In this post-Easter time I have been thinking about the variety of ways that the Holy Spirit moves us in our lives and in our ministries. Just over one hundred years ago the Spirit moved the founder of the Missionary Society of St Columban, Fr Edward Galvin, to see the need for more missionaries in China. The Spirit also moved him to not just sit with that recognition of the need but gave him the impetus to return from China to his native Ireland and to collaborate with our Society’s other founder, Fr John Blowick, in making all the initial arrangements for getting official Church permission and setting up a new missionary society which included the recruitment of priests and seminarians and fundraising.
In 1918 Ireland had just lost 35,000 men in the slaughter of World War I. 23,000 people were dying or about to die of the flu that was brought back from overseas by the soldiers. 5,000 died in domestic political violence after the Easter Uprising. There was also a post- famine yearning to emigrate. These were not times that encouraged calm, settled discernment but rather an era of great grief and upheaval, not unlike what we see in parts of the Middle East and Syria today.
I am amazed at the strength of faith and generosity of those people who joined missionary societies like the Missionary Society of St Columban in those difficult times. Similarly, many others were moved to support their cause in the midst of such domestic turmoil. Somehow they were all able to 'see' and move beyond that vibrant sense of national consciousness and identity, beyond their own concerns, to develop an international missionary consciousness and were able to 'see' the Chinese people and their need. Faith can move mountains and see over green hills to distant horizons. The heart response at such times can be powerful and lead to great actions.
This kind of missionary consciousness is needed today to help us see our one world, our one planet and our diverse peoples as all belonging together and interconnected, despite the news of wars and discord. Just as the founders of the Missionary Society of St Columban saw the Chinese people as people in need so do we need to have the same heart to see migrants from other nations coming to our shores as people just like us. We need that new 'lens' and heart to see Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus also as our sisters and brothers.
One of the peak moments in the early Church was Pentecost Sunday which we celebrated in the month of May. We celebrate the many 'tongues' which recognised Jesus as our Master and the calling of all peoples to follow him then and in our world today. The Spirit who enlivened the early disciples and gave them the courage to share their post-Easter experience of Jesus is the same Spirit inviting us to be missionary disciples today. This is the Spirit which inspires us, opens our eyes and gives us the insight to see beyond our own cultural lens to what God is inviting us to become.
This conversion experience is not just about seeing with new eyes but also listening with new ears. At our recent Columban Regional Convention in Melbourne ordained Columbans and co-workers shared what they have been hearing in Australia and New Zealand. They recognised that there has been a reversal of roles in that civil society is now holding the Church to a higher standard of moral purpose and conduct. The overarching principle is to promote the value and dignity of all persons, especially women. Listening to the variety of 'tongues' on Pentecost Sunday and in civil society today has a new meaning for our Church. We now need new 'hands and feet' to carry out this important dimension of our Church’s missionary call.
Fr Brian Vale
LISTEN TO: From the Director - Pentecost Sunday - see and listen
(Duration: 4:56mins, MP3: 2:26MB)