The death of someone close to us always gives us pause for thought. Columban Fr Peter Toohey, passed away recently in Perth. Peter was a missionary not only in Korea and Chile but also in Australia. He sought out the poor – those with mental illnesses in a psychiatric hospital, those on the edges of Australian society amongst the first nation peoples of our country. What motivated him? Why did he do it? What was he seeking?
In our Christian tradition and in the tradition of most major religions around the world the answer to all the questions above is simple – God. His desire for God drove him. His desire to share the God that he had found with others was his mission.
When we Columbans say we are missionaries or when we say that all Christians are missionary because of our baptism, I think we have the same questions as Peter and the same answers. It is God’s mission that we are part of. It is God’s love for all his people that drives God and us. As Jesus says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Lk. 4: 18). The Spirit gives us energy and delight in our mission. We are led by the Spirit in our lives to find our way of mission.
Everyone has a deep desire for God. In the same way God has a deep desire for all his sons and daughters. What each of us is promised is a personal relationship with God. It is not just head knowledge about God but to be in a loving relationship with God. All of our Gospels, Church documents and rules are there to help us to come to know God and love God.
Like all relationships our connection to God has ups and downs. There may be a slow beginning or a dramatic one. There may be times when God seems far away and other times where the intimacy of God can be so frightening that we look the other way. As in our relationships with all people, and indeed the universe, there is always change.
So the question for all of us missionaries is, how do we help God’s children get to know God personally? How do we help people awaken to the reality of God’s loving care for them in their own lives every day? I think the best way to do this is to understand what God has done in our own lives and then share that story with others. When we want one of our friends to meet someone they do not know we share with our friend what this person has been for us, what we have experienced of this person.
When have we experienced God? Most people have experiences of God but have not named God as the one that they have met. Sunsets and sunrises are often times for meeting God. A moon seen on a clear night can be an opportunity to be with God. Have you noticed those times when you are caught? You feel the need to stop and just look. The whole scene is often sharper. Things seem all united and part of a whole. Everything seems brighter. The beauty of the scene carries your breath away. It is in those times that we see God in everything and holding everything in love.
As these occasions of spiritual awakening become more frequent so does our love for God grow. We become more aware of God sustaining us and leading us. We begin to notice that our prayer is changing. Going to Mass on Sunday enriches our soul. We know we cannot make these special moments happen to us. They come from outside us. They are gifts to us and we grow in gratitude for the Giver of all life.
I would have liked to have heard Peter speak more about his journey into God.
Fr Trevor Trotter