31st May, the visitation of Mary – Opening Mass of the SMA Plenary Council.
In the actual language of Missiology we find the expression “God’s mission” – “Missio Dei”. The first missionary is God himself, and we only participate in his mission. This is what Etty Hillesum had already expressed in very simple language in 1942 while she was in transit to the concentration camp and when she could not find solace in her faith during a time of violence, war and anti Semitism. Thus, she discovered a fragile God, a powerless God without the help of those he called. She wrote: “I will help you my God… It is not you who can help us, but we who can help you and in so doing, help ourselves. This is all that it is possible to save now, and it is also the only thing that counts: a little of yourself in us, my God… It seems to me more clearly from each pulse of my heart that you can’t help us, but we can help you and defend to the end the home you have in us”
To help God to live on earth, with his life, his light, his love, is what the Virgin Mary did when she accepted the proposal, made by God himself, to become the Mother of his Son. This is what she is doing according to the Gospel of today when she goes to her cousin Elizabeth. Her coming is as a bearer of God and the elderly Elizabeth recognizes the presence of God in Mary: “How does this happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” Being a missionary involves, firstly, a recognition of the presence of God in us, taking care of this presence, accepting his proposal to participate in his mission, carrying this God who lives in us and makes us live, discovering the same presence of God among the people whom we are sent to. Saint Paul, in the first reading, gives us some indication how to carry this God who lives in us. It is a passage from the letter to the Romans. One of the goals of this letter was to help create a climate of unity, faith and harmony between the two main groups of believers who formed the first Christian community of Rome; the Christians of Jewish origin and the Christians of non-Jewish origin. This was not easy to do since the background of these two groups of Christians was steeped in ancestral traditions with various images of God and with very different cultures. To create this unity, Paul dreams of a harmonious community carrying God’s presence and he gives some practical advice: “Brothers, let love be sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good… Love one another with mutual affection, anticipate one another in showing honor…… let the Spirit be active, be the servants of the Lord… Let yourselves be attracted by what is simple” I am sure that Paul’s exhortation is what drives us at the beginning of this Plenary Council. Let us be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us take as our model Mary the Mother of Jesus whose Feast we celebrate today in her Visitation and who is, since the day of our Foundation on December 8, 1856, the Patron Saint of our Missionary Society.