When we think of “missionaries” we picture the famous blackrobes (Jesuits) canoeing the rivers or the beloved brown-robed Franciscans like Junipero Serra trekking up the California peninsula. These days many laypeople do serious missionary work as well, such as the three American missionaries who contracted Ebola in West Africa.
The Missionary Sacrifice
The great missionary Society of our century is the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I give these sisters about three retreats a year (on my vacation time) in places like Haiti, Venezuela, Kenya, and Peru. The MC’s live with the poorest of the poor, and I can tell you it’s not easy, even for eight days. These sisters spend not a week but most of their lives struggling to speak foreign languages, exposed to heat and cold, noise and violence. They are not unhappy, though: their love for Christ and love for each other radiate joy from their faces.
Some missionary assignments, though, are quite difficult and need our prayers. I met Sr. Joseph Catherine, for example, in Kenya last summer. She has been in South Sudan for the last three years and is shell shocked from the violence. “In all of Sudan’s terrible violence these last ten years, the last six months have been the worst,” she said. With the independence of South Sudan, the raids from the Muslim north have decreased, but an open tribal war has developed within the South. Every night there are shootings and screams, as the tribe to the north makes raids on these farms, stealing cows, raping women, shooting men and boys. The sisters are chronically sleep-deprived and traumatized. Sister Joseph Catherine told me that her parish priest has seen 15 of his family killed since January. All I could say to her was: “You can’t end the violence or take away everyone’s suffering. You can only suffer with them.”
St. Paul, the Greatest Missionary
The greatest missionary of all time was St. Paul, who suffered many difficulties in his four missionary journeys. In the second reading he writes “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” No one will believe the Gospel if Christian missionaries do not suffer for the Word they preach, and each of us is a missionary. Give to God what belongs to God, Jesus says, which means everything. What does God not own? What do we have that we have not been given? Give to God, most of all, the souls for which his Son died. A missionary is one who brings souls to God, who thirsts for them.
We look to full-time missionaries for inspiration; we support them with prayers and financial gifts; but God requires that we be missionaries ourselves. Look around you: this church is mostly empty. It’s our job to fill it up with beautiful souls for Christ. First, we need to pray. Mother Teresa’s sisters begin the day with an hour of prayer, and pray four hours a day to sustain their missions. I want to see every one of my parishioners spending an hour a week in front of this tabernacle. Perhaps that is most important missionary work we can do, and certainly the starting point.
But then you must talk others back to Mass so that God’s house may be full. I want everyone to bring at least one person back to Mass over the next 12 months. Of course you can’t convert them, but you can invite them. We are the last remaining Catholics, the last ones standing in a gigantic church built for the flocks of faithful who used to come here. We have the grace to bring them back. Go out and do the missionary work San Francisco needs. Turn to Our Lady, the Queen of the Mission, and walk with her. She will help us bring her children back to God.