St Thérèse: The Extraordinary Month of Mission

Baptised-and-sent-october-2019.png

Kathleen McGarvey OLA, our Provincial Leader, was invited by Fr Damian and the SMA Fathers to say a few words about the Extraordinary Month of Mission during the novena to St Therese. Her reflection follows.

"As we all know, October is traditionally celebrated as a month of Mission, and the second last Sunday of October is World Mission Sunday celebrated in every Catholic church worldwide. However, this year, 2019, October is being celebrated as an ‘Extraordinary’ month of Mission.

Its ‘extraordinary’ for a number of reasons: Firstly, because it is the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s apostolic letter Maximum Illud, a pastoral letter about mission written just after World War I and considered significant as it addressed many of the topics on mission that have been further developed over these past one hundred years. This year’s Mission month is also ‘extraordinary’ because the Pope wants Catholics to be reminded in a very strong way that all baptised people are called to be missionary and he invites us all to take some extraordinary steps to help us live that mission.  St Therese’s witness and teaching about doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way can be a particular source of inspiration to all of us during this month.

For this Month, the Pope has chosen the theme: ‘Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World’. When Maximum Illud was written, the missionary was the priest or religious who went abroad to faraway lands such as Africa or Asia or South America. We know today that there is not just one single way to be missionary. Certainly, God still calls some to leave their homes and families as missionaries, not only priests and religious but also lay people and not only for life but also for shorter periods of time. To be a missionary we do not all need to go to the end of the world. Proof of this is Saint Therese, a Carmelite nun who became patroness of the missions without ever having left the Carmel of Lisieux, apart from one trip to Rome before she became a religious.

The Church is now present in every corner of the world and the Church today is most dynamic in countries where it was hardly present at the time Maximum Illud was written. Countries where the Church was strong a hundred years ago, including Ireland, have now become quite secularised and religion is oftentimes seen as something backward, of little or no relevance. Our young people especially grow up today with little or no faith, no sense of God in their lives. Hence, our own country today is in need of missionaries, and this demands not only that we receive more missionaries from abroad but also that we who call ourselves Catholic here become more aware of our responsibility to share the faith with those around us: every one of us is called to witness to our faith and proclaim the Good News, within our own family, at work, in our own locality, and wherever we feel we have an influence on the lives of others.  This is what Pope Francis is asking us to reflect on and live in an extraordinary way during this month.

Pope Francis has written many letters since he became Pope but one that speaks most clearly of our mission as baptised Catholics is Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of Evangelization, where the reminds us that to be a missionary is basically to share the joy of our faith, share the hope our faith gives us, and to share this joy with others wherever we are through our words and our actions. He reminds us that the Church grows "by attraction” and I think that is indeed a challenge for us today in Ireland – how can the Church, which is not an institution but is a community of missionary disciples,  which includes all of us, be ‘attractive’ to our young people and to the many others who have been disillusioned by it and see no real value in it.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis uses the "love" 154 times, "joy" 109 times, "the poor" 91 times, "peace" 58 times, "justice" 37 times, and "common good" 15 times. I think that if we have a personal encounter with God who loves us and gives us hope we will be committed to sharing this love with those around us, reaching out to the poor in our community and the world at large, working for peace and justice, caring for the earth, and doing whatever we can to promote the common good. This is mission, and we are called to live it wherever we are. What a different world we would have today if all Christians were to live our faith! As Pope Francis tells us in Evangelli Gaudium: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security... If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life… At our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).” (49). As a Church, in Ireland and here in Dromantine, we are each challenged this month to ask how we might live our faith as missionary disciples in a more extraordinary way so that together we may be a renewed and more attractive Church.

To help us live this Missionary month more intensely, the Pope proposes four ways:

Firstly, to deepen in a Personal Encounter with Jesus Christ: Without a personal relationship with Christ, I will not and cannot be an authentic Christian, a true missionary. In Ireland today, many Catholics are baptised but never really developed a personal relationship with Christ. Many do their Holy Communion and Confirmation, but all ends there. Even we who are here today, do we really know Christ as a personal friend? This is something we can all seek to deepen during this month of mission, by taking time for quiet prayer, reading and meditating mindfully on the Gospels, taking time to be aware of Jesus around me and in me.

Secondly, Testimony: The Pope invites us to read about or do some research on some missionary saints and martyrs and confessors of the faith. Here in Dromantine, there are many living witnesses of mission that we can get to know, hear their stories. A great number of SMAs, OLAs and others from Northern Ireland have given their lives on mission abroad. This month we are all invited to find out a bit more about the lives they lived, what inspired them, what gave them strength. Even we who call ourselves missionaries can listen to and learn from each other so that we can be renewed and strengthened.

Thirdly, Missionary charity: The Pope invites us to make an extra effort this month, through our time, our talents, and maybe also our resources, to support the Church's missionary activity and communities in Ireland and beyond that are too poor to support themselves.

Fourthly, Missionary Formation: We might not all have time or energy to do a long theology course but the Pope invites us all to make some effort this month to deepen our missionary formation - biblical, catechetical, spiritual and theological. Maybe this month we could read some Church missionary documents such as Evangelii Gaudium on the Joy of Evangelization or Laudato Si on our mission to care for the earth.

The Pope has called this the Extraordinary Month of Mission. The simple truth is that there will be nothing extraordinary about this month unless we each decide to make that extra effort to live the missionary call of our baptism in an extraordinary way. Maybe learning from St Therese to do the ordinary in extraordinary ways. The four ways I’ve just mentioned are fairly ordinary – but they all demand a conscientious extraordinary effort.

As we know, what has made St Therese a doctor is her simple Science of Love. She tells us that God wants nothing more complicated and nothing more difficult than that we love God and love one another. She tells us that the way to be happy in this world is “to forget self always” (Story of a Soul, Chapter IV). In a letter to her cousin, Marie Guerin, Therese wrote: “I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else.” She said, “without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing”. Therese reminds us that the first thing asked of us is to see Christ in everyone, love them even if we find it difficult to love them, and then we will be able to respond to their need as we would to that of Christ. One of St. Therese’s most basic insights is that every person is called to be a saint, and to be a saint she believed one must be missionary, one must be filled with love of Christ and want to share this love with all other people.

This evening, and indeed all through the Extraordinary Month of Mission in October, as we look to St Therese for inspiration and pray through her intercession, may we also pray that she fill us with an ever renewed, ever burning, ever real, love of Christ. May she give each of us the grace we need to be missionary, in whatever small or great way we can, both at home and abroad."