Missionary in the Far East
Dedicated to Our Mother of Heaven
In the same Year of the Consecrated Life, we celebrate the Day of Consecrated Life. So I will preach about the female Religious Life in the lands of Mission. Blessed Manna uses a beautiful expression to talk about the good Missionary Sisters: “Phalanx of Good Angels”. So, I will talk about this.
Operari sequitur esse, as Saint Thomas teaches, so first I will talk about the Missionary Religious Vocation in itself and its importance. Then, about the operative dimension of the Missionary Sisters, that is, about the charity, the prayer and the apostolate.
My main founts for this preach will be the Magisterium of the Church and the writings of Blessed Paolo Manna. I follow the chapter XII of one of his books, “The conversion of the pagan world”, that, also, is one of my favorite books.
The Missionary Religious Vocation
We are religious and Missionaries. Our vocation is a Missionary Religious vocation. Our vocation, as St. John Paul II teaches, is a “special vocation, patterned on that of the apostles [that] is manifested in a total commitment to evangelization, a commitment which involves the missionary`s whole person and life, and demands a self-giving without limits of energy or time” (RM 65).
The Pope said that, because of our vocation, “we go out (…) to those who are far from Christ (…) as ministers of the Gospel” (RM 65).
In the Magisterium of the Church
After reading all the modern documents of the Popes about the Missions, I underlined one passage about the Vocation of the Missionary Sisters. Was written by H.H. Benedict XV. I read it:
“[Since the very earliest days of the Church, women] have always been remarkable for their diligence and zeal in assisting the preachers of the gospel. We want to single out here, and single out for Our highest praise, those many women who have vowed their virginity to God and have gone to pursue their vocation on the missions. There they have devoted themselves to the education of children and to a great many other works of charity and devotion” (MI 30).
Importance of the Religious Life in the Missions
The Religious Life has “a place of a fundamental importance” (RM 65) in the missionary apostolate. Moreover, “the special vocation of missionaries for life (…) is the model of the Church`s missionary commitment, which always stands in need of radical and total self-giving, of new and bold endeavors” (RM 68).
The Consecrated Missionary Vocation is “absolutely necessary” in order to achieve the conversion of the pagan world and in order to increase the fervor of the local churchs (cfr. RM66).
Under the title “The Missionary Fruitfulness of Consecrated Life”, St John Paul II affirms that “History witnesses to the outstanding service rendered by religious families in the spread of the faith” (RM 69).
The highest witness
Moreover, the highest witness of the Gospel is the good Religious, as Saint Jonh Paul II manifests: “no one witnesses more effectively” to the great gospel values “than those who profess the consecrated life in chastity, poverty and obedience” (RM69b).
This testimony is so great that, Blessed Manna, also, attest that the missionary Sisters are “everywhere the object of admiration on the part of pagans and of Protestants themselves” (171).
Exhibits the nature of the Christian vocation
The Missionary Religious vocation is very important because this vocation exhibits the nature of the Christian vocation, as the Second Vatican Council teaches: “right from the planting stage of the Church, the religious life should be carefully fostered. This not only offers precious and absolutely necessary assistance to missionary activity (…) it also clearly manifests and signifies the inner nature of the Christian calling” (AG 18).
Fruits of their Apostolates
We will see this point at the end of our exposition.
The soul of the works: The Charity of the Missionary Sisters
Saint John Paul II talking about “the missionary religious sisters”, asseverate that in them their “virginity for the sake of the kingdom is transformed into a motherhood in the spirit that is rich and fruitful”. In addition, He sets that “is precisely the mission ad gentes that offers them vast scope for the gift of self with love in a total and unidivided manner” (RM 70).
Motherhood is the highest paradigm of charity. And, as Blessed Manna, asserts, “Charity is tenderness and heroism. In no one else as in the missionary Sister do we see so clearly united these two chief prerogatives of the queen of all virtues” (173). Is useful to quote again this Author:
“On the road of sacrifice the tropical heat of Central Africa does not arrest her. The ferocity of a cannibal tribe does not disturb her. The proximity of wild beasts and poisonous reptiles does not alarm her. In the exercise of her charity, without showing the slightest repugnance, she approaches all kinds of human misery, and she does not hesitate to isolate herself in a leper asylum in order to share her life with the refuse of the human race. Where do we find a heroism greater than this? The heroism and also the tenderness of charity ! Contemplate the missionary Sister making the rounds of the hospital, searching for abandoned babies, eagerly feeding them, watching over them, and educating them. What treasures of inexhaustible tenderness in this virgin who becomes a mother and a sister to the unhappy and the needy, who applies ointment to the wounded and gives comfort to the unfortunate!” (173).
In the same line, St John Paul II exhorts the Religious Missionaries to prefer and “seek the lowliest and most demanding places” (RM 66).
