I recently read some non-fiction books about the American Revolution and the early 1800s. What I was most surprised by was the difficulty, but regularity of ocean travel. Last year my wife and I traveled to Boston and toured the USS Constitution, a retired tall ship that I actually read about this past week. While the ship was so large, the living quarters were very small. I couldn’t imagine signing on to traverse the Atlantic or even further.
Yet, for many centuries this is what it meant to be a foreign missionary for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Why would anyone get on a boat (maybe not as sturdy and glorious as the USS Constitution) and travel across the globe to tell people about Jesus?
Easy–Jesus told us to.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus gives us, the Church, the Great Commission. Jesus tells us first and emphatically to “Go.” It is the mission of the Church to go out into the world and tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to leave the confines of the safe harbor and strike out into open water. When we get there we are to make disciples of all nations, teach them to obey Jesus, and remember Jesus promises to be with us always.
The Mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am writing this from the comfort of my finished basement. I have a space heater taking the chill out of the air and enough tea and afternoon snacks to keep me going. I am here because of our stay at home order, and the best way to keep each other safe is to stay home or stay safe. How can I be a missionary for Jesus Christ if my ship can’t leave the harbor?
When it comes to missionary activity we have two Patron Saints that the Church looks toward for intercession and inspiration. First, St. Francis Xavier sailed from Europe in 1540, and after sailing around Africa, founded missions in India, Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, and then died at age 46 off the coast of China where he was headed for missionary work. A brave and holy man, who has the resume for the job of Patron of Missions.
The Patroness of Mission is Saint Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese lived in a Carmelite Cloister and never left France on Mission. She died at age 24, never having set sail for the far reaches of the world. Yet, she is the unexpected Patroness of Mission and Missionaries. How did she accomplish the Mission of the Church while never leaving her home? St. Therese did three things that I think we can emulate and by doing so, accomplish the mission before us:
- Prayer. I am not an expert in St. Therese’s prayer life, but one thing I do know is her absolute dependence on God. When we pray during this time, we must pray as a people who are absolutely in need of God. We can do that.
- Love. St. Therese was humble and lived humbly in the cloister, but she did so with great love. While she didn’t travel the world on mission to speak the good news of Jesus Christ, she loved well those around her. She did the things of her day, dishes, prayers, chores, laundry, with great heart. She did these simple sacrifices with love and offered her work up to Jesus Christ. We can do that.
- Write/Record. St. Therese wrote “The Story of a Soul”, an autobiography which has converted (along with God’s grace) many hearts. She recorded her desire for God and for others to know God. We can write to our family and our friends. We can record what God is doing for and in us right now with a pen or keyboard or camera. We can do that.
Live It: If we want to emulate the great Patroness of Mission, St. Therese of Lisieux, then we must start with our prayer. St. Therese wrote many prayers, and this one for the start of the day is particularly beautiful in its simplicity (I think).
O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.
O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. Amen.