72 disciples in pairs).
In many of my talks regarding ‘mission’, I try to underline that there are different ways to express the fact of being sent. For instance, we can use the linguistic [way]. In almost all languages, the ‘verbs’ used in a sentence, grammatically speaking, represent the action of the subject. Therefore, in the Holy Scriptures and in particular in the Gospels, the world MISSION could be expressed with many different verbs: to go, to get up, to go out, to send, to rise, to move, etc in order to announce the Kingdom! The experience of the presence of Jesus impels the Apostles to go forth and announce the Gospel.
From ‘doing’ mission into ‘being’ missionary
And the Apostles soon discover that the essence of their identity is centered on their relationship with Jesus, from doing mission into being a missionary! I share two experiences that I’ll never forget:
One experience was when I was still a student and during the holidays I stayed at one elderly home for missionaries. I have dealt with many of our confreres, most of them great missionaries in Africa and Latin America, but unfortunately I saw many of them with expressions of sadness, gloomy, melancholic, and angry with the people around them and even with God.
However, among them there was a brother that had half of his body paralyzed and needed that others take care of him. Every time I met him he was with a smile in his face, serene, at peace with himself and with the rest of the people. One day I asked: why is it possible that you can live like that? He said: In my time in Africa I worked very hard, moving from one village to another, from city to city and even to other neighbor countries. As an artist I did many religious sculptures, stained glasses, painting cathedrals, chapels… I worked hard just as Jesus did in his public life. But I also learned that Jesus had 30 years of silence as carpenter, three years of hard work preaching and healing… and three hours of agony, all of this to achieve our redemption. Now that I cannot move I am happy because I am nailed to my cross with Him! This elder confrere said to me: There is an unhealthy mentality among us, that is “the more you do in mission, the more you are a missionary!”… But we are missionaries, not because we do things, but because we were called to be another Christ, and with Him we continue to build the Kingdom of God here on earth.
The other experience was at a center for handicapped people in a village in Shanxi province few years ago. I saw the staff taking care of these children, with so much tender care and love. One of them told me that this is the way she is evangelizing, because non-Christians are surprised at the way we care for these children, they see how we treat them with compassion, those children who, for society, are not even human, because of their physical or mental illness. But for her, being a simple Catholic, every single kid is a “person” loved by God!
These two deep experiences changed my mind and my heart. These elderly missionaries and these handicapped children are in fact “eucharistic persons,” they are Jesus among us, constantly offering themselves as Christ did once for all.
There is a story that could help us to understand the importance of the adoration to the blessed Body of Christ if we are able likewise to kindle our lives with His divine fire — the parable of the man who invented fire.
A long time ago, there was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and visited a tribe in the north, where the climate was bitter cold. The man taught the people how to make fire. And the people were spellbound. He showed them many uses for fire – they could cook, keep themselves warm, keep predators at bay, dance by firelight. So they built fire and were very grateful. But before they could express their gratitude, the man disappeared, because he wasn’t concerned with recognition or gratitude. He was concerned only with their well-being.
The fire-making man visited a different tribe, and began to teach the art of making fire. Like the first tribe, this tribe was mesmerized. But the tribe members’ passion unnerved the tribe priests. It didn’t take long for the priests to notice that the fire-making man drew large crowds, and the priests worried about lost influence and power. Because of their fear, the priests determined to kill the fire-making man. Worried that the tribe people might revolt, the priests devised a clever plan. Can you guess what they did? The priests made a portrait of the fire-making man, and displayed it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire. The veneration and the worship went on for centuries. But there was no more fire. (Anthony de Mello)
St Thérèse of the Child Jesus’ letters to missionaries
October 1 marks the Feast Day of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Patroness of all Missionaries and the Missions, Patroness of France and Doctor of the Church.
“In spite of my littleness, I would like to enlighten souls as did the Prophets and the Doctors. I have the vocation of the Apostles. I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach your Name and to plant your glorious cross on infidel soil. But…one mission alone would not be sufficient for me, I would want to preach the Gospel on all the five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only, but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.”
With these words Thérèse of Lisieux expressed her fervent wish to serve God as a missionary. Her wish almost came true because her own convent in France was hoping to send some sisters out to a sister house in Saigon in Vietnam and before her health failed, Thérèse had been selected for the missionary enterprise. But by the age of twenty four Thérèse was dead. Her life had been almost totally hidden. At her death she seemed just another obscure nun in a country convent in France. Most of the nuns didn’t recognize her great holiness. One said, “I cannot understand why people speak of Sister Thérèse as if she were a saint. She never does anything notable.” Thérèse had great ambitions to serve God, but at her death it looked like her life had come to nothing. Nevertheless, on her deathbed, Thérèse said she believed God had granted all her desires.
All though St Therese could not go to the missions because of her poor health, she was as authentic a missionary as St Francis Xavier, by her prayers and sufferings, and her encouragement through her many letters to missionary priests serving in Malawi and China. Her letters to Fr Belliere had a more ‘contemplative flavor’ while the letters to Fr. Roulland were more with ‘missionary flavor’.
“You have united me forever with the works of a missionary, by the bonds of prayer and suffering and love…We are all missionaries because we have been baptized and told to go out to all to bring the light of Christ wherever there is darkness,” she wrote as a poem prayer to Père Roulland, the missionary priest serving in China.
St Thérèse never met Abbe Belliere, but her love for him reflected in the letters, written as she was dying of tuberculosis, is a sign of the love that God has for each one of us, especially when we are weak, afraid, and lonely.