Tag Archives: mission

Mission prayer

Yesterday we had a meeting of about 45 Dulce Nombre parishioners who will go out to villages in the parish for our week of mission in October.

Padre German asked me to do a presentation on Mission in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, which I have uploaded here (only in Spanish).

He did a presentation on Mission and Mercy in the same apostolic letter of Pope Francis. He also shared this prayer, adapted from José Antonio Pagola.

Señor, ayúdanos a salir,
“Del resentimiento a una lectura positiva de la crisis,
De una iglesia que interviene ‘desde fuera’ a una Iglesia que camina,
De una iglesia ‘lugar de salvación’ a una iglesia ‘signo de salvación’,
Del esquema de la oferta y la demanda a la dinámica del diálogo,
De la imposición de un sistema religioso a la propuesta de la fe,
De la conservación de la comunidad constituida a la misión,
De la repetición de la herencia a la creatividad”.

Lord, help us leave
From resentment to a positive reading of the crisis,
From a Church which intervenes “from the outside” to a Church which walks,
From a Church as “place of salvation” to a Church which is “sign of salvation,”
From a framework of supply and demand to the dynamic of dialogue,
From the imposition of a religious system to a proposal of faith,
From the conservation of the established community to mission,
From the repetition of the inheritance to creativity.

Quite a radical prayer – but. I believe, in the spirit of Pope Francis.

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The trials of a missionary martyr

To me, the very least of all the holy ones,
this grace was given,
to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ…
Ephesians 3: 8

Noël Chabanel was among the seven French Jesuits missionaries who are remembered today as the North American martyrs. St. Noël was killed in what is now Canada on December 8, 1649.

I didn’t know much about him before I came across this remark on his life in Franciscan Father Leonard Foley’s Saint of the Day:

Fr. Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Native Americans revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.

St. Noël wasn’t dumb; he had been a teacher of rhetoric in his native France but for some reason he could not master the native languages – and was mocked for this, even by children. His fastidious tastes found the food revolting. He experienced dryness in his spiritual life.

But he persevered, even making a vow to remain in mission in 1947:

“My Lord, Jesus Christ, who, by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to cooperate with the de-signs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversion of these Hurons to the faith; I, Noel Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the Testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron Mission; it being understood that all this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray, then, 0 Lord, that You will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that You will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen.”

He like many of his fellow Jesuits had a desire to give his life for the native peoples, even to the point of martyrdom. He endured the difficulties, until death.

In the face of difficulties in mission, I find it encouraging to know of a saint who suffered while on mission – and a suffering that in part came from within himself. All is not joy and roses and the presence of God, even in mission. There is tasteless or salty food; there are customs of the people that drive one crazy (especially the way people drive); and there is dryness of spirit. God sometimes seems so far away, so silent.

But St. Noël offers an example of perseverance, presence, and openness to the will of God.

Shortly before his death, before being sent to another mission site, he told one of the other Jesuits:

“I am going where obedience calls me, but whether I stay there or receive permission from my superior to return to the mission where I belong, I must serve God faithfully until death.”

When I was asked how long I’d be here in mission in Honduras, I responded (when asked in English), “Until God calls me somewhere else.” In Spanish it’s “Hasta que Dios quiere”.

St. Noël, help me be faithful in my mission.


An interesting account of St. Noël Chabanel can be found here.

Real missionaries

Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals….
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him….
Stay in the same house
and eat and drink what is offered to you,…
Luke 10: 1-9

I am humbled before the witness of seventy-four members of our parish here in Honduras.

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They left home for a week, without cellphone, without money, to be missionaries in fifty-five sites in the parish. They went door to door, visiting the people respectfully – not haranguing them with a Gospel that is used as a weapon, but listening to them and sharing prayer and scripture.

They were received in the villages and towns where they were given food and lodging – and a guide each day to lead them to the various homes in the villages.

We had trained them to be welcoming guests, listening to the people, praying with them – and, when needed, responding to the needs of the people.

I have spoken with a number of them since their return.

Generally, the experience was very good. They were received by the people in their homes, often offered a drink and something to eat in each house: so much so that in one case they put off eating lunch until three in the afternoon.

In some places when they visited the homes of evangelicals, the reception was very welcoming. They talked and prayed with them, a stance so very different from the usual animosity here between Catholics and evangelicals.

In a few places they responded to the needs of very poor families. In one village, they had a collection of goods which they shared with needy households.

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There were difficulties and problems. But that was expected.

But these missionaries were signs of the Reign of God for many people.

This mission, above all, exemplifies the culture of encounter that Pope Francis has urged us to live and promote.

 

Different types of missionaries

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the sixteenth century Jesuit priest who is one of the patrons of missionaries, who died on December 2, 1552 on a deserted island off the coast of China.

But these first three days of December offer us visions of three different types of missionaries.

On December 1, 1916, Blessed Brother Charles de Foucauld was killed by rebels in Tamanrasset which is in what is now southern Algeria. He had sought to live among the poor as Jesus in Nazareth, hidden and poor – and so found himself living among Muslims in Africa.

For him to be a missionary was to be a witness by being present.

“The whole of our existence, the whole of our lives should cry the Gospel from the rooftops  .  .  . not by our words but by our lives.”

Blessed Charles teaches us the importance of being present with our poor sisters and brothers:

We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers … let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes… and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted as one of them.

On December 2, 1980, four US women missionaries were killed in El Salvador. Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan offer us the vision of missionaries who accompany the poor in situations of violence and oppression.

Not only were they present, living among the poor, they were also responding to their needs, accompanying those who were being displaced inside the country, largely because of the repression by government and death squad forces.