After their example of Holiness, the first apostolate of the Missionary Sisters is prayer. Pius XI in his fascinating missionary document Rerum Ecclesiae stimulates the catholics to pray for the conversion of the pagans, but he specially invites the innocent kids and the Sisters to pray for the lot of the infidels. He said that the Sisters “should daily arise to heaven the prayer that the Divine Mercy may descend upon so many unhappy beings, inhabitants of the densely populated pagan countries” (RE 8). And then he asks in a rhetorical way: “Can the Heavenly Father refuse anything to the innocent and chaste who ask it of Him?” (RE 8).
The Apostolate of the Sisters in the Missions
General view of some very principal Apostolates
Finally (using the words of Blessed Manna), I will say one word about, “the wonderful work of the missionary Sisters” (158).
As Saint John Paul II expresses, the Missionary Sisters are called by God to bear witness to Jesus “among peoples who do not know Him” (RM 70).
Benedict XV says that the Superiors of the Missions bring “sisters to open schools, orphanages, and hospitals, to found their hostels and establish other charitable institutions”. The Pope underlines “how remarkably works of this kind, with God’s help, contribute to the spread of the Faith”(MI 12). The Providence of God, insist the Pope, had put in these charity works an incredible efficacy in order to the spread of the Faith (cfr. MI 12).
Saint John Paul II recommends the works of charity “in order to extend God’s kingdom” (RM 69b). Blessed Manna affirms that “it is impossible to estimate the benefit from the charitable work of the Sisters in almost every Mission” (163) and he teaches that “since charity almost always prepares the way that leads to the Faith, it is impossible to say how much good the Sisters accomplish by curing the sick, and how many poor unfortunates are converted and baptized at the point of death”. He highlights that, “especially in China, the dispensaries conducted by the Sisters are means of saving an enormous number of abandoned babies” (163/164). In the State of Bettiah, in India, no man could enter to the prisons, but the Sisters could entered there to “instruct some of the unhappy inmates” (164).
Blessed Manna, talking about the apostolate of the Missionary Sisters, underlines the teaching of catechism (166) and “the works of education and of charity” (163), and specially “the secular and religious education of girls and young children”. Also, he emphasizes the education of catechumens and neophytes, the care for babies, the sick and the infirm (158) and the apostolate with the women. He says that “where women are not converted it is impossible to establish true Christianity” (162). Blessed Manna, also, clearly stress that “the works of education and of charity” in the Missions “requires much more sacrifice” than “at home” (163).
Talking about the apostolate of the education, he affirms that “the consoling number of conversions (…) in the English colonies may well be attributed to the beneficent influence of the schools conducted by the Sisters” (169). Even more, talking about this, he said that “three, four, and sometimes a greater number of years of association with our Sisters in the schools and academies of the missions serve more than anything else to make the truth known to a great” number of souls (169).
Talking about the apostolate of the Missionary Sisters, Blessed Manna makes a wonderful exaltation of the work of the sisters. He says that “they do a work which, because of its peculiar character and the abnegation which it requires on account of the difficult circumstances under which they labor, should attract every soul who aspires to true sacrifice of self, and desires to give to God the greatest possible proof of love for Him” (166).
I will finish this work with a beautiful passage, quoted by Blessed Manna, “that illustrates the admiration of the pagans” for the Missionary Sisters:
“In the eyes of the idolater and the savage, the missionary Sister represents a most improbable being, unless he has the good fortune to come in contact with the reality and is obliged to admit the truth by the very force of evidence. It is a moral force that the pagan sees and admires in the person of the missionary Sister. He is accustomed to see in woman a slave, an instrument, a plaything. He does not know how to conceive of woman in a different light (…) She is presented to him as enjoying liberty (…) She is presented to him as one who is free from all kinds of servitude, endowed with nobility, protected by both human and divine right, entrusted with a mission so high, so noble, and so universal that it makes of her a superior being, placing in her hands the power to control others and giving her a prestige that is captivating. The missionary Sister (…) offers to the pagan world in which she lives a most vivid example and a most impressive picture of two virtues which that world does not know even by name virginity and charity” (171-2).
Let us ask to Our Mother of Heaven the grace to increase our love to our vocation, that is so high and loved by God. And we also ask to Her to pray to God because, as Blessed Manna wrote, “God grant that our missionary Sisters may multiply into a countless phalanx of good angels destined to pass through the pagan world, living examples of the high idealism and the most sublime virtues of the religion of Christ!” (173-174).
Blessed Paolo Manna, The conversion of the pagan world. A Treatise upon Catholic Foreign Missions, Society for the Propagation of the Faith / The University Press (Cambridge), Boston 1921.
H.H. Benedict XV, Ap. Letter Maximum Illud. On the Propagation of the Faith Throughout the World, Holy See 1919. (MI)
H.H. Pius XI, Enc. Rerum Ecclesiae. On Catholic Missions, Holy See 1926. (RE)
IInd Vatican Council, Decree Ad Gentes. On the Mission Actitvity of the Church, Holy See 1965. (AG)
Saint John Paul II Magnus, Enc. Redemptoris Missio. On the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, Holy See 1990. (RM)
 Homily preached in Taiwan (February 9, 2015 Year of the Consecrated Life).