As a layperson, I have often cowered at the word ‘mission’. For a long time, I held the understanding that mission was reserved for the priests, nuns or those who chose to go overseas to do missionary work. But of course, this is a narrow understanding of what mission is all about.
By virtue of our baptism, God calls all of us to mission. In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris missio, Saint Pope John Paul II reminded us that “Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission.”
In Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday 2020, he explained that “through our witness of faith and the proclamation of the Gospel, God may continue to manifest His love and in this way touch and transform hearts, minds, bodies, societies and cultures in every place and time.”
What does this mean for me? How can I live my life so that others may encounter Jesus through me? Four holy and missionary people gave me great insights.
- Father Tom Curran, OCD: be a contemplative in action
“Don’t ask me to write, I love to talk!” quipped this jovial and outgoing Irishman in his 80s. A friar of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, Fr Tom arrived in Singapore in 1997 from Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to that, he had spent several years in Nigeria, the United States of America and Australia.
His advice was simple: (i) have a personal, open and intimate relationship with Jesus through prayer and meditation; this means talking to Jesus and telling Him everything that is on your mind as you would with a close friend; and (ii) contemplate the Word of God while working or ministering, for example, repeating and meditating on short phrases from Scripture, such as Colossians 3:23 or Philippians 4:13.
Recounting a story about Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a French Carmelite from the 17th century who was a cook in the community, Fr Tom asked: “How do you think he managed 30 years doing nothing but cooking? He practised the presence of God in the kitchen! He began, continued and ended every task in the kitchen by lifting it up to God.” Br Lawrence could pray contemplatively even in the most ordinary of circumstances. Likewise, we can follow in Br Lawrence’s example and turn our work, no matter how seemingly insignificant or mundane, into something attractive and life-giving.
- Sister Leticia Candelario Lopez, VDM: pray, preach and witness to the Word of God
The Verbum Dei Missionaries is an institute of consecrated Life. Verbum dei means ‘Word of God’ in Latin. Hailing from Mexico, Sr Leticia has spent most of her missionary life in Singapore. Before that, she was based in Rome, the Philippines and Taiwan.
“I was a cultural Catholic right up till university,” she shared. As a philosophy major, she began questioning the purpose and meaning of life because “I have always been an inquisitive person.” But when she was invited to a Verbum Dei retreat while at university, she found to her astonishment that “The Word of God had all the answers to my questions!”
Reflecting on her past 20 years in Singapore, Sr Leticia said, “Although the people here are materially rich, many are hungry for meaning and purpose in life.” She added to satisfy that hunger, one has to first encounter God in a deep and personal way. This encounter is not just attending retreats or talks, but internalising: how has my faith helped me in my life?
She noted that being vulnerable while journeying with others is another way one can be a missionary. “Listen to others and share your own personal experiences about grief, uncertainty and rejection. When you let others see who you really are, they will then know that you genuinely care for them.” Indeed, testimony is important as it provides the necessary encouragement for others to see how God has changed our lives and the way we live.
- Sr Maria Ng, FMM: trust in God’s providence
Sr Maria Ng of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), a Singaporean, is no stranger when it comes to missions. She has been to 46 different countries visiting her communities, some in dangerous war zones and areas of great impoverishment. “We gladly go to any place where Christ is least present, preferably to the poorest.” she said.
Notwithstanding many situations of hardship and even brushes with death, Sr Maria was never afraid as a missionary, confident that God, her guide and protector, would preserve her for His work of evangelisation. “Trusting in God’s providence became so real!” laughed this intrepid nun.
“When we surrender and abandon everything to God, peace will come,” assured Sr Maria. “Peace in one’s heart is the most valuable gift from God. No matter where you are on mission, it is very important to build a personal love relationship with Jesus Christ.”
- Fr Avelino Marin: bring the Spirit of Christ into daily life
Originally from the small city of Cartagena in Spain, Fr Marin came to Singapore in 2007 from Taiwan. “Singapore is practically my second home and is the place where I have lived longest other than Cartagena,” he explained.
Fr Marin is currently Vicar for Opus Dei in South-east Asia. Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. It is made up of a prelate, priests and laity – both women and men. Opus dei means ‘work of God’ in Latin and its mission is to spread the message that every person is called to holiness and that every honest work can be sanctified for the glory of God.
Laypersons who are members of Opus Dei express holiness in ordinary life. They sanctify their work by working well and responsibly in order to love and serve God and their neighbour. Whilst knowledge of Scripture and Tradition are important, laypeople are not handicapped in sharing the faith with others as they have power over their prayer lives, how they live and how they relate with others.
“The laity are immersed in secular activities, sharing the same concerns and stresses of life with people who may not necessarily know Christ, so they are more than able to bring the Spirit of Christ to their professional and personal lives,” concluded Fr Marin.
Go make disciples of all nations
Echoing St Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” mission in essence is the proclamation of our lives lived in Christ. When we partake of His body and blood,
we become living temples of the Holy Spirit and bearers of His love, and we can bring Him anywhere and everywhere we go.
May we carry the wise counsels of these four great witnesses of Christ right here in Singapore on how to be holy and missionary. Let us go out into the world and share the love of Christ with others today on World Mission Sunday and every day!