October is to be celebrated as Mission Month. Pope Frances urges us to stir up that spirit of faith within each one of us, reminding us that the Church is missionary by nature. This is her deep reality, this is our vocation – to bring people to Jesus. “We do not have a product to sell. It has nothing to do with proselytizing; we are not selling a product. We have a life to communicate: God, his divine life, his merciful love, his holiness” (Pope Francis).
St. Paul, the greatest of missionaries, spent his life bringing the good news of the Lord Jesus to those far away, to those near at hand. Despite torture, shipwrecks, imprisonment he travelled to establish community after community in the faith of Jesus. To read the account of his journeys and his preaching in the Acts of the Apostles is to be awed by the dynamism of the man. His faith, his perseverance, his relentless outreach had one overwhelming aim – that people would come to know God in Jesus and become disciples of the Lord. “The love of Christ urges us,’ he wrote, regardless of the mountainous obstacles he faced. And, towards the end of his life he could say, “Life is of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus – to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
Closer to our own time we have another great missionary whose life, in many ways, was radically different from that of St. Paul. St. Thérèse’s had a sheltered, even cosseted upbringing. When she entered the convent as a teenager, she never ventured outside the door in the nine years she lived there until her death in 1897. She never preached a sermon, she never journeyed to foreign lands or helped to build up communities of disciples. And yet she is called the patroness of the missions and known as one of the greatest saints that ever lived.
What was it she had in common with St. Paul? They both had an overwhelming love of Jesus. He alone was the center of their lives. Like Paul, Thérèse, this hidden little nun, burned with zeal to make Him known. But how? She would like to travel over the whole earth to preach his name, to be a missionary until the end of time. She wanted to be the warrior, the priest, the apostle, the doctor, the martyr, the missionary. How to reconcile all these God-given desires with her present hidden life? Impossible, and yet this courageous, tenacious young woman held on, prayed on.
One day she read Chapter 12 and 13 of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. There is was. She found her vocation: love. “Love comprised all vocations, it embraced all times and places…it was eternal. In the heart of the Church I shall be love.” St. Thérèse, accepting her powerlessness and above all else trusting in the great love and mercy of God became the marvelous missionary we know. She discovered and taught the “Little Way,” a way of love and trust, that leads us to the heart of God.
In this Mission Month let us really live our vocation as missionary disciples wherever we are. Paul or Thérèse, Tom or Maggie – we respond to the Spirit in our heart and draw others to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. The seeds we sow may be tiny, we may never see them grow but we can trust our Father, who loves us unconditionally, to bring them to fruition.