On 25 June 1859, the SMA Founder, Bishop Melchior de Marion Brésillac died of Yellow Fever in Freetown, Sierra Leone. On 25 June last, the SMA community in Blackrock Road, Cork, gathered to celebrate this great servant of mission. Fr Jérôme Anoumou-Sassou, from Togo and now a seconded member of the Irish Province, preached at the community Mass. The following is an edited version of Fr Jérome’s homily.
Yesterday we celebrated the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; today we are celebrating the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is about the love of her Heart for Jesus, for God and her compassionate love for all persons. One of the ways Mary demonstrates this love is when the message of the angel came to her: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
That was her answer. Like her, God constantly surprises us and he wreaks havoc with our plans. And God tells us: trust me, do not be afraid, let yourself be surprised, leave yourself behind and follow me!
Today let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask, or of what he does ask. Do we let ourselves be surprised by God, as Mary was, or do we remain caught up in our own safety zone: in forms of material, intellectual or ideological security, taking refuge in our own projects and plans?
Do we truly let God into our lives? How do we answer him? These are important questions we should be reflecting on, on this feast day especially as we celebrate our Venerable Founder who gave his life for the mission 163 years ago. Our Founder gave his life totally to God and committed himself body and soul to the will of God.
Bishop Melchior de Marion Brésillac answered to God as Mary did. Right from the beginning of his journey towards priesthood and how he chose to be a missionary from the bottom of his heart. We see how he left home without saying goodbye to his own family and how he was passionate for the mission to Africa after he resigned from his office as a Bishop.
The life and the commitment of our Founder shows us today how we too must dedicate our own life to God and we have been doing it so far.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [Jn 12,24]. My brothers, we believe that Bishop de Brésillac and his first followers who arrived in Sierra Leone for the mission were that single grain of wheat that fell into the ground of Africa and died so that the Society of African Missions will flourish.
Bishop de Brésillac by his death gave birth to many SMA missionaries from the four corners of the earth. His life and death gave birth to SMA missionaries who brought the Good News of God’s love to people.
It is a great joy to see that the mission of SMA is moving positively even though in this part of the world, the lack of personnel is highly experienced. We followers should also consider that we are seeds that must die in order to become what we too are destined for.
What does this mean for me?
I must lose my protective covering and die to self—the false self—and allow the true self to grow. I must be rooted in God and respond to my environment—take in those things that encourage growth. I must lose the false knowledge of self—whatever keeps me from God.
What does this mean for our community?
We need to let go of our protective coverings—the familiar that holds us back. We need to move out into the unfamiliar in order to be available for whatever God wants us to be. We need to be open to new growth in new areas, new ways. We need to be open to the next step whatever it is as Bishop de Brésillac did all his life. Today, we from Africa are here for mission. Is it our own wish? I don’t think so, but it is the wish of God for us to be here and personally I’m very happy to be here.
One thing again we need to learn from the Bishop de Brésillac is his trust in people.
Quoting from the book “To prepare His Ways” written by Bishop Patrick J Harrington, SMA: On 1st January 1859, Bishop Melchior told his trusted colleague and friend that “only God knows all the pains and difficulties awaiting me this year, but by His grace, I think that I am ready to suffer all of them, all the trials of the tempest both physical and mental. And if the sea and the rocks were to make this year my last, you would be there to see that the work did not get shipwrecked too”. (p. 368)
I hope that all of us have experienced in our life that we were trusted, in fact we dis everything possible not to fail in our work or project. That is what Fr Planque did to resist on all the winds around him so that the work started did not get shipwrecked when the Founder died.
We too should rely on people’s ability or capacity of doing things, we should trust without reserve and help one another to bring out the good things inside us.
As we celebrate the death of our Founder, we pray for his canonization as we say: Lord God you called Melchior de Marion Brésillac to serve you…