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 call exotic differs subjectively according to where your journey begins.
A Redemptorist confrere of mine from India came to Canada to help 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 in some foreign land.
Yet some are called and feel the divine prod to venture down the road less traveled, away from their own center and closer to the margins, so-to-speak. We are grateful for them responding to the call because if not we would never have heard the stories of Jesus.
For those of us who feel this urge to a missionary vocation, we want to make sure that, when we arrive where we believe the Spirit has been calling, we behave as good spiritual ambassadors, working from God’s agenda, not our own.
Canada is still at the beginning stages of its journey to Truth and Reconciliation with the indigenous peoples which some say will take generations to heal the damage done, in part, by misguided missionary efforts. Despite the best intentions of many devoted missionaries, Church run residential schools across the nation systematically destroyed ways of life and the cultures of First Nations people including the Metis, Dene and Inuit peoples of the north. It caused widespread devastation to families that has coursed through generations by forcibly removing children from their homes to be indoctrinated into a, so called, “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 the key. Arrogance and the real evangelization of missionary work are not compatible. If we take the example of Jesus himself, we will see that, when sharing the Gospel, we are compelled to; do more listening and less talking, spend more time being present with people and less presiding over them, offer more consoling and much less cajoling. If we truly are acting on behalf of God’s Spirit, then we really need to step our egos out of the way and let God step in.
“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 we think we have saved. Rather it is the gift of receiving from those to who we have been sent and realizing that God’s Spirit is already present, alive and well. The gift is in discovering that it is we who are being evangelized and perhaps understanding the depths of God’s word for the first time.