On this fourth Sunday of October, the Church celebrates the Mission Sunday, a day when we are encouraged to pray for the continued spread of the good news.
In the first reading of the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Moses encourages his people to always look after the poor, the widow and the orphan, among the people. This is one way of showing our commitment to God.
Jesus picks up the same theme in the gospel when he is asked about the first commandment in the Law. He tells the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the most important commandment is to love God and to love the neighbour as oneself.
While normally we would associate charity with helping those who are poor and homeless, it is also charitable to reach out to those who are spiritually poor, because they have not yet heard the good news.
While at times it is difficult to associate any of De Piro’s writings with the Sunday readings, this is certainly not so on Mission Sunday. Martin Cilia wrote about the missionary aspect of the Church in his book ‘Found among sinners’ (Malta 2010, pp. 45-68), and Tony Sciberras wrote about this topic in chapter 3 of his book ‘The incarnational aspect of the spirituality of Joseph De Piro.’ The material for today’s reflection will be taken from the constitutions written by De Piro for his society; he wrote about missionary activity in the section about the ministry of his society and again in the section about the religious vows.
Missionary activity is the first among the list of ministries to be carried out by De Piro’s society, “… evangelisation is one of our main ministries ….” The founder did not want to put any geographical limits to the evangelisation carried out by his society, he wanted the members to “… save people by helping those nations who lacked workers of the gospel.…”
In the section about the vow of missionary service, the founder emphasised the unconditional consecration of the members of his society, “… the vow of mission obliges everyone to be always ready to go to any part of the world.”
Missionaries are to respect the ministry of the parish. “In our churches, besides preaching, the sacrament of reconciliation and other ministries, the missionaries are to perform those activities that are required of a parish.…”
The missionaries should always obey the local bishop, and work “… always according to the local bishop’s wishes.”
They are to be accountable to their immediate superior within the society. In his constitutions, De Piro emphasised accountability of the members. He demanded it both from formators and from those in the parishes. He also requested it from all who were working in ‘ad gentes’ activities.
“Every week, the superior of the mission, is to inform his immediate superior about all noteworthy happenings in the mission, and to ask his advice and direction. The same applies to those who, because of their ministry, do not live within their community.”
De Piro insisted on the prayerful life of the evangeliser, a good support for his evangelisation. If, due of their work, missionaries are deprived of the great benefits of community life, they are to keep alive their desire of their personal perfection; they need to observe better the holy rules of the society, be faithful to the daily meditation, the examination of conscience and other practices of piety.”
De Piro asked the missionaries to pray for evangelisation itself. De Piro was very busy with different ministries, as is well attested by his contemporaries. Each time De Piro wrote about a missionary in the almanac, he always emphasised the need for the missionary to devote himself to his ministry. Yet, the Servant of God believed that: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain…” (Ps 127:1.) He therefore insisted that the members of his society “… as soon as they are assigned to a mission, they are to welcome this as coming from the hands of Divine Providence, and immediately they are to start to pray for the people they would be evangelising.” Missionaries must continue “… to pray every day for the people in their care…”
Leading by example. Actions speak louder than words! De Piro was convinced of this. After insisting on the importance of prayer, he draws the missionary’s attention to the need to lead a good life. “Once arrived at his place of mission, missionaries need to keep constantly in mind St Paul’s words, ‘we are the aroma of Christ to God’ (2Co:2:15), and be happy with the room, the bed and the food they are offered.”
Even as days go by, members must remember that leading a good life is in itself evangelisation, they “… must be cautious not to give the slightest bad example by the way they live and the way they treat those who they are called to evangelise…”
The founder also emphasised that the evangelisers must be always discreet in their apostolate, very attentive to observe boundaries and not to confuse roles. He spoke about matchmaking, drawing of wills, and being sponsors at Baptisms and Confirmations.
Concerning discretion in evangelisation, the founder wrote, “… they have to be careful not to overstep the red line, and cause spiritual harm for themselves and for others.”
For Joseph De Piro evangelisation entailed the sending of two or more missionaries to a parish or other ministries, to administer the bread of Word of God, and to offer the most Holy Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ by through the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
The founder wanted his missionaries to evangelise the whole person. He did not want the missionaries to think that evangelisation only dealt with the spiritual aspect of human life. He encouraged his missionaries to provide for the formation of the whole human person of those they evangelised, “missionaries, called to evangelise those who are not Christian, should not refrain from educating them also in social matters; this indeed contributes to their spiritual wellbeing …”
The founder concluded the section about missions by writing to his members about an important attitude in their evangelisation in ‘ad gentes’ countries. “Once through the Lord’s assistance, they have completed their mission, they are to leave the field of evangelisation as soon as is practicable.” De Piro did not want the members of his society to possess those they evangelised. On the contrary, he urged them to leave the place when they would have done their duty.