Homily delivered by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Leader at the closing Mass of the Novena in honour of St Thérèse of Lisieux, celebrated at the National Shrine to the Little Flower at St Joseph’s SMA Parish, Blackrock Road, Cork
Isaiah 66: 10-14
Matthew 18: 1-5
All week we have been hearing reflections on different themes and aspects of the life of St Thérèse of Lisieux – To be Love at the very heart of the Church.
Tonight, on her Feast Day and the conclusion of the Novena, we focus on Thérèse and Mission.
She is Patroness of the Missions. As October is mission month, it is appropriate to focus on Mission tonight.
Therese said: “Love, in fact, is the vocation that includes all others”
So, obviously, the Missionary Vocation is included in a vocation of love.
In recent times [since Vat II really] we are used to hearing that being a missionary is a task for all the baptised. Some might feel a little shy about this. But we might remember the words attributed to St Francis of Assisi (though it may not be correct): “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words”.
And we have been praying all through this Novena: Obtain for us all an increase in missionary zeal and generosity.
I want to look on Mission tonight from a slightly different angle than the traditional view.
I hope maybe this look at Mission will allow us all to see that we can indeed by missionary in the ordinary events of our everyday lives.
I will focus on Mission primarily as ENCOUNTER.
The basis and foundation for all mission: RESPECTFUL ENCOUNTER.
And I want to hang my refection on the hooks of two personal encounters.
The Society of African Missins (SMA) celebrated the Diaconate Ordination of Noel Gillespie in Neilstown, Dublin in October 1992. Noel was a ‘Late vocation’ so was sent for pastoral experience in Neilstown. This parish would be regarded as difficult posting. It had ‘Bad Press’ – crime, drugs, joy-riding, high unemployment etc, relatively small church attendance. But God’s own people!
At end of ceremony Noel spoke. There were many speeches that day, including my own. I have no memory of what I said or what anyone else said but I do remember what Noel said. Why? Because he reversed the traditional formalities. He thanked the people [family, SMAs and local dignitaries] but instead of the usual focus on the honour they brought to him and Neilstown by their presence he rather focused on:
HOW PRIVILEGED THEY WERE TO BE PRESENT IN NEILSTOWN
He said this a few times so that the penny dropped.
It was the guests who were blessed by this encounter with this church community.
It made me reflect on the Gospel and the different encounters Jesus had with people. We see that he is never belittling, never condescending, never patronising. Many of his encounters are with people on the margins. But he never condescends. Always treats them with the fullest dignity and respect.
In the gospel, the people Jesus is angry with are the Pharisees and other religious leaders. His anger is less to do with the content of their message as it is with the way in which they treat people. They were always condescending and trying to protect their own privileged positions.
So, the first and basic step in all Mission is to treat people with total respect and encounter them in a spirit of mutuality. A position that says in effect: it is my privilege to be encountering you.
There are many missionaries in this church tonight – lay missionaries, sisters, brothers and priests.
I’m sure all of them will tell you what a privilege it is to be a missionary.
Many of those who’ve worked in Africa will tell you that they’ve received far more than they ever brought. That’s because they encountered people out of a spirit of respect and mutuality.
Mission begins and continues in an encounter of deep respect for the other.
Where this respect is absent, where there is rather a spirit of condescension and privilege, it is not the mission of Jesus Christ.
My second hook is an encounter at last weekend’s funeral of Fr Mattie McNeely SMA.
His remains were brought down from Mulranny, Co Mayo to be buried in Wilton. I met his grand-niece, a lady in her mid 20s I would think, London-born and bred. I expressed my joy that the family had come in such numbers. Her response: “Oh, Fr Mattie was so much loved. He always made us feel special and that we were important to him”.
Another kind of encounter.
Again, look at how Jesus encountered people. He always made them feel important, special and that they mattered to him.
I suppose it really is just another way of making the same point.
For it to be genuinely the mission of Jesus Christ our encounters with people must be respectful, based on mutuality, and people must know from the quality of the encounter that they are important.
We can see then of course that Mission is for everyone. Whether one is a professional missionary encountering different peoples and cultures to ones’ own or a member of the local church in one’s own environment, all can be missionary in the sense that I have just described.
The quality of our encounters with others is the true determinant of the quality of our mission response.
But it is not an automatic reflex action. We don’t always and automatically treat others with respect and mutuality and in non-condescending ways. This is something we always need to work at.
Reflecting on tonight’s gospel is not a bad place to begin. We must put on the mind of the little child. With such a mind we will see that we are equal in dignity to others but not superior.
With such a mind we are likely to encounter the other in a spirit of mutual respect.
Then, and only then, can we be true missionaries of Jesus Christ.