A short reflection to celebrate together the missionary month of October and to prepare ourselves for the feast of St. DANIEL COMBONI, 10 October 2005
“Our Comboni identity consists in taking up God’s initiative as Comboni did; in letting ourselves be consecrated by the Father and in the awareness of being sent by Him for the service of the Gospel. Our Comboni identity calls on us to make holiness the foundation of the life and mission of each one of us and of the whole Institute” (cfr. CA ’03, 53-54).
Mission is born of an encounter
The experience of missionaries of biblical times, those men and women sent by God, teaches us that mission always comes as a second step, following a first and fundamental encounter with God. Only those who met God and have become passionate about Him do mission.
Mission, as we know, is God’s initiative. God himself is the one who gives rise to mission: He is the one who calls, who raises his witnesses, who opens the eyes of his messengers to see a human history that needs to be reshaped and passionately embraced; a history that needs to be reshaped according to his own plan, with his eyes and heart. Mission, therefore, follows the discovery and the surprise of God’s presence in one’s own life. The personal story of any missionary is, in one way or another, the story of a witness, the story of a life encounter. Mission, therefore, means to proclaim the Christ we have met, we love and we live for.
The message of mission does not begin when we have learned what to say or what to do, but when we can present as credible the God we have met. Until that time, when God becomes a personal “you” who enters our lives taking up space, time and priority, it will be difficult to be passionate about true mission.
Mission is built on the Word
Who is the true missionary? He is the one who throughout his entire life speaks what God told him. He is the one who tells of the encounter he has had with God.
The missionary is the one who makes himself available to God’s initiative, who gives time and space to God speaking to him. It is not easy to let God do the talking and to listen. When God speaks, He requires a lengthy silence and also time for Him to be understood. This is so because, when God speaks, He does not carry on with our own train of thought, but changes it both in its contents and in its essential priorities.
Nowadays, the first great effort for having an experience of God is to listen to the One who speaks. There are so many ways of substituting his Word with our words that we do not take the time to let Him speak or to wait for Him to speak. We do not have the humble patience that makes us wait for and listen to what He wants to tell us. Actually, God is not slow to speak. Rather, we are slow to understand and to enter into His line of thought.
The evangelical mission begins when God begins to speak and we place ourselves in an attitude of listening and understanding in faith what He wants, so as to enter into his mentality. Our Rule of Life wisely reminds us: “The missionary reads the Word of God in the light of the Spirit. He applies it to his life in meditation and he allows himself to be judged by it and to be converted to God’s way of thinking and acting” (RL 47.1).
When a person does not listen to or puts God to silence, he takes the initiative away from God and mission becomes a human adventure, destined to failure.
Mission is revealed by life’s witness
God can’t be proved, only shown. Every man and woman knows that it is not necessary to prove God’s existence: rather, people want to feel and be helped to perceive his presence. God is witnessed by a genuine life of faith and by a radical giving of self. The Lord says: “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before all, that they may see your good works and be thankful to your heavenly Father” (Mt 5,16).
The Gospels are very concise on saying what the disciples must say and do. In the school of the mission of Jesus, there is greater insistence on the lifestyle of the announcers.
The life of the disciples requires some essential elements.
The disciples are encouraged to have a preferential attention and dynamic care for the sick, the poor, the lepers, the possessed. They must be passionately in love with humanity and its integral liberation, like Christ. Like the Master on the road to Emmaus, they are called to be fellow travelers, to help perceive and make sense of events. And, like Christ, they must prefer to be with the poor and the suffering. Love and mission are inseparable.
The demeanor of the disciples must be imbued with sobriety, simplicity, poverty in food, clothing, daily needs and interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, mission must take place in a climate of gratuity and availability. The disciples must be ready to give everything, without expecting anything in return; they must love freely without holding back and unconditionally.
Even more, all the Gospels predict possible sufferings that the disciples will experience.
The disciples must expect sorrows and persecutions, following the fate of the Master, but they must not be afraid: the Father will watch over them. They must only be concerned with remaining faithful to their vocation and to the radical demands of the Gospel and of Mission.
Comboni, in this regard, reminds us that “the missionary, completely emptied of self and deprived of every human comfort, works only for his God (...). He is moved by the pure vision of his God, and so, in all these circumstances, he knows how to sustain and nourish his heart abundantly. His spirit does not seek from God the reason for the mission he has received, but rather acts on God's word, as a docile instrument of his adorable will, and in every circumstance he repeats with deep conviction and lively joy: We are useless servants; we just did what we had to do” (W 2702).
We wish you all a missionary October month, filled with numerous graces and in deep communion with the entire Comboni Family on the feast of our saintly Founder.
Feast of St. Daniel Comboni 2005
Fr. Teresino Serra and the General Council