“The Missionary is the Saint” (Mission of the Redeemer pg. 90-91)
By Frank Summers
In his encyclical on foreign missions, Pope John Paul the Great chooses to talk about the call to holiness of life and the need for all missionaries to become saints.
We Catholics have great devotion to the “Saints” in heaven. John Paul II canonized more saints than any other pope in history. I was happy to see how many lay people and married couples he beatified and canonized. In the New Testament regular members of the Church are referred to as disciples, believers, brothers and sisters, and saints. Early Christians were considered saints almost as a matter of course. It was understood that all were called to follow Jesus, and all were filled with the Holy Spirit (sanctifying grace). God’s grace was sufficient for all to live as saints. “You must be holy, for I am holy says the Lord” (1 Peter 1:16). It is not God’s purpose that only a few believers become “saints” – saints are not supposed to be rare and uncommon. On the contrary, all who follow the Lord become saints; that is the normal result of living our faith.
The Second Vatican Council and the new Catechism make it clear that all are called to the holiness of Jesus – yes, the pope and bishops, and priests and nuns, but all the laity, too, married people, singles, teenagers and children. God’s grace is sufficient. The laity have available to them everything needed to attain the best and highest holiness; filled with the Holy Spirit and following Jesus, we can all be saints! (Consider Mary and Joseph and the early Christians.)
In our missionary lives, my family and I constantly recall the saints in heaven. We ask their prayerful intercession; and we are inspired by their examples. We also admire the lives and heroic works of the saints still living here on earth today. We walk with them and talk with them and serve with them and share our lives with them. During our lifetime, we have been privileged to bask in the apparent holiness of John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But not all saints become so famous and powerful; indeed, very few do. Like everyone else, most saints live fairly low profile lives.
It’s risky to talk of a still living person as a “saint”, because it is always possible they could backslide and scandalize us all. However, we lose more if we don’t allow ourselves to appreciate, recognize and honor the living saints around us. I am inspired by my own children and grandchildren; I freely honor them when they demonstrate Christ-like attitudes and actions; and when I want the Lord to answer my prayer, I ask my wife and children and grandchildren and friends, as well as my heavenly saint-friends to pray with me to the Lord.
I’m often very inspired by our missionaries in Family Missions Company, by people in the church parishes, and by people we encounter in our work around the world. I’m open to learn from all these saints and to imitate their good actions and virtues. I ask them to pray for me, and they ask me to pray for them. We all aspire and strive to live as saints, building the Kingdom of God here on earth today. Not all the saints on earth have attained the perfection to which they are called, yet. We are works in progress, growing and being transformed, according to the will and plan of the Lord. Nevertheless, the “faithful,” those who love and serve Jesus, are “saints” in my mind.
I know one saint who works tirelessly to announce God’s Word and build up the Church, to renew and reform it. He writes books and appears regularly on TV; he organizes and is invited to speak at large conferences, before bishops, priests and religious. He is an international leader in the Charismatic Renewal, a married man with children, a community member and a friend to many.
I remember Don Carlos in the Andes near Cité, Colombia. His small farm was up in the mountains from our community farm; and he regularly came down to help us prepare our land and sow the seeds. We all worked with asadons; it was hard manual labor. Don Carlos worked steady and longer than most of us, despite his age and slight stature. His hands were as hard and rough as tree bark. He was always quick to enjoy things, and to smile and be a friend; when we prayed and sang God’s praises he hurried to participate. He was surely as poor as St. Francis of Assisi, and his clothes were so worn you couldn’t tell where the cloth of his original pants and shirt ended and the patches began. He seemed to have absolute trust in God, for everything. When my daughter Susanna was born at the community farm, Don Carlos stepped forward with others representing the community to trace the cross on Susanna’s forehead. I was greatly inspired by Don Carlos back then, and the Gospel lessons I learned while with him are indelibly branded in my soul.
One dear saint-family here in Abbeville has been at our side ever since we began missionary life over 30 years ago (and they are not the only ones). They constantly try to encourage us and show a lively interest in our missions. They step forward to help us in every way they can, and make financial contributions too. The husband has been battling bone cancer for fourteen years; and in it all he and his family have received so many helps from the Lord in answer to prayer and are drawn ever closer to the Lord, all the while offering their sufferings for the success of our mission work. Whenever we have been here in Abbeville, their children have grown up with ours; and now their son and his family serve as missionaries with Family Missions Company. Their mission in the Philippines is flourishing.
We could never repay the Abbeville and Acadiana families for all they have done for us, nor any of the hundreds of other saints who have inspired and instructed and helped us in our walk with Jesus – they have never asked to be repaid. These saints manifest the love of God on earth today, they are evangelizing the world, and building God’s Kingdom. The saints are one in Jesus, they form His mystical body, the Church; we live in a “communion of saints” with our brothers and sisters already in heaven.
I like the passage in the Book of Revelation which speaks of a gathering of heavenly saints:
“I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10.
Yes, we are all called to holiness. We are expected to become saints. We can do it! Jesus can do it!
– Frank Summers – August 2012