Circular Letter: May 2000
The Omnipotence of God & our Mission
I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)
I. The Omnipotence of GOD
We profess in the Creed, “I believe in God the Father the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth…” We believe that God is truly “all-powerful” or omnipotent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the noteworthy observation that: “of all the divine attributes only God’s omnipotence is named in the Creed” (CCC 268). The profession of our faith does not mention God the Father as the all-holy nor as all-wise nor as all just, but rather as all-mighty. Although these others are undoubtedly attributes of God, the omnipotence is the one that can be said to be that is most fittingly designated as the object of our faith. The infinity of God’s perfections is no where more manifest than in his omnipotence. We place our faith in God particularly because he is Almighty. In this regard the Roman Catechism wrote:
Nothing is more apt to confirm our faith and hope than holding it fixed in our minds that nothing is impossible with God. Once our reason has grasped the idea of God’s almighty power, it will easily and without any hesitation admit everything that [the Creed] will afterwards propose for us to believe — even if they be great and marvelous things, far above the ordinary laws of nature.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches that the omnipotence of God is threefold: it is universal in its scope, it is loving and it is mysterious. These are the qualities by which we know God to be, on one hand, truly faith-worthy and yet on the other, as only accessible through faith. We will consider each of these qualities separately.
Universality of the Power of God
The creation was not only brought into existence out of nothing by God’s unique creative power, but it also continues to be held in existence by God’s on-going act of conservation. He established all things that are and he continues to dispose all things according to his will. “It is I who by my great power and my out-stretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth and I give it to whomever it seems right to me” (Jer 27:5). As the author of all creatures he determines the nature of all things and governs them according to his will. All things remain wholly subject to him, they are at his disposal (cf. CCC 269). This is what is meant when it is said that God’s power is universal.
In particular, the universality of God’s power means that God can do all things that are possible in themselves. It is the case that in our words we can combine things that are self-contradictory, such as a “square circle,” or a “virtuous sin.” But such things cannot exist in themselves for they are absurd. The fact that God cannot make such things does not limit in any way God’s power for it is not a defect to be unable to actualize things that are absurd. But God can do all things that are possible.
Miracles are not contradictions. Although they go beyond the order of created nature, they are not absurd. For example, the Most Blessed Sacrament is a continuous miracle, for the accidental qualities of bread and wine continue to be miraculously maintained without their natural substrate. It would be contradictory to say that the Eucharist is at one and the same time substantially bread and substantially the Body of Christ. But it is not contradictory to say that the Eucharist is substantially the Body of Christ, but with all the accidental qualities of bread. Although it goes beyond the course of nature and is outside our experience, it does not contradict the course of nature. The power of God can work all manner of miracles which go beyond our experience and even extend beyond the whole order of created nature.
Mercy of the Power of God
This brings us to the next quality of the omnipotence of God: mercifulness. In human affairs it is said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But in divine affairs nothing could be farther from the truth. The all-powerful God is our Father, who loves and provides for his creatures. This is beautifully expressed in the Book of Wisdom:
But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things and thou dost overlook men’s sins that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it. How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it? Or how would anything not be called forth by thee have been preserved? Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living (Wis 11:23-26).
God’s act of creation is a clear display of his unique power for he alone can make something out of nothing. But the Catechism says that God displays the height of his power by freely forgiving sins (CCC 270). This is the case given the nature of sin and evil. Evil is not so much a thing as the absence of a thing. It is the lack of a due good. The will of God is the source of all being and order. When we turn from God’s will we are, in a sense, turning to non-being and chaos. The forgiveness of sin is an act of divine power related to the act of creation, for in forgiving sin God brings us back from non-being to being and chaos to order.
God’s omnipotence is not arbitrary, or in any way fickle. His love is faithful as is often repeated in the Old Testament, “his love endures forever.” The prophet Jeremiah revealed this tender and faithful love of God in the words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3). This is the second quality of God’s omnipotence, which truly establishes the foundation for our faith and fidelity towards God.
Mysteriousness of the Power of God
The third and most difficult quality of God’s omnipotence is its mysteriousness. While the first two qualities of God’s omnipotence establish the foundation for our faith, this third quality is the greatest trial of our faith. Our faith is put to the ultimate test in the face of suffering and evil. In the experience of these things it may very well seem that God is absent or incapable of stopping evil. Mysteriously God seems to be powerless. The clearest examples of this are found in the crucifixion and death of Jesus and in the “powerlessness” of Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist in cases of desecration or irreverence towards this Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Christ handed himself over to emptiness and powerlessness, first in the Eucharist, then in the Passion. But then this same mystery is repeated in his Mystical Body throughout the centuries. The faith of all the members of his Church at one time or other is tested in the light of the “folly of the Cross.”
