Image: Return of the Sun, Igloo Church, Inuvik
The missionary thrust that ends Marks Gospel has inspired believers everywhere to abandon the comfortable and to seek out the exotic for the sake of the Good News. Of course, simple logic tells us that what one might actually call exotic differs subjectively according to where your journey begins.
A Redemptorist confrere of mine from India came to Canada to help out for a couple of years. Writing home during his first Christmas at our parish in Newfoundland he quipped, “They told me I was called to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but I never dreamed that I would actually get there.” The point being that if we really want to be a part of spreading the word of God to all the earth we can contribute equally as much by sharing it at home as we would abroad.
Yet some of us feel the divine prod to venture down the road less traveled, closer to the margins, so-to-speak. If that is the case we want to make sure that, when we arrive where we believe the Spirit has been calling, we behave as good spiritual ambassadors and not as proverbial voluntourists from hell.
Canada is still at the beginning stages of a Truth and Reconciliation process with aboriginal peoples which some say will take decades to heal the damage done, in part, by misguided missionary efforts. While arguably well intentioned, Church run residential schools across the nation in fact systematically destroyed ways of life and culture of First Nations, Metis, Dene and Inuit peoples. It caused widespread devastation to families that has coursed through generations by forcibly removing children from their homes to be indoctrinated into a “civilized” way of life, all in the name of the Gospel.
How do we respond faithfully to the call of Christ to be missionary while making sure that such devastation is never allowed to happen again?
I believe part of the answer lies in today’s first reading from the first letter of Peter.
“And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Humility is a key. Arrogance and real evangelization and missionary work are not compatible. If we take the example of Jesus himself we will see that we are compelled to; do more listening and less talking, spend more time being present with and less presiding over, offer more consoling and much less cajoling. If we truly acting on behalf of God’s Spirit then we really need to step our egos out of the way.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.”
There is a real gift to be found in the vocation of a missionary but it is not found in numbers of converts or the testimonies of those who have saved. Rather it is the gift of receiving from those to who you have been sent and realizing that God’s Spirit is already present, alive and well. The gift is in discovering that it is you who are being evangelized and perhaps truly understanding the depth of God’s word for the first time.