One of my Columban confreres, Bernard Smyth, who died in 2006, is the author of a book entitled Paul, Mystic and Missionary. I was fortunate to know Bernie in Chile during my time there on mission. A humble, focused and prayerful man, Bernie also knew how to have a good time. I will always think of him as one of the many good priest missionaries who, during our nearly 100 years of Columban history, witness to me and others the love of God.
The Good News must first be proclaimed to all the nations. Mark 13:10
It was in Chile on a Society visitation that Bernie‘s “addiction to St. Paul” (his words) began. The Columbans in Chile were grappling with questions of missionary presence, spirituality and community during their assembly. Bernie writes: “I think it was during one of these debates, probably when I was absently looking out of the window and marveling at sunset over the Andes, that an idea, not a very original idea, came to me. Why not go back for guidance to St. Paul, the first and greatest of missionaries? Perhaps he would have something timeless and true to say to the missionary of today.”
I recalled these words of Bernie when Pope Benedict opened the Church’s Pauline Year in 2008, giving us the outline of a model missionary and teacher. Among the apostles and disciples, Paul stands out as one who felt the urgency of the missionary mandate he received: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1Cor.9:16). Knowing himself as loved and redeemed, Paul could not but take to the road to proclaim Christ and His message of salvation.
The Holy Father writes: “By looking at St. Paul’s experience, we understand that missionary activity is a response to the love with which God loves us. His love redeems us and prods us to the missio ad gentes.” (A good translation of this phrase is mission to the nations from Mark 13:10: “the Good News must first be proclaimed to all the nations”). After digesting Paul’s life, travels, letters and spirit in search of what he would have to say to the missionary of today, Bernie comes to the same conclusion as Pope Benedict. He writes: “For, like Paul, we really have only one thing to proclaim to a bewildered humanity and it is not, of course, his or ours at all, ‘the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:39). In Christ this love was visible, perceptible, almost tangible. In our humbler way this should be true also of us.”
In the Missionary Society of St. Columban, indeed, as in many congregations, societies and groups of a religious nature, practices and terminology of the business world are frequently useful. Fr. Smyth wrote his book on Paul in 1980, so I was surprised, and pleased, to find this analogy: “Like Christ, each of us must be Sacrament of God.
To put it in less theological language, any good salesman brings samples of his wares. As samples, we missionaries bring ourselves. People will be less impressed by the things we say than the samples we are.