Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Cutting Edge of Missionary Work

This is my 3rd of 4 postings on the Missionaries of Charity in Milan.

After being in China for 7 weeks with the Maryknoll, I thought I had seen the missions. But my time spent in Milan has been the missions of a different sort.

Missionaries of Charity are on the cutting edge of missionary work. I guess for some reason I never quite saw them in that way. I saw them as providing charity all over the world, often in places with few if any Catholics. Yet there mission is not simply charity, not simply social workers, but missionaries in the true sense. Everywhere they go they seek to share their greatest joy, a living and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They are missionaries and they are working so much to save souls for Christ.

Part of the way I discovered the role of the Missionaries of Charity in true mission work was simply working with them in Milan. You would think a place like Italy would have no need for missionaries because it is ubber-Catholic but the reality is far from it. And here too there is great poverty. Not so much poverty of material means but a poverty of the presence of God. As Mother Teresa said:

"There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God."

photo by jenmaiser

I think the Missionaries have found in Milan a place hungering for the love of God and they are indeed sharing it. And they do not work simply with the poor, homeless, and hungry, but also with each volunteer who walks in the door. I have met many random Italians working by my side and hearing how much they love encountering God in the poor in the spirit of Mother Teresa. It draws them.

One of the sisters told me that Mother used to say, "We must go everywhere the priest cannot go." And so it seems they do. They meet the poor in the streets and those ordinary people longing to do something more. They meet all of them and point them directly to Christ.

There is a song they sing during one of their prayer periods which goes as follows:

Sweet Lord, Thy thirst for souls
I satiate, with my burning thirst all for Thee.
My chalice will be filled with love,
sacrifices made all for Thee.
Evermore, I will quench Thy thirst Lord.
Evermore, I will quench Thy thirst, Lord,
For souls,
In union with Mary our Queen
I will quench Thy thirst.

The words ring deep. They speak of the thirst of Jesus for souls and our desire to satiate that thirst. There is little need for explanation.

One of the sisters told me how when Russia finally invited Missionaries of Charity to come, she sent 5 groups and they were in the hospitals. They had no work to do and they could not leave the hospitals. Eventually, they started cleaning the toilets and halls. Mother came and encouraged them saying, "This may not be the exact work we want to do but even here we are witnessing and that is enough." What an image of the missions, cleaning toilets in a Russian hospital. But who knows where God will take you from there. They eventually were able to start serving the people of Russia in other ways.

photo by jimg944

I am no Missionary of Charity and I doubt I could ever be. But I realize that their zeal for missions should really find an outlet in my own work. One of the ideas that I think is most available for seminarians as future priests is to take the list of registered families in a parish and find out which ones do not attend Mass regularly or at all. Then simply start visiting one house at a time, dropping in just to introduce yourself as the parish priest, talking about upcoming events in the parish, and perhaps asking for any prayer requests. I always hear summer is the slowtime in a parish so why not use an hour a day and drop by a few homes. Perhaps this is even already being done in some places.

Ultimately, I think we need to discover new ways to evangelize, to satiate the thirst of Christ, to bring Catholics home. We need new energy and new creativity. That is our vocation. That is our salvation.


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