This is what St. Paul speaks of in his letter to the Corinthians, “…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly for Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:23-25).
It is God’s way to manifest his power by means of choosing the weak, the small and the lowly. When in the Old Testament the Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites, God was careful to choose Gideon, who said of himself, “Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family” (Judg 6:15). And when Gideon managed to gather together an army of thirty-two thousand men, God said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands” (Judg 7:2). It was only when the army was sized down to three hundred men did God allow them to go up against the Midianite army which was as numerous as the sand on the seashore (cf. Judg 7:7). And with only three hundred men he conquered their vast army. This is the pattern set in the mystery of his power.
God wishes to manifest his power in our weakness. St. Paul speaks of this in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:
But to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn, was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ my rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).
As the Catechism points out, “only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power” (CCC 273). The finality of trials is our perfection, as St. James writes: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).
The Catechism refers to God as the “master of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with his will” (CCC 269). This is not to deny the fact that men have been endowed with free will. Nevertheless, despite the free will of man and even the abuse of free-will, God has a plan for all things and is ultimately in control of all things.
Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysterious, knows how to derive good from it:
For almighty God…, because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself (CCC 311).
The Catechism reminds us of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Their intention was to kill him or at least to get rid of him forever. But in the end it happened that he became the master of the household of the Pharaoh of Egypt and was responsible for the survival of the country and his own family. And so, Joseph said to his brother afterwards: “it was not you who sent me here, but God… You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 45:8; 50:20). We are also reminded that the greatest evil ever committed by men — the rejection and the murder of the Son of God — brought about the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption (CCC 312). Where sin abounds, God can make grace abound all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).
In the end the Catechism says: “We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God “face to face,” will we fully know the ways by which — even through the dramas of evil and sin — God has guided his creation to that definitive Sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth” (CCC 314).
This third dimension of God’s omnipotence, its mysterious character, is the source of strength of faith through the fire of trial. It calls us to respond to the things that are beyond our comprehension in childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of our needs (CCC 305).
Part I: The Fundamentals of Mission
Mission has always been one of the fundamental orientations in the Work of the Holy Angels. The angels, as indicated by their very name, are missionaries. They are messengers sent from God to bring the Good News. It was the angels of Bethlehem who were the first to announce the birth of the Savior. It was the angel at the tomb of Christ who was the first to announce his resurrection. There is no coincidence in the fact that the word: evangelize has angel in the middle of it. The angels are the prototypical evangelizers. In our work with the holy angels and our cooperation with them we are called in a special way to be missionaries with them.
Although the angels have, as mentioned above, proclaimed the Gospel on their own, that is not the way that God has ordained the Gospel ordinarily to be proclaimed. Men are called to preach the Gospel, helped by the holy angels. This is evident in the Acts of the Apostles on a number of occasions. For example, when the apostles were arrested and thrown into prison, an angel came in the night, opened the prison doors and brought them out and said to them: “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20). Rather than leaving them in prison and proclaiming the Gospel himself, the angel assisted the apostles so that they could fulfill that role. Further, when the Ethiopian eunuch was ready to receive the Gospel, an angel brought the deacon Philip to instruct him and baptize him (Acts 8). Similarly, when it was time to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, the angel arranged the meeting between St. Peter and the centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). Over and over again the angels were assisting in the missionary work of the apostles.
The angels continue to have the same desire to find men and women who are willing to work with them to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They wait for us to be docile and zealous co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Unfortunately they often wait in vain for us to care enough about the spreading of the Gospel to be their instruments in that great work. The Holy Church has in recent times attempted to reawaken in all the faithful a sense of their obligation to participate in the missionary work of the Church. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio (On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate):
The Church and every individual Christian within her, may not keep hidden or monopolize this newness and richness which has been received from God’s bounty in order to be communicated to all mankind.
This is why the Church’s mission derives not only from the Lord’s mandate but also from the profound demands of God’s life within us. Those who are incorporated in the Catholic Church ought to sense their privilege and for that very reason their greater obligation of bearing witness to the faith and to the Christian life as a service to their brothers and sisters and as a fitting response to God. They should be mindful that “they owe their distinguished status not to their own merits but to Christ’s special grace; and if they fail to respond to this grace in thought, word and deed, not only will they not be saved, they will be judged more severely” (RM 11).
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)
These words of St. Paul express the obligation that was laid upon him to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ to all men. The Church teaches that a similar obligation is laid upon all Christians by virtue of their baptism. Pope John Paul II wrote, “The missionary thrust belongs to the very nature of the Christian life” (RM 1).
