October is the month of the missions in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis proclaimed that this year we would celebrate an extraordinary month of missions to recall the hundredth anniversary of an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, which opened up a new understanding of mission.
What I found most refreshing in this one hundred year old letter is the way the pope sought to separate missionary activity from any type of nationalism or colonialism.
“the true missionary is always aware that he is not working as an agent of his country, but as an ambassador of Christ”
Pope Benedict XV praised the work of sisters in missionary countries and also called for others to collaborate in mission. In addition, the pope wanted to see the development of local clergy as an important part of missionary activity.
In our diocese, parishes sent out missionaries to other parishes in the deaneries. Our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, sent about fifty to the parish of Corquín, at the other end of our deanery. I had it easy and went to the US for the mission week.
But, to help myself pray and reflect on the missionary vocation of every Christian I complied a calendar of saints, blessed, and holy persons who died or celebrated their feast day in October.
But what is most interesting is that the month begins and ends on the feast days of two persons who never went to the missions but are linked to mission.
October 1 is the feast of the cloistered Carmelite sister who died at the age of 24. Saint Thèrése of Lisieux is the patron saint of missions. She wanted to go to the Carmelite foundation in Indochina (Vietnam), but was unable. Yet she prayed for missionaries and had a missionary spirit.
October 31 is the feast of the Jesuit brother, Saint Alfonso Rodríguez, who spent forty years as the door-keeper of the Jesuit house of studies on the island of Majorca. During his time there he was a spiritual guide for Saint Pedro Claver, the Jesuit who spent forty years in Colombia especially serving the slaves brought by the Spaniards to the port city of Cartagena. He owed his mission to the inspiration and advice of Saint Alfonso.
Missionary activity is so often thought of as going to another place, especially exotic lands, to preach the Gospel and, at least today, to witness to the Good News of Jesus for the poor. But Saints Thérèse and Alfonso show us the importance of being a witness to the Gospel wherever we are.
As Pope Francis has often noted, in Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, 120
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization… The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.
The saints show us the way.
My calendar of October saints with quotes can be found here: OCTOBER saints