“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9)
The icon for the open Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd, an essential element of our missionary and Comboni spirituality, in these days allows us to approach one of the major and crucial aspects of our being missionaries in the Church and in the world where today we are living our religious and missionary consecration.
I take the opportunity of the celebration of the feast of the Sacred Heart to share with you some thoughts, in the hope that they will help us to live this feast as a time of renewal and openness to the grace of Christ’s love that is being offered to us so that we may live in depth our missionary vocation, as an experience of a love that makes us happy and satisfied of what we are for others.
In reflecting on our spirituality, the theme that this year we are trying to deepen, it is important to invite us all to pause a moment to contemplate the Heart of Jesus, so that we may better understand who we are and what we are called to do as missionaries, as we share with our contemporaries a world struggling to find the right direction to live fully the gift of life, which must lead to genuine happiness.
Bearers of a great love
“I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in this body I live in faith: faith in the Son of God who loved me and who sacrificed himself for my sake” (Gal 2,20).
Contemplating the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the first thing that should strike us should be the fact that we are not just faced with an image that touches our emotions and our feelings, but that we are in contact with a proposal that is symbolised in a Heart that causes us to break with all our schemes and all our securities, so that we may enter the world of free gifts: a world of love and faith, a world of the impossible by our standards, but of the unlimited by the wishes of the Lord; a world where, according to God’s heart, all is feasible and new.
The open Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd tells us that, at the beginning of everything, of our being Christians, consecrated persons, Comboni missionaries, there is the initiative of God who invites us to enter into the mystery of his love and makes us understand that our name and surname, from that moment, is nothing more than what can be expressed in three words: I am loved.
We are people deeply loved by the Lord and called to remain in this love as a requirement and condition to find the meaning of our existence, of our being in the world without belonging to the world.
We are people who are loved, destined to become a presence and witness of the love that God never ceases to pour in our humanity, that love which is always poured out to men and women of our time and of all times as a unique opportunity for a full life.
We are the object of a love that makes everything possible in this world. The creative and redeeming love, the love that makes us worthy and makes us free, the love that expands our horizons and makes us dreaming of a different world, of a more just and fraternal humanity. The Heart of the Lord is not just a place where we go to hide or store our daily needs for affection and security; it is not the place where our imagination can download all our claims of superficiality and fleeting pleasures.
No, the Heart of the Lord is the sanctuary where we are challenged to live the total surrender of ourselves, the emptying that makes us dependant on the Other and on others; it is the exact place where we are called to live on Love (with capital letter) to become capable of living by loving.
Who are we? The simplest answer is that which makes us say that we are merely what we allow love to accomplish in us. We are what we let the love of the Lord achieve in us.
“I am the good shepherd: I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and this I have to lead as well.” (Jn 10:14-16).
Trying to answer the question about our mission, from the perspective of the Heart of the Lord, it seems necessary to say very simply that since God is God, mission has always been of topical interest, because it is the expression of what is essential in God, which is love.
Since God is love, He is of necessity missionary, since the dynamics of love is always to go to meet the other, and what we know of God is just that: He has started journeying from eternity to meet the people He loves and to respond in this way to its essential dimension, love.
God became a missionary out of love: this is the best news that today we are called to bring to the end of the world and to the core of humanity. The only real commitment required from us is to become witnesses of this love, because we have become carriers of this mystery, and God chose to make use of our poverty to express his love. There is no more to add.
Until we learn that mission is the highest expression of the love of God for us, our mission will not go beyond the human project that necessarily makes us arrogant protagonists of something that is above any chance of success. The mystery of the mission, in fact, is manifested, revealed and becomes understandable and reasonable precisely in the deepening of our knowledge and experience of love.
Today we travel many roads to carry out the mission, a lot of research is undertaken to make it understandable, there is no lack of interpretations to explain it and show its importance and necessity in the search for meaning in our lives, but the mission, in the end, cannot be understood but within the logic of love.
In prayer and contemplation of the mystery of God it becomes clear that the mission is a reality that is understood neither with our head nor with our rational arguments or by our ability to programme, calculate, plan. Neither does the mission become clearer by statistical analysis, sociological, economic and political data or philosophical and theological speculations.
Just see how many theories, expressions, studies continue to appear and provoke our reflection. We speak of mission ad intra, ad extra, ad gentes... There is discussion about which are to be termed mission lands. There is talk of new areopagi and new missionary situations... But really, the question remains of how we can understand what mission today is for us, at this precise moment in our history and according to the sensitivity of people.
I believe that a convincing answer can be found only if we develop our ability to see, to feel and to understand with the heart.
To treasure the gift given us
“That is why I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you” (2Tim 1:6).
As missionaries we have been called to be sentinels of love and are the keepers of the mystery of that love we carry within us, as Saint Paul says, “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us” (2Cor 4:7).
Looking at our life and our mission through the experience of the Heart of Jesus, as an experience of a great love dwelling in us, we have a great responsibility that may seem simple, but that at this moment in the history of the Institute has become a major challenge. I’m speaking of the love for our missionary vocation lived through the religious consecration and the priestly ministry. Since we have been deeply loved, we have been called to share with the Lord his mission and that’s why we do not have the right to neglect the gift received. The experience of love that is revealed to us in the Heart of Jesus is and must be a reminder for us to live this love in depth, placing at the centre of our lives and interests the person of the Lord. Today, we cannot live an authentic missionary commitment unless we are aware of the love that God has for us and are willing to organize our entire life around this love.
Of course, we can do many things in our missionary work, but the real commitment to our brothers and sisters, the real help we can offer, the genuine solidarity that we can express through our making common cause, the prophetic role that we must have in the world where we are called to do our service, in a word, the true mission can only be expressed as an experience of the love that we carry in us as a gift of the Lord.
So I think it is necessary to learn to guard our hearts as not to lose the passion which is the distinctive feature of love.
Today is a cause of great pain to see how some of us live within a superficiality that can reduce life to emptiness and create a discomfort and dissatisfaction leading to frustration. For us it is a great sadness also to have to accompany confreres who have lost the appeal of their vocation, because they have been naive and did not watch over their heart, letting filter through other loves which have nothing to do with that Love that once asked us to consecrate our whole being and our whole person to it. Without love, the mission becomes impossible.
Today, more than ever, to experience the real love that comes from the Heart of Jesus is essential to learn to cherish our deepest self so that Love may fill the entire space of our heart and teach us to think and act according to this Love. Such availability will turn into love and passion for the people entrusted to us in the mission.
Thus we’ll see that, in our spirituality, the Heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd is not just an image that touches our feelings, as already mentioned, but it becomes the icon that challenges us to grow in the love which only the Lord can give us and which is the guarantee of our being authentic missionaries.
Looking at our world with passion, we cannot remain indifferent in the face of so much suffering, which is nothing but the denial and the rejection of the love that the Lord wants to sow in the heart of us all.
As missionaries, and Comboni missionaries at that, we are called to live so that our brothers and sisters may discover the Love that springs from the Heart of the Lord. This will be possible only to the extent that we become capable of bearing witness, with our lives and our commitment to the poorest, that we are missionaries because we carry within us a love that impels us to reach out to those who are the recipients of this Love and of the passion of God for his children.
May the Heart of Jesus grant us the grace to be always open to his love. Happy feast day.
Fr. Enrique Sánchez González, mccj