A true missionary of the faith


Clouds - Credit Emilia Syldatk via Unsplash

 “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.”

When I was growing up, there was a very great leader of the Catholic church in my country who seemed for me, as a small boy, to embody the entire personality of the Church. I won’t tell you his name but he was the then Cardinal Archbishop. In every way, he was a big man - 68 when I knew him. 6 foot 4 inches tall, broad and strong.

But the biggest thing about him was an enormous booming voice which filled every room he ever entered. And with this enormous voice, he pronounced absolute certainty on any issue you cared to mention. He knew exactly the right way forward for the Church, for the Country, for Society at large and for anyone else he happened to be talking to at the time. To put it mildly, he did not immediately give the impression of a man much troubled by self-doubt. So, I was rather surprised when – a long time after his death – I came across his autobiography in which he said that there was once a time when he was not happy as a priest. He had come from a very wealthy background and he was sent to serve in a very poor parish. There he struggled as he discovered that he was in fact a little too accustomed to the comfortable things in life and a little too used to the company of his own upper class. To put it more simply, he saw in himself a soft-living snob and he didn’t like himself very much.

But one day he was sent to see a little old lady who had severe rheumatoid arthritis and was dying of cancer. She lived with her daughter in circumstances of great poverty. When he arrived, he found the place so smelly and dirty that he could not even bring himself to sit down. He said that even today the clearest memory was of the terrible smell of her leg ulcers that he couldn’t get rid of for months.

And there he met a truly holy woman. She was 92, had been bedridden for four years, was dying in obvious pain and distress and in fact she died that very night. He did not remember a word of what passed between them. All he remembered was that every motion, every gesture, every word that she uttered was filled with grace and serenity. He realised that he was in the presence of a Saint – someone who was close to God in every way.
And the only actual words he remembered from that encounter were not hers, but his own. As he left her room, he made himself a promise - that he would not give up on what he believed to be his vocation unless and until he could honestly say that he had suffered more for Christ than she had.

He has remembered that brief encounter throughout his life because it is a memory of how God can use us, wherever we are in life, to bring His love and healing into the lives of one another.

There is never a moment in the life of any true Catholic Christian when she or he is not obeying this final command of the Lord – to be a missionary of the Faith. That does not mean shouting what we believe at other people. Nor does it mean knocking on their doors uninvited and trying to force our beliefs upon them. It is those things that get Christian missionaries a bad name. What it means is showing in our lives what Christ has done for us. And offering to everyone who comes to us the peace and love of Christ, not just in our words, but in every gesture and every action. And let us hear for ourselves Jesus’ last words on earth:

“Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.”