Next weekend our parish will welcome a Sister of Charity who will speak on behalf of the Mission Cooperative Program. Throughout the country, dioceses invite speakers to come to parishes to ask support for missionary work and to share with us how the church is serving peoples in other cultures. Such magazines as Maryknoll and those published by the Columban Fathers and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, do this through pictures and the written word. They chronicle the changes in the mission fields over the one hundred years of the American Church’s missionary service. They also document the ongoing privilege of announcing the gospel through word, works of charity and sharing our abundance.
This week a dozen or so high school students came from Boston to work at building “community” in Baltimore. Next week they go to Washington for “solidarity.” Shepherded by some of their mothers and struggling to be understood despite their Boston accents, they nevertheless blended in easily with the “Kids For Jesus” program for our neighborhood children. They rounded off the first morning in church, cleaning chairs and washing down the sanctuary and the places that collect dust. Their entrance into our large and beautiful church www.SJMP.org reminded me of a scene from the movie The English Patient where a nurse is hoisted high up into the dome of a darkened church. As she swings high above the altar, lights flash on, revealing beautiful mosaics. These brief revelations of the beautiful and the sacred contrast with the horrors of war affecting the little band of pilgrims. Our young missionaries also ooohed and aahed. Two of them announced their plans to marry here, saying it would not be a problem since their dads had already said they would pay for their weddings. (Dads check web page above.)
Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus sends the Twelve out as missionaries with staff and sandals. This sounds like a detail from Israel’s hasty flight from Egypt with sandals on foot and staff in hand. However, the Exodus was not a missionary trip but a honeymoon. Missionary work was not part of Judaism. Mark’s missionaries go to confront evil and bring healing. They will come back excited to share their experience. Later they will understand that this journey is an anticipation of Jesus’ own Passover, when he defeats evil and heals the wound of sin. It also anticipates the time when they themselves will set out as missionaries to preach the Good News even to the ends of the earth.
Countries cease being mission countries when they become self-sufficient. In the spiritual life are we ever self-sufficient? Probably not. We will always need missionaries to come among us. The prophet Amos who preaches in Bethel, the temple of the Southern Kingdom of Israel, is a missionary to his own people. He calls them to confront evil and to be healed. Like the shepherd Amos, like the high school students from Boston, like St. Thérèse the Little Flower, a young contemplative nun who became patron of the Missions, each of us shares in the missionary vocation. The staff is a symbol of protection and authority: our staff is the Cross. Sandals signify our urgency. We are in a hurry, on a mission; we have good news. Today let us think about the missionary aspect of our spirituality.
- Fr. Bill Murphy, C.P.