Different faces of mission lived by the October Saints
During the five-day online symposium on mission held by SEDOS (Service of Documentation and Study on Global Mission) from 11 to 15 of October, practically all aspects of mission were touched upon. ‘Mission’ is a term that can include and embrace almost anything under the sun. Even when we say new trends or emerging issues, innovative practices, at a deeper analysis we notice it is not all that new, not all that fresh that is emerging.
We are in October which is Mission Month and this penultimate Sunday is Mission Sunday. October is also a month in which we celebrate some very popular saints and each of them presents to us a particular focus on mission, and together they paint a complete picture. The month of October presents before us a banquet of missionary models, placing before us, as they do, different faces of mission, of being missionary and doing mission work. Let us look at some of them:
St. Theresa of Lisieux (1 October), who is considered the ‘patroness of mission’ who never took a single step outside the four walls of the Carmel, became a model missionary through her ‘little way’. Her life tells us that successful mission is not only the great and final end product but also every little step we take along the way.
St. Francis of Assisi (4 October), had a very different approach to mission. By personal testimony and by the radical living of discipleship he became an exemplary missionary. In him we see that mission is testimony and prophecy. To him is attributed this saying: Preach, preach always; if necessary, use words.
St. Faustina (5th October), today so many are talking about mission as compassion. St. Faustina considered it her mission to spread the mercy of God.
In St. Pope John XXIII (11 October) In this saint we see mission as leadership and vision, pursued with faith, courage and humility. He reminded the church that mission is not a stable and once- and- for all reality; it stands in need of renewal, evaluation and introspection as Church and as congregations.
We have in St. John Paul II (22 October) quite a different missionary model. He travelled extensively, met peoples of all cultures and countries and was very popular and visible in his missionary outreach. Mission is the free, fearless and visible witness to God’s love and compassion.
Sts. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila (14, 15th October): They portray the contemplative aspect of mission, the place of prayer and sacrifice in carrying out mission effectively.
I think it is highly significant that our Founder Fr. Arnold, and Joseph Freinademetz were canonized in October- in the month dedicated to Church’s mission. These two saints stand at different poles as missionaries:
Fr. Arnold’s understanding and approach to mission included planning, studying, sending, keeping correspondence, showing interest in other peoples and cultures through the press media, promoting home and foreign mission by establishing religious/missionary institutes. He too did not take a single physical step in the direction of foreign missions. His was a mind that was open and expanding in missionary awareness. We can be missionaries even from our office desks.
In sharp contrast, in St. Joseph Freinademetz and in St. Daniel Comboni who were canonized together with our Founder, we see a different way of being missionaries. Theirs was a life spent for the people of China and for the people of Sudan respectively; a life spent in the midst of people sharing in their dreams and needs. They represent the concrete and specific character of mission.
In short, this short journey through October affirms the fact that we do not stop being missionaries even for a moment. Mission encompasses everything. There is a wide range of understanding, and still wider ways of participating in God’s mission. Depending on time and circumstances, the focus may change but the invariable in mission is Misio Dei – mission of God. It is important to understand its depth and meaning. All mission is God’s mission. You and I participate in the mission of God. When we look at mission as a participation in the mission of God, it helps us to get rid of ego-centred initiatives. Therefore, no act is too trivial for God. As Jesus himself said: if anyone gives you a glass of cold water, because… As a pastor in the ecumenical circle once said: mission is seeing what God is doing and doing it with God. That is why we are always in mission.
Mission is the large umbrella under which all our activities, experiences, encounters and sufferings acquire an evangelizing value. When we understand this, we will not institutionalize mission in coordinators and animators.
The theme of this year’s World Mission Day 2021, “we cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20), shows that mission springs from a convincingly clear experience of God and from an equally strong desire to communicate the same to others.
Mission increasingly becoming one of compassion, healing of hurts and wounds, offering hope to those in grief and hopelessness. One of the most significant calls of mission today is to be inclusive, opening doors, mental and ideological, accepting and respecting differences in views, looks and values. Finally, if we are looking for ‘new’ and ‘creative’ and ‘future- oriented mission’, we cannot afford to do that without considering the youth.
Sr. Mary John Kudiyiruppil, SSpS is from India South Province and has been on the Congregational Leadership Team since 2014. She worked as Congregational Mission Secretary from 2003 to 2010 in Rome and thereafter did her Doctorate in Missiology in Pune, India.