Skip to main content

Invitation to Mission

Fr. Chris Saenz, Director

From the Director

By Fr. Chris Saenz

My vocational road to missionary priesthood had many invitations, but one of the most important invitations to mission occurred near the end of my first year in the seminary. As a freshman seminarian, the desire to be a missionary priest was there but doubts still remained if this was truly what I wanted to do. As the year was coming to an end, I had to contemplate on what I was going to do in the summer. Our summers were free, and we were encouraged to take temporary jobs and/or get involved in a ministry of some type. I had heard of some seminarians doing a mission exposure on the Pine Ridge Native American reservation in South Dakota. I was curious about this and decided to approach the persons organizing the experience. What we agreed to was a five-week immersion experience.

seedling growing from glassDuring the immersion experience we participated in Sun Dances, cultural festivities, painted houses, visited with families, etc. I spent time with the Jesuits and listened to their missionary history. I spent time with Lakota people who were Christian but still identified with their Native American roots. I spent time with Lakota people who spoke about their painful history with Christianity. I was told of a small town who had to have two Catholic churches, one for Anglos, the other for Native Americans. They couldn’t mix. It was an eye opener for me.

The experience had a powerful impact on my missionary vocation. It made me look at the world with new eyes. When I returned to studies after the summer, I was sharing my experience with a faith-sharing group in Chicago. After, a young university student asked me how the experience changed me. I told her that as a child I was a fan of the old western movies, especially of John Wayne. After the experience, I couldn’t watch any such movies knowing the reality. The young woman looked at me with awe but painfully said, “That is why I could never do such an experience! I would love to, but I feel it would ask a conversion of me that I can’t make! I would rather be ignorant than know!” I was shocked by her answer but admired her honesty. Than I realized the reality of invitation to mission. As Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22: 14)

I don’t know what happened to the young woman after, I never saw her again. I know she was a good person and wished no harm on anyone. Yet, I realized that she was at a moment in her life where she couldn’t make that leap to mission. However, I do hope the seeds were planted for the future when she was ready to do so. In my personal journey, I had received many invitations to mission prior to my commitment to be a missionary priest. Obviously, my journey was filled with not accepting the invitations until I was ready. A seed can be planted to bloom later. It is not for all, but we are all invited.