St Therese Novena 2012 Day 9

Feast of St Thérèse, Patroness of the Missions

The SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll, celebrated the Closing Mass of the National Novena at 7.30pm in St Joseph’s SMA Church in Blackrock Road. This is the final time Fr O’Driscoll will celebrate this Mass as Provincial Leader as his second term of office draws to a close in July 2013. An overflowing congregation, the largest for several years, heard Fr O’Driscoll give the following homily. After the Mass, many of the congregation accepted the invitation of the SMA community to join them for refreshments in the Dining Room.

Readings for the Mass: Job 1: 6-22 and Luke 9.46-50

A call to mission action

Three special times or occasions come together in this mission month of October. We saw some years ago that the Irish Missionary Union through its Mission Alive programme has somewhat captured again this month for mission in the Irish Church.

This year we are very fortunate to have a special Mission Alive celebration of Mission at St Joseph’s African Missions Church in Wilton. This will take place on Mission Sunday itself, October 21st. You are all invited to join the parish community of Wilton and missionaries from all over Cork to celebrate a Mass for Mission at 10.30am on that day. The Mass itself will be followed by missionary displays and a small reception. This will give you an opportunity to meet parishioners from the sister SMA parish and other missionaries who will be there on that day.

So, back to the three occasions that happily coincide during this mission month.            

     the 50th anniversary of beginning of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II)

     this month the beginning of Year of Faith

     the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation. [Incidentally Bishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA, bishop of Killaloe, is one of the two Irish bishops who will be present in Rome for the Synod].

Vatican II was the first great expression of universality of church – from Asia, Africa etc. Of course it had been taking shape for one hundred years previously but this was the first occasion when the whole world took note of it. Particularly the Church in the Western world began to realise how quickly the Spirit of God was allowing developments to take shape in what was then known as the 3rd World but is more accurately known as the majority world.

With Vatican II the “Ad gentes” dimension of church was clear for all to see. This Latin phrase meaning “to the peoples” and refers specifically to that universal dimension of the church, i.e. that all peoples have a right to know about Jesus Christ and believe in Him as their Lord and Saviour.

It is still valid today and perhaps even more so. Remarkably, the number of those who don’t know Christ has grown. This does not mean, of course, that the numbers who do know of Christ has decreased but rather is accounted for by the huge population explosion and the greatest growth has taken place in those areas of the world least exposed to the message of the gospel. It is important to recognise of course that the fact that people don’t know of Christ does not mean that they are not redeemed by Christ but it means they are ignorant of this belief. It is likely that this is through no fault of their own but nevertheless it is a reality.

That is why there continues to be a contemporary urgency to preach the gospel to ‘all’ peoples.

Pope Benedict, in announcing the Year of Faith, said “today as in the past, Christ sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth”. In order to do that, we must first be people of faith. And that we have to work at. Faith is a gift but not a gift that comes automatically. The Penny Catechism definition of Faith is not at all bad: “Faith is a supernatural gift of God which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed.” Being a religious or priest is no guarantee that the gift will always remain strong. All of us have periods when our faith is weakened. And those are the times when the prayerful support of other members of the believing community help us to hang in. Someone once described prayer as a gift given to those who pray. In a similar way, I would describe faith as a gift given to those open to receive it. What is important here however is that we do not beat ourselves if we find our faith weakening or doubts creeping in. Beating ourselves will only damage us more. What we need to do then is to come before the Lord and make that humble prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Focusing back on mission for a moment, it is good to remember back to Pope Paul VI. In a brilliant encyclical during the mid 70s, – Evangelii Nuntiandi – he says: “mission is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is a duty incumbent on her by the command of Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved.

Vatican II insisted this was a commitment of all the people of God. It is the special responsibility of the bishop who is to lead his diocese in missionary zeal. This missionary spirit or hue is to colour every aspect of life in the diocese. All elements of the church must feel called to this service of evangelisation.

Mission is lived everywhere. By virtue of baptism all are called to be evangelisers. No necessarily by preaching in the normal sense of the word – we call to mind again the famous phrase attributed to St Francis of Assisi, “preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words”. So mission is lived in our homes, our communities, in our parish and in our country. But there is also a particular mission which is lived for the others and this is really what we traditionally refer to as being a missionary. This is the mission ‘ad extra’.

People here very familiar with the notion of mission ‘ad gentes’ or ‘ad extra’, i.e to those outside, meaning peoples beyond one’s own country and culture. You see missionaries coming and going from Africa all the time. In recent times you have seen young African sisters and priests sharing the Good News here at Mass or at this Novena.

I could be here all night naming out the different congregations of brothers, priests and sisters who mission ad extra. Some congregations are formed specifically for mission ad extra such as OLA and SMA while others mission at home while also having some members mission ‘ad extra’, i.e. outside their own place of origin.

Great care has to be taken concerning the attitude we bring to mission ‘ad extra’. I spoke here some years ago about Jean Vanier’s insights on the idea of power and powerlessness. I want to revisit that tonight because I believe it is crucial for how we might do mission.

Vanier pointed out that the call of the gospel to us is not to be generous as such but to be builders of community. The distinction bears reflection. Generosity can often begin from a position of power. I can be generous with you because I have more resources than you. It comes from a position of strength rather than a position of vulnerability. And Jesus acts from a position of vulnerability rather than a position of strength. God himself became a vulnerable human person when incarnated in the person of Jesus. Just as tonight we hear in our gospel: “for the least among you all, that is the one who is great.”

And so, Christian mission must also begin not in generosity but in vulnerability, in an attempt to form community. So, when I go out to the other I go not from a position of strength but rather being prepared to be vulnerable. I would have to admit that we are not always very successful at doing this in our practise. The missionary ought to go to listen to and be with the other in their concrete situation. I go to live and share the other’s life and allow that to shape my life just as much as I am shaping theirs. It is a position of mutuality, of equality.

For me this insight is beautifully summed up in the quotation from the great prophetic figure and political leader of India in the last century, Mahatma Ghandi. This too I quoted to you before but it bears repeating; “real change will occur not when we begin to give more to others but when we begin to take less for ourselves”.

So these three occasions call us to mission action. But when mission is done from an attitude of superiority then the true God is covered over rather than revealed. Only when done from an attitude of vulnerability and mutuality will the true God be revealed and his Kingdom take shape.