Fr. Britto's Blog

Called to be Missionaries

I owe my priestly vocation to many individuals including my parents. Among them stands out an Irish missionary who served in India for over forty years. Fr Sean McFerran came to India as a young man of seventeen and became a Salesian priest. He was the rector of the Catholic high school that I attended. Drawn by his charm and his holiness, I joined the Salesians of Don Bosco. Thanks to Fr Sean’s initiative and encouragement, over thirty priests work in the Lord’s vineyard today.

 

Just like Fr Sean, thousands of missionaries came to India over the centuries. In fact my ancestors of both my father and mother were converted by Jesuit missionaries who preached the Gospel in Southern India in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many missionaries from Europe and America evangelized the nations of Africa, Asia and South America. Now those mission nations are returning the favor as priests from those lands are ministering to Catholics in Europe and America. Many years ago, Pope Leo XIII predicted that India’s sons will return to the lands of the missionaries and preach the Good News to their people. That prophecy has come true today.

As we celebrate Mission Sunday on October 22nd, let us gratefully remember the numerous men and women who served and are serving as missionaries around the world. Some of them bore witness also by shedding their blood. Thanks to their tireless efforts the seeds of the faith were planted in many places. These workers in the Lord’s vineyard obeyed the Great Commission issued by Jesus as He ascended into heaven. The Master said to His apostles: “Go forth and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

In our baptism we too received the vocation to be missionaries. Are we then called upon to stand in street corners and proclaim the gospel? Perhaps some of us feel drawn to do exactly that. For most of us, however, the call is different. We are called to be His witnesses. In the first four centuries of the Church’s history, thousands bore witness by laying down their lives. We, on the other hand, are invited to bear witness by living our lives.

When we read the Gospel of Mark, we note that Jesus did three things. As the evangelist says, “Jesus went about preaching the Good News to the poor, healing the sick, and casting out demons.” In other words, Jesus ministered to the poor, made people whole and resisted the powers of evil. In order to bear witness, we need to do the same.

We bear witness, first of all, by holding ourselves to the standards of the gospel. We must be individuals of integrity. At all times and in all places we live by the norms of the Beatitudes and the challenges of the Sermon on the Mount. Our path to holiness becomes an attempt to reach for the maximum rather than settle for the minimum. We not only love our neighbor; we strive to do good even to those who hate us and treat us badly.

Second, we bear witness through our compassion, especially for those who are poor and oppressed. Following the example of Jesus Whose heart was moved to compassion at the suffering of people, the disciples not only feel bad for the plight of people but also do something about it. Service to others is no longer an option. It is a necessity. As someone has said, service is the rent we pay for living on this earth.

Finally, we bear witness by giving voice to the voiceless. We resist evil wherever we find it. We challenge the culture of death that is prevalent in our societies by the way we commit ourselves to respect life from natural conception to natural death. We not only come to the aid of the poor with food and medicines; we seek to change the structures that hold so many down at subhuman levels of indigence. We bear witness to riches that are beyond this world and in the process question our society’s mad rush to amass wealth and power. We fight injustice and oppression. Even though we are compassionate, we are not pushovers. We stand up for what is right.

During this month of October we celebrate the feast of St Therese of Lisieux (October 1) who was declared a patron of the missions even though she never left her convent. She became a missionary by praying for the conversion of sinners and by offering up many sacrifices. All our efforts to bear witness will bear no fruit if they are not supported by a life of prayer. We pray for our world and for the Church. We pray for missionaries, particularly those who preach the gospel in the face of persecution and opposition.

In his message to all Catholics, Pope Francis has invited us to reflect on the meaning of our call to be missionaries. Here are some relevant words from our Holy Father:

The Church’s mission, then, is not to spread a religious ideology, much less to propose a lofty ethical teaching. Many movements throughout the world inspire high ideals or ways to live a meaningful life. Through the mission of the Church, Jesus Christ himself continues to evangelize and act; her mission thus makes present in history the kairos, the favorable time of salvation. Through the proclamation of the Gospel, the risen Jesus becomes our contemporary, so that those who welcome him with faith and love can experience the transforming power of his Spirit, who makes humanity and creation fruitful, even as the rain does with the earth. 

As we are called upon at the end of every Mass, let us go in peace to bear witness to the gospel. We are called and chosen because we are now the hands, feet, eyes, lips and the heart of Jesus.

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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