They also noted that the poor can evangelize us. As Sister Ita Ford wrote:

“Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless, the feeling impotent. Can I say to my neighbors — I have no solutions to the situation, I don’t know the answers, but I will walk with you, be with you. Can I let myself be evangelized by this opportunity? Can I look at and accept my own poorness and learn from other poor ones?”

They accompanied the poor in their powerlessness and shared the fate of so many poor in El Salvador, a violent death at the hands of government forces.

St. Francis Xavier offers another vision of mission.

In some ways he appears to be the traditional missionary, in his ten years in India and the Far East.

He baptized thousands in India – and complained that students in the universities in Europe were thinking more of themselves than of the thousands who needed to hear the Gospel message and to be baptized.

But there is more to Francis Xavier than this.

In India he served the poor, visiting prisoners, slaves, lepers and people at the margins. He lived as a poor man.

But he was aware of the exploitation and violence wrought by Portuguese colonial rule in India and wrote back to the King of Portugal calling on him to correct the rampant injustices. He was a missionary who was not afraid to advocate for the poor.

But, though he identified with the poor and spent most of his time in India with the poor, he realized that, like St. Paul, he needed to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9: 22). So, when he went to Japan and saw that the rulers looked down on him with his poor clothing, he put on fancier clothes and brought gifts – opening up Japan to the message of the Gospel. He was a pioneer in inculturation.

And so, Charles de Foucauld teaches the missionary the importance of being really present among the poor. The US women religious martyrs teach the call to accompany people in the midst of poverty and violence and to be open to learn from the poor. St. Francis Xavier teaches the importance of being an advocate of the poor in the face of injustice and of being willing to make changes in the face of different cultures.

These missionary witnesses can help us who are missionaries in a foreign land to examine our ministry. (They also can help all Christians who seek to be missionaries, witnesses of the Gospel, wherever they may be.)

Yesterday, December 2, 2015, Pope Francis took up the call to mission and also provided food for thought.

He first challenged young people to think of becoming missionaries and recalled an 81 year old Italian woman religious he met in Bangui in the Central American Republic. She had left Italy when she was in her early twenties and had devoted all her life to Africa.

Pope Francis’ message reflects the challenge of mission in the twenty-first century, echoing the witness of Charles de Foucauld, Francis Xavier, Maura Clark, Ira Ford, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel.

But I address young people: think what you are doing with your life. Think of this sister and so many like her, who have given their life, and so many have died there. Missionary work is not to engage in proselytism: this sister said to me that Muslim women go to them because they know that the sisters are good nurses and that they look after one well, and they do not engage in catechesis to convert them! They give witness then, they catechize anyone who so wishes. But witness: this is the great heroic missionary work of the Church. To proclaim Jesus Christ with one’s life!  I turn to young people: think of what you want to do with your life. It is the moment to think and to ask the Lord to make you hear His will. However, please don’t exclude this possibility of becoming a missionary, to bring love, humanity and faith to other countries. Do not engage in proselytism: no. Those who seek something else do so. The faith is preached first with witness and then with the word, slowly.

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For more on the missionaries mentioned here, you can find short biographies in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.

Take nothing for the journey

Today I travelled thirty minutes by car to the mountain village of Delicias Concepción to lead a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

As I prepared for my reflection on the texts I felt rather uncomfortable. In today’s Gospel (Mark 6: 7-13), Jesus tells the twelve to “take nothing for the journey” – no food, no sack, no money.

I began my reflection sharing my discomfort with the more than sixty people in the small church. I recalled how I took two bags as well as money and some snack food to a recent seminar I attended in Comayagua.

But as I continued reflecting this morning,  I realize that Jesus is calling us to bring the message, as Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it in Compartir la Palabra, “with simplicity and poverty,” putting nothing in the way of the proclamation of the Reign of God. For “the Reign cannot be presented from the standpoint of power and the security which money or social position provide.”

But, as I shared in the celebration, Jesus is calling us to place our trust in God and in the people we serve. Not in just God, but also in the people. “Wherever you enter, stay there…”

I shared with the people how I have experienced this so many times. When my car has broken down, I have almost always had people who came and helped, refusing my offer of compensation.

This is not easy for us from the United States – to receive help with paying someone. But it happens often here in the countryside.

This has been a great lesson I’ve learned here – not just trusting God, but trusting the people.

And so I can say, with confidence, to those who ask me about security concerns: My security is from God, but also from the people.

I may take many things for the journey, but they are never enough. What I receive in the journey is what makes my mission and ministry possible – the support of God and the people.

The mission of Jesus

Outside of the US which celebrates Labor Day, the Catholic lectionary begins the reading of Luke’s Gospel with the visit of Jesus to the temple in Nazareth.

Jesus is given the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah and reads, in an edited form, Isaiah 61.

As he finishes, Jesus tells his neighbors, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is what Jesus is about. This is the saving message.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because the Spirit has anointed me
to preach Good News to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

What is Good News to the poor?

God has come.

When God has come, when God is at the center of our faith lived out in just lives, the world will change.

The captives will be freed. The prison bars will be broken and the doors to detention centers will be opened.

Those who are blind will see.

The oppressed will be liberated. They will be free from the dictators, the bosses, the powers that keep them down.

The year of the Lord’s favor – the Jubilee Year – will be proclaimed. Debts will be forgiven; the land that has been taken away from them will be returned; those who have been enslaved will be freed.

But almost 20 centuries after Jesus proclaimed this Good News, the world the poor experience is still bad news.

Jesus began this. He promised that this will be.

So now we have the challenge to be good news to the poor, to do the works of justice, to be signs of a world that reflects the Reign of God.