The need for all the faithful to share in this responsibility is not merely a matter of making the apostolate more effective; it is the right and the duty based on their baptismal dignity, whereby “the faithful participate, for their part, in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King.” Therefore “they are bound by the general obligation and they have the right, whether as individuals or in associations, to strive so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all people throughout the world. This obligation is all the more insistent in circumstances in which only through them are people able to hear the Gospel and to know Christ” (RM 71).
“We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20)
The ultimate goal of missionary activity is not merely to transmit doctrines, rituals or moral codes. Mission is essentially for the sake of revealing the Person of Jesus Christ who alone “can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him” (CCC 425). Just as the angels were sent throughout the Old Testament to prepare for the coming of Christ and throughout the New Testament to proclaim Christ, so also our work with the angels is always focused on Jesus Christ.
Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: “When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him” (Mt 25:31). They belong to him because they were created through him and for him: “for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14) (CCC 331).
“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21)
The mission of Jesus Christ the Son of God can be seen in two phases: missio ad intra and missio ad extra. His mission is first directed inwardly, to the people of Israel. When a foreign woman came to ask of Jesus a favor for her daughter, he first answered: “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mk 7:27). And when he first sent his apostles he made clear to them: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). The prior and fundamental mission was to the Chosen People of God, for they were chosen precisely to bring the message of the Good News to all people. “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is 49:6). Building upon the first phase, Christ, after his resurrection, gave his apostles the mission to go forth and be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the world” (Acts 1:8).
Christ sends his disciples into the world just as he was sent into the world, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). For this reason it is important to note that the missio ad intra is prior to the missio ad extra. This is another way of stating the maxim: charity begins at home. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). “If anyone does not provide for his own relatives and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). There is no true outward mission which is not in some way founded upon the inward mission of putting our own household in order and bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who are our own.
Destroying the Kingdom of Darkness
There are two other phases in the mission of Christ. The first is to destroy the kingdom of the devil; the second is to establish the Kingdom of God. With regard to the first moment, St. John wrote in his letter, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8). Christ first gave to his disciples the power over the devil in order to begin his work (Mt 10:1,8). As Pope John Paul II wrote, “The acts of liberation from demonic possession — the supreme evil and symbol of sin and rebellion against God — are signs that indeed ‘the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Mt 12:28)“ (RM 14).
When the truths of the faith are being brought to someone, in addition to speaking the truth, there is usually need to remove obstacles. Such barriers can require the power of God to overcome as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-6). The Book of Revelation reveals that the angels are the key warriors in the battle against the kingdom of darkness. They constitute the armies of heaven who follow the Word of God into battle (cf. Rev 19:14).
In this initial phase the assistance of the holy angels is especially required. Aware of the possible influence of the powers of darkness, it is helpful to call upon St. Michael and his heavenly host when trying to bring the faith to others. It is so easy for things to be misunderstood, or twisted in the mind of those who are still under the influence of the evil one. The angels can bring the light and clarity of mind that is needed.
Establishing the Kingdom of God
The second phase is the establishment of the kingdom of God. This kingdom, as Jesus told Pilate, is not of this world, nor is it from this world (cf. Jn 18:36). “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God. If the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed. The result is a distortion of the meaning of the kingdom, which he revealed” (RM 18).
St. Thomas taught the role of the angels in the transmission of the faith: “It is necessary for the faith that those things which are to be believed be proposed to the believer. And this indeed comes about through men, according to what is said “faith comes from what is heard” (Rom 10:17), but principally through the angels through whom divine things are revealed to men. Whence the angels work somewhat for the illumination of faith.” When we are involved in the work of communicating the truths of the faith to others it is important to invoke the assistance of the holy angels. The angels can help in preparing the heart and mind of the other person and they can help us know the most effective words to speak. St. Francis de Sales, prior to preaching, would address the angels of those who were present. In similar fashion it is important to invoke the angels of those people to whom we wish to announce the truths of the faith whether it be in the setting of a catechism class, or more informal encounters at work or in the home.
Part II : Spirituality of Mission
The fundamental source of all Christian missionary effort is the power of God. As we have seen in the first part of this work, the power of God is threefold. It is universal, it is merciful and it is mysterious. Similarly, when apostles are sent forth to proclaim Christ in the power of God they are sent in strength according to these three dimensions of God’s omnipotence.
“Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth”(Ps 124:8)
The first dimension of the power of God was evident in the proclamation of the Gospel by the apostles and throughout the history of the Church. God accompanied the proclamation of the Gospel with many signs of his confirmation. So many were the miracles which occurred that the people would place the sick and those afflicted by unclean spirits along the path of St. Peter with the hope that at least his shadow would fall on them. St. Luke records that “…they were all healed” (Acts 5:14-16).
While we do not expect to have such an abundance of miracles accompanying our own participation in mission, nevertheless, these miracles and other similar miracles which accompanied the lives of the saints are indicative of the power of God which is present in every mission. If we are doing his work, he will provide the necessary resources to fulfill that work according to his holy will. For our part, we must place our unwavering confidence in his omnipotence, realizing in ourselves what St. Paul expressed, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
But another great manifestation of the power of God in the initial mission of the apostles and those who followed in their footsteps was in their courage. The apostles received the gift of fortitude on Pentecost which enabled them to rejoice “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Far from being advantageous for their temporal welfare, the apostles proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ even when it involved imprisonment, beatings, scourgings, exile and martyrdom. “With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection” (Acts 4:33).
Down through the ages, despite the continuous, at times virulent, persecutions which have been waged against the Church, especially in our present time, the light of Christ risen from the dead continues to shine with great brilliance in the world. It was Tertullian who coined the now famous phrase, “Semen est sanguis Christianorum” (The blood [of martyrs] is the seed of Christians). He leads up to this phrase by saying, “Crucify us, torture us, condemn us, destroy us! … Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, accomplish anything: rather, it is an enticement to our religion. The more we are hewn down by you the more numerous do we become. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians!”
For our own profession of the faith, we too depend entirely upon the strength of God to give us courage. This extends from the courage to make the sign of the Cross in public, to the willingness to lose your job for the sake of living by the standards of our Christian faith, even to the readiness to suffer imprisonment and death for our faith in Christ. St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the missions, writing to Maurice Belliere, the missionary whom she “adopted” wrote:
I know that you aspire to the joy of laying down your life for the divine Master, but martyrdom of the heart is no less fruitful than that of bloodshed and from now on this martyrdom is ours; so I have good reason to say that your lot is a beautiful one and that it is worthy of an apostle of Christ.
We pray that we may be faithful in little things, especially in the “martyrdom of the heart” so that we may be entrusted with greater things as well.
Trust in God’s Goodness
The second dimension of omnipotence embraces the mercy of God. A full grasp of this quality of God’s power establishes a person firm in his mission. Trust in the merciful power and the all-powerful mercy of God gives strength in the fulfillment of a mission. In speaking of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve the Catechism insightfully teaches: “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397). “[Adam and Eve] become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image — that of a God jealous of his prerogatives” (CCC 399). We often think of sin in terms of disobedience, but here the Catechism indicates other elements that take part in sin: fear and distrust in God’s goodness. The devil wants nothing more than to form a “distorted image” of God in our minds; to make God appear to be cruel, sinister or unconcerned about our well-being. What can devastate our motivation and undermine our strength more than the false notion that God is plotting against our better interests?
The center of the mission to preach Christ is to make known the fact that “…God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace we were saved” (Eph 2:4-5). God’s love for us is a faithful love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3). Though we are unfaithful, he remains faithful. Our response to his fidelity is fidelity and trust.
The deeper our faith and love, the more we are compelled by the desire to bring the saving truth of Christ to others. Our Holy Father wrote, “Mission is an issue of faith, an accurate indicator of our faith in Christ and his love for us” (RM 9). This is beautifully expressed in a famous letter of St. Francis Xavier, SJ sent to St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”
I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
The thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like — even to India!
Our grasp of this second element of God’s omnipotence is the fruit of prayer and seriously pursuing union with God. For this reason our Holy Father wrote, “Unless the missionary is a contemplative he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way” (RM 91).
Laboring in the Shadow of the Cross
The third dimension of missionary activity is that which follows upon the mysterious nature of God’s omnipotence — conquering through what seems to be powerlessness. The apostles were familiar with this aspect of the mission. Christ warned them, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Mt 24:9).
