WITH OR WITHOUT WORDS
By Fr. Roger Brennan, SFM
Many of us can recognize situations or times in our lives which seem really hopeless, or when everything seems to have gone wrong. Yet, not only have we survived such situations, but precisely because of the situation, we have come to recognize strengths and abilities we never knew we had. Or, we discover that new and unexpected windows of opportunity have opened for us. Reflecting back on these events we sense the mysterious hand of God guiding us.
As I reflect on the unfolding role of laity in mission, I sense very much this hidden movement of God’s Spirit. I would like to illustrate this by reflecting on two quite different happenings.
We are well aware of the severe decline in vocations to the priesthood in Canada. This decline has also affected Scarboro Missions and other missionary societies like us. For many of us this has been a cause of sadness and concern as we wonder what will become of the Society and the missionary effort in which so many have been involved.
However, at the same time, a growing number of dedicated and qualified lay people are coming forward with a desire to serve in mission overseas. This influx of lay missioners is transforming Scarboro Missions, opening up new possibilities and helping us to understand in new ways the meaning of God’s call to witness the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
I recently read a statement of St. Francis of Assisi to his friars, whom I believe were lay people. His statement keeps coming to mind because I believe it so accurately captures what we are about and because our lay missioners have lived it out so well. Francis said: “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, even use words.” With or without words, our lay missioners, as the stories in this magazine illustrate, do more than speak the Good News; for many of our brothers and sisters in need, they are the good news, in their very presence and lives. This is the wonderful work of the Lord.
A second development in which I see the mysterious hand of God as lay people take on the role of missioners is the huge migration of peoples from other countries. The example I wish to use are the people of the Philippines who are fleeing unemployment and economic hardship. They are mostly women, who leave behind husbands, children, family, often enduring not only loneliness, but hardship and abuse, so that their families may have a chance for a better future.
Leaving their children in the care of others, these women care for the home and nurture the children of their employers. While these domestics leave behind the familiar life they have known, they take with them their Catholic faith and a profound trust in God’s providence.
I have encountered these missioners, although they would not call themselves that, in small communities in the far north of Canada and in remote Cat Island in the Bahamas. They gather in the thousands in central Hong Kong on Sundays and are scattered throughout the Arab countries of the Middle East. Even here in Toronto, I am sure there is hardly a parish which is not enlivened by a devoted core of Filipinos who sing in the choir, are members of a prayer group, and attend daily Mass and various devotions.
Many of the countries in which these Filipino exiles are scattered are places where ‘official’ missioners would not be welcome or are even forbidden from entering. Yet these simple people find their way into the very heart of the families they serve. In their quiet, hidden way, in the role of servant, they are a powerful witness to the Gospel.
With the tremendous changes that have taken place in our world, the people we once went overseas to encounter have arrived on our doorsteps. With new travel and communications possibilities, our lives are connected. We truly live in a global village. It is in this new context that we are called to be missioners. Whether we preach the Gospel with words or with our lives, as believers—lay and ordained—we can and must be part of this great work of God’s Spirit, transforming the world to bring all things into the Reign of God.