In every celebration that I attended, both at the opening and closing of the death centennial year of Sts. Arnold Janssen and Joseph Freinademetz, or any other program that was organized through the year, there was a tone of gratitude. Yes, that is the sentiment that was perhaps uppermost in the heart of every SVD, SSpSAP and SSpS. Gratitude to God, for the gift of the two Saints, and gratitude to the Saints, for whom they were and are to us.
“Precious is the life given for Mission” (Worthwhile is the life of the one who gives his all, AJ, 1904). The time and culture we live in are somehow characterized by a certain distaste for the religious missionary vocation. The decreasing number of young people attracted to this way of life and the increasing departures from religious congregations allude to this tendency.
Perhaps the theme challenges us to look at ourselves, as missionaries. How precious do we consider our missionary vocation? To what depth has this truth of being a disciple of Jesus, being á missionary in the Arnoldus family, has captivated us or been uppermost in our consciousness? It is vital that those who remain committed, are convinced of the preciousness of our vocation, in order to become who we are called to be, to give our best to God in the people we serve, and thus to live our lives to the best. For, in giving lies the meaning of life. One of our most precious needs is to contribute to and enrich life. They live well, who live for others.
Life is the best and the most fundamental gift we have from God, and it is the most precious. Nothing else matters without it. The life given for mission becomes even more precious, as the missionary sees every other life also as precious and valuable, graced with, dignity. The missionary and is urged to move in the direction of defending, protecting, promoting, and caring for life especially where it is threatened. The human person in a very special way is the sacrament of God’s presence. He is present in everything. God’s preferred presence is his presence in the human being. Meditating on the throne of God as the human heart will help us see what a tremendous value mission work is. Imagine that we could gaze into the hearts of all those in the state of grace. We would see their hearts suffused and enveloped with light and at the center the Triune God. What an astonishing sight! This truth permeated Arnold to the depths of his being; it was the focus of his life around which everything else revolved. Arnold never tired of leading others to this living faith, encouraging them to love this divine presence. And so, he would say, “For the cause of mission no sacrifice is too great.”
In a similar tone, Joseph Freinademetz, wrote to his family from Steyl in 1879: “Thank God… that the Lord has given us the grace of having a missionary in our family. In 1880, he wrote from China, “To be a missionary is an honor that I would not exchange with the golden crown of the emperor of Austria.” In 1884, he wrote: I cannot thank the Lord enough for having made me a missionary in China.” In 1887, “I do not consider being a missionary as a sacrifice that I offer to God, but as the greatest gift that God is giving me… When I think of the countless graces that I have received and continue to receive until now from God… I confess that I could cry. The most beautiful vocation in the world is being a missionary.” It is important to note that he claimed these not when things were smooth, easy and comfortable, but in the midst of the struggles that he had to face in the initial years in China.
I believe we continue as SVD, SSpS, SSpSAP, because we deem our religious missionary life as precious. If not, it is not worth wasting our energies, our years of life. God’s dream for each of us is to live life to the full. And these two saints who chose to move ahead on a ‘road less traveled’ – taking risks of every kind, never sparing themselves, offering their lives to something greater than themselves – have opened up before us the road of fuller life. Journey on such a road of missionary commitment as seen in their lives inevitably calls for self-dying, “because we are called to follow Jesus on the path of a small seed that has to die in order to grow and bear fruit.”
In reality, there is no separation between faith and love, as there is no faith without active love, and no true love without faith. Both the Saints have lived a life of deep faith and great love. Without denying them either of the virtues, what is intended here is only to highlight one of the characteristic marks of their lives.
It was Arnold’s Faith in the Triune God that led Arnold to be open and attentive to the world’s needs, which in turn, led him to found the three congregations with their particular missionary thrust. The inner strength that enabled him to persevere in the face of tremendous difficulties and opposition was his deep rootedness in God, and his radical surrender to God’s will. In the initial years, he had plenty of external privations and limitations to bear. These did not become a big burden to him and he put up with them bravely. What was harder was to bear the contempt of so many educated and influential personalities who viewed his work skeptically and judged it negatively and, therefore, did not offer him the necessary support. He was looked on as a man of eccentric ideas. Throughout his life he had also to struggle with his own personal limitations. Engaging in real issues often exposed his personal vulnerabilities. Yet, as a man of unshakable trust in the God who led him by hand, as it were, he went ahead with his convictions amid controversies and oppositions. Arnold’s capital was his unshakable trust in God and the conviction that God had called him to the work of mission.
Freinademetz’s natural gifts of ‘attractive kindness, of pleasantness, of a friendly and charming personality formed the backdrop that made of him a missionary of love. The deepest driving force of his life was love. “Most of the time, his eyes shone with such attractive goodness, with such serenity that the Chinese easily trusted him and felt at home with him,” Bishop Henninghaus recounted. Joseph said, “The pagans will only be converted by the grace of God and, let us add, by our love, for the language of love is the only foreign language which the pagans understand.” Freinademetz had evidently learned to speak this ‘foreign language’ very well. “The apostolate is love, a work of love: the more a missionary is imbued with love’, the more he is missionary. Mission must be a matter of the heart” he said another time. He had understood the message of for his Master, Jesus, that the essence of Christian and missionary life is love, and what is loved lives. This conviction was his source of strength through many an experience of being tested and tried, of being rejected and insulted. In his loving, he didn’t spare himself at all. As someone said, he ‘burnt the candle at both ends.’ It was simply natural that at Joseph’s death, one who knew him expressed his feelings with the words: “I feel as if I had lost my father and my mother.”
The two men shine before us as saints, primarily because of the transformation they underwent through the grace of struggle and surrender to God, because of the many vulnerable moments they passed through, which turned out to be graced ones. Surrender in struggle gifts us with change and growth, gives life depth and vision, insight and understanding, compassion, and character. It not only transforms us, it makes us transforming we become able and worthy to walk with others, becoming more human. Struggle is the process that drives us to find God within us and in the darkness that surrounds us. “How happy are people who have surrendered completely to God! While others crawl like snails through many troubles and anxieties those who have surrendered completely to God run like the deer That is no wonder because it is not they that run, but God draws them… “(AJ).
Let one of the ‘learnings’ from the saints’ lives be: welcoming into our hearts the hidden wisdom and the transforming power of struggle and pain, which we, so very often tend to avoid or try to escape. Our lives would then be very different. Setting ourselves on their path, would certainly be a better expression of our gratitude and tribute to our Saints than the wordy homilies, speeches and prayers we make in their honor. May we have the grace to live their life changing words. May their dream live on in our time and into the future!
[VANI – Newsletter of India South Province; Vol. 19 – No.1 January 2009]
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