According to certain traditions the apostle St. James the Elder was the first to bring the faith to the Iberian Peninsula. He journeyed through Spain and Portugal, establishing the Sees of Braga in Portugal and Toledo in Spain. But despite his many efforts he hardly had any converts at all. For all practical purposes, it seemed his mission trip was a complete failure. He returned to Jerusalem, King Herod imprisoned him and had him killed in the year 68. He was the first apostle to be martyred. But in the mysterious power of God, his trip was a great triumph. Our Lady appeared to St. James while he was still in Spain. With Our Lady were two angels carrying a pillar representing the pillar of the faith and told him that Iberia [Spain and Portugal] would become a pillar of the faith for the whole Church. In fact, nearly half of the Catholic Church descends from the missionary efforts of Spain and Portugal in the America, in Africa, India and Asia. At the place of the apparition the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Saragossa Spain was build, where a miraculous pillar is venerated which still exudes the odor of sanctity. Through the offering of his life in Jerusalem no doubt St. James was, in the folly of the Cross, responsible for the mass conversions that were to follow. His relics were transported to northern Spain. His burial place, hidden for centuries, was made known through the miraculous apparition of a star over the place by the angels. On that spot was built a shrine which was to become the largest pilgrimage center in Europe during the middle ages. It is called Santiago Compostela which means: St. James of the Star in the Field.
Similar is the story of St. Peter Chanel. St. Peter, who lived in the Nineteenth century was missionary to Oceania. He labored for years among the natives of those islands with relatively little success. By his preaching he did manage to destroy the pagan cult of the evil spirits, which the chieftains of the natives encouraged in order to keep their tribe under their rule. This provoked the chieftains of the island of Futuna to torture and kill St. Peter with the hope that this would destroy the Christian faith. But this was far from the actual result as the lay brother who assisted him attested:
The blood of this martyr benefited, in the first place, the natives of Futuna, for a few years later they were all converted to the faith of Christ. But it benefited as well the other islands of Oceania, where Christian churches, which claim St. Peter as their first martyr, are now flourishing.
St. Peter Chanel himself once said, “There is one who sows and another who reaps.” Such must be the attitude of those who spread the Word of God. Our own participation in mission may also at times experience this same dark trial. It requires a readiness to labor without any visible results, a willingness to work without enjoying the fruits. Without allowing ourselves to be worn down by discouragement, we pray for the strength of God to plant his seed, in hope that it will one day germinate.
Practical Guidance on How to Cooperate with the Missions
We may conclude with some practical suggestions from our Holy Father about how all the faithful can cooperate in the missionary effort of the Church. The Christian faithful have the obligation to share the responsibility for missionary activity through what Pope John Paul II calls “missionary cooperation” (RM 83). He gives some guidelines as to how this obligation is met.
First, he makes clear that every missionary must first be concerned with their own personal union with Christ. So too, we must be dedicated to prayer, spiritual reading and meditation. As our love goes for Christ so does our longing. As our friendship with Christ increases, we begin to desire that others come to know and share in his goodness. This is the beginning of the missionary spirit. An indication of our true maturity in the Life of Christ in our souls is the “thirst” for the salvation of others. This leads us to the second recommendation of our Holy Father: prayer for missions and missionary vocations. This prayer includes not only private prayers, but also the promotion of public prayers for vocations. It is important that we try to inspire as many people as we can to, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers into the harvest” (Mt 9:38). In addition to prayer, we should be ready to make sacrifices for the missionaries. We know quite well that St. Therese was declared patroness of the missions not because of her active missionary work, but because of the offering of her life in prayer and intense sufferings for the success of the missions.
Beyond these, we are also encouraged to be active in promoting missionary vocations. This can be done within one’s own family, for those who have young children who are discerning their vocation, by placing before their eyes the nobility and beauty of those men and women who have dedicated their lives for the spread of the faith. These generous souls should be the heroes and role models of our youth, to inspire them to a similar dedication to Christ. This can also be done by everyone by distributing books and information on the missionary works of communities faithful to the Church. We are also called to provide material and financial support for the missions to the extent that we are able.
We should also strive for direct participation in the missions when possible. This is done by our witness through our Christian lives when in foreign, non-Christian countries. Whether we travel for tourism, work, study or other reasons, it is always incumbent upon us to manifest our faith. We must be aware of the danger of giving scandal to others by a show of materialism or consumerism which clouds the clear image of Christianity in the minds of so many non-Christians due to disordered tourism. This direct participation is also accomplished in one’s own country by the assistance of immigrants, or the poor and the needy; also by our willingness to speak about Christ to others in our work place and neighborhood. The Holy Father has often spoken of the “family to family apostolate.” Rather than caving in to the tendency of the world to make sports or other activities a central focus in the family, we are called to participate in these things without excluding the central mission we have to profess Christ to others. As the Holy Father wrote, “Particular churches should therefore make the promotion of the missions a key element in the normal pastoral activity of parishes, associations and groups, especially youth groups” (RM 83).
We have been entrusted with the truths of the faith for ourselves and to hand them on to others. We pray that we may do so in the power of God and in accord with his holy will. “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 4:10-11).
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