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With Lamps in our Hands and Oil in our Lamps (The baptism of St. Arnold)

Author: Antonio Pernia, SVD
Subject: Baptism of Arnold Janssen
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: Arnoldus Nota, Jan/Feb
Year: 2012
St. Arnold Janssen Church

The following is Fr. General’s homily at the annual celebration of the anniversary of the Day of Baptism (“Tauftag”) of St. Arnold Janssen at the St. Magdalena Parish Church in Goch (Germany) which is the church of his baptism, November 6, 2011. Readings of the 32nd Sunday of the year: Wis 6:12-16 / 1 Thess 4:13-18 / Mt 25:1-13.

If Assisi in Italy has a Francis, and Padua, also in Italy, has an Anthony, then Goch in Germany has an Arnold. Today, we gather to celebrate the anniversary of the baptism (“tauftag”) of St. Arnold of Goch. Precisely on this anniversary of his baptism, it is fitting to refer to St. Arnold Janssen as St. Arnold of Goch.

Because, as we know, when someone is baptized, he or she is baptized into the Church through the Christian community to which he or she belongs. When one is baptized, he or she is baptized in the faith of the Christian community of which he or she becomes a member. In the rite of baptism, after the recitation of the creed, the officiating minister says: “This is OUR faith, and in THIS faith, I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Then the minister instructs the parents, the sponsors and the entire community to ensure that the child is brought up in the faith in which he or she is baptized.

Sacrarium, St. Arnold Janssen Church
Sacrarium, St. Arnold Janssen Church

When we gather, therefore, to celebrate the anniversary of the baptism of St. Arnold, we also celebrate the faith of the Christian community of Goch. For it was in this faith that Arnold was baptized. It was this faith that formed him in his childhood and his youth. It was this faith that shaped his priestly vocation. It was this faith that instilled in him his love for the missions. It was this faith that led him later on to found three religious-missionary congregations. It was this faith that impelled him to send out missionaries to Asia, Africa, Oceania, Latin America.

The faith in which we are baptized is a missionary faith. It is an experience of the good news of the unconditional love of God for all peoples – that is, of all times and places, of all generations and cultures. It is an experience which we cannot keep to ourselves, one which we need to share with others. Otherwise, it is not an experience of good news, otherwise it is not an experience of God’s unconditional love. Thus, the Church into which we are initiated in baptism is a missionary Church. In the words of Vatican II, the Church is “missionary by its very nature”.

And so, the faith which we receive as a gift at baptism contains the seed of the missionary vocation. All the baptized have a missionary calling. All Christians are called to be missionaries. Different members of the Church live out this missionary vocation in different ways. For one, it may entail going out to far-away lands to share the good news of Jesus with other peoples. For another, it may mean staying at home and supporting the mission of the Church with prayer, sacrifices and material offerings. For Arnold Janssen, it took a particular route – first, arousing missionary interest among the Catholics in Germany through the apostleship of prayer, then founding three religious-missionary congregations, and finally actually sending out missionaries all over the world.

In a certain sense, Arnold Janssen’s life and work was a unique and eloquent way of living out the missionary vocation. That is why he is now St. Arnold – officially declared by the Church as a model and inspiration for all Christians. We do not have to imitate exactly the way he lived out the missionary vocation. But he is a reminder to all of us that at baptism we all receive a calling to be missionaries. That to be a Christian is to be a missionary. To believe is to share our faith with others. To be a recipient of the good news is to proclaim to others the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the context of the gospel reading today, the Christian faith which is not missionary is like bringing lamps without oil. This will not bring us to encounter the bridegroom and enter the wedding feast. The Christian faith which is truly missionary is like bringing lamps as well as oil. Only this will allow us to encounter the Lord when he comes. Only this will allow us to enter God’s Kingdom and join the heavenly banquet.

Arnold Janssen
Arnold Janssen

Arnold Janssen’s life and work show us that what was implanted at baptism was brought to fruition. And this is his message for us today – not that we imitate his life and work, but that we follow the trajectory of his life. That is, to live our lives in such a way that the seed of missionary vocation implanted at baptism may be brought to fulfillment also in our case – each one according to his condition in life, each one according to his calling in life. Arnold Janssen reminds us that we are to go and meet the Lord with lamps in our hands and oil in our lamps.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, it is with great emotion that I join you in this beautiful celebration today. I know fully well that if I stand before you today, it is because of Arnold Janssen. Not only because eleven years ago, I happened to have been chosen to be his successor as superior general of the religious-missionary congregation which he founded. This, in itself, is already a cause of great emotion. But over and above that, I believe I can say that my own faith and vocation are the fruit of the faith and missionary vocation of Arnold Janssen. I come from a small island in the Philippines where SVD missionaries and SSpS Sisters have a school each. I attended the school of the sisters but also came under the influence of the SVD missionaries, who were naturally the chaplains at the sisters’ school. It was therefore with the missionaries of Arnold Janssen that I had my formation in the faith, and it was with them that my religious-missionary vocation developed.

Indeed, I can even say that I am the fruit of your faith. For if Arnold Janssen’s faith and missionary vocation had its origin in the faith of the Christian community in Goch, then my own faith and vocation ultimately originate from this Christian community. I have come therefore to thank you for this gift – this gift of faith and this gift of a missionary vocation which, through Arnold Janssen, I have received from you. Thank you very much indeed. And my St. Arnold of Goch inspire us all to be faithful to our faith and missionary vocation.

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