Each year, in the month of October, we are reminded of our baptismal mission, viz. to proclaim Christ and His Gospel through our witness in the World. The current pandemic impels us even more to become messengers of the Good News, to give witness to the Gospel in words and deeds.
This year, the Holy Father reminds us that “Mission is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not the result of strategies.” He urges those involved in mission to avoid self-promotion, and to thank God for the gift of being missionaries. We are urged to keep this in mind when we engage in various outreach and mission work in our parishes.
The Holy Father reminds us that the foundation of the mission is the Holy Spirit. It is the “grace” or “force” of the encounter with the One who calls us. The encounter results in an outburst of joy and gratitude. Proclaiming the Gospel means bearing witness to the glory of the Risen Christ.
The Holy Father lists some distinctive elements necessary to engage in mission. Firstly, the Church grows in the world through attraction and not proselytism. “If one follows Jesus, happy to be attracted by Him, others will take notice. They may even be astonished.” Secondly, mission is a result of our gratitude and gratuitousness. It is “a reflection of gratitude” and can never be obtained by reasoning or calculations. There is also no sense of obligation. Thirdly, since, happiness and salvation “are not our own possession” or a goal achieved by our merits, the Gospel of Christ “can only be proclaimed with humility,” without arrogance. Finally, authentic mission is to “facilitate, not complicate”. Mission does not add “unnecessary burdens” on people who are already worn out, nor does it impose “demanding programmes of formation in order to enjoy what the Lord gives easily.” All of this can only be possible if we are rooted in prayer.
We see all these distinctive elements in the life of St Therese of the Child Jesus, the patroness of the Missions. She is also known as the “the Little Flower of Jesus.” We celebrate her feast on October 01. After having a spiritual experience that exerted a profound influence on her life, she proclaimed the Gospel through her simple acts of love. She called it the “little way of spiritual childhood”. Through this way, she entered more and more deeply into the mystery of the Church, and drawn by the love of Christ, she felt growing within her the apostolic and missionary vocation that spurred her to bring everyone with her to meet her divine Spouse. Through spiritual childhood, one experiences that everything comes from God, returns to Him and abides in Him, for the salvation of all, in a mystery of merciful love. "My 'little way' is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute self-surrender," she said.
She had always dreamed of being a missionary, an Apostle, a martyr; yet she was a nun in a quiet cloister in France. How could she fulfil this longing?
She said, “Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church had a Heart, and that this Heart was burning with love… that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places...in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love... my vocation, at last I have found it... My vocation is Love!” When she fell ill with tuberculosis, she considered her illness as a mysterious visitation of her divine Spouse. Even in the midst of her suffering and trials, borne with patience, at the moment of her death, she was able to say, “I am not dying; I am entering life.” May the life of this great soul and missionary inspire us in our own missionary vocation.
Questions for reflection:
1. Have I encountered Jesus like St Therese of the Child Jesus? How has the experience influenced my life and my desire to share about Jesus?
2. In the activities that I am involved with in the parish, how can I avoid the danger of self-promotion?
3. What is it that I can learn from the life of St Therese of the Child Jesus in fulfilling my own missionary vocation?
4. How can the message of the Holy Father help me in becoming a true missionary of Jesus and His Gospel?
Fr Shavito Correia