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Love at the heart of mission

A large number of family members came to honour their deceased Jesuit missionary relatives, at a special Mass on Sunday 4 November, 2018, in Gonzaga Chapel. The principal celebrant was Fr John Guiney SJ, Director of Irish Jesuit Missions. The homilist was the Irish Jesuit Provincial, Fr Leonard Moloney, who had recently returned from visiting the Jesuit Mission in Zambia/Malawi. Since the current Jesuit missionary outreach from Ireland began in the 1940’s, 106 Jesuits have gone to the East, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Cambodia, and 136, to Africa.

Beginning his homily the Provincial said he felt unworthy to preach at the Mass because, he was speaking about men who “in their hearts, in their deepest desires, desired to give all – even to saying goodbye to family and the country.”

Speaking about his recent visit to Africa, Fr Moloney recalled standing at the grave of Fr John Moore, who died recently. It was a moving moment for him as John was his Superior when he was “a very young, even naive, Jesuit from 1975-1978 in Monkstown.” The now Provincial was then a member of a community of ten who even then recognised that they were  “living with a Saint, he was so ascetical.”

Fr John was a brilliant Professor of Botany in University College Dublin, and he took early retirement from the University when he was in his 50’s to follow his calling to the missions. But he wasn’t perfect, according to the Provincial, “He probably wasn’t the greatest driver in the world and we all held for dear life as he swung around corners, but we knew that we were in the presence of greatness.”

The Gospel reading for the Mass concerned the great commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. Fr Moloney said that this is what the Jesuit missionaries, today and in days gone by, put into action. “And so it is important that we gather here today to honor our deceased missionaries who down the years tried to live out that commandment to the best of their ability often in very difficult circumstances, including extremes of poverty, sickness and violence,” he said, adding, “Their love of God was inextricably linked to love of their fellow human beings, men women and children, all children of God.”

You can read Fr Moloney’s full homily below.

LOVE AT THE HEART OF MISSION

I feel unworthy to preach at this Mass because I am speaking about men who in their hearts in their deepest desires, desired to give all even to saying goodbye to family and the country. These were heroic men who tried to live lives of the fullest integrity. Like all of us each one of them has his own unique set of strengths and limitations, but their desires were always great. Hence, my sense of unworthiness.

When I mentioned to a colleague of mine that I would be giving the homily at this Mass for our deceased Jesuit missionary brothers and their families, I was struck by her response. Her uncle had been a missionary priest and much loved by his extended family. “I remember from the earliest days the joy and excitement for everyone when he would come home for a holiday,” she said, “and the quiet sadness, especially for my mother, his sister, when he was going away again.”

Perhaps many of you here today, sisters, brother nieces, nephews, cousins, friends of a Jesuit missionary, can resonate with that experience… many comings and goings punctuating long periods of absence. And today, in this month of November, the month of the dead, we mark specially their final going, by invoking their memory, and honouring the gift that their lives were to us and to those whom they loved and served on the missions.

Since the current Jesuit missionary outreach from Ireland began in the 1940’s, 106 Jesuits have gone to the East, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Cambodia and Singapore, Chile and Paraguay, 136 to Africa, and most recently Fr Tony O’Riordan to South Sudan with JRS. Writing to me from the Jesuit mission in Zambia/Malawi recently, Fr Michael Kelly spoke of the generosity of these men “who gave themselves so wholeheartedly to the challenges of work in such a new environment for them.’”

He also remarked that in the early years, the Ireland they came from was materially poor and struggling economically. Yet they and their work were supported and cared for by the country, the families, and the order they’d left behind.

Without doubt they must have experienced tough times, loneliness, a yearning for home. But all that was trumped by their generous giving of themselves. That generosity and its fruits is still striking today.

I think of the tributes that flowed in from Wan Yan College, Kowloon, on foot of the recent death of Fr Harry Naylor who fifty years ago co-founded the first ecological conservation society in Hong Kong. Similar tributes to our missionaries, your family members, have been replicated over the decades.

And on my recent visit in just a few weeks ago to Zambia/Malawai I was struck by the energy and passion of the Zambian and Malawian Jesuits who had become, as it were, the fruit of the desires of those early and even current Jesuits.

One of the moving moment for me, was to stand at Fr. John Moore’s grave in Kasisi. No headstone yet, just a large mound of earth covered in flowers. John was my Superior as a very young, even naïve, Jesuit from 1975-1978 in Monkstown. We were about ten young men in the house. We knew, even then, that we were living with a saint, he was so ascetical. This man who was a brilliant Professor of Botany in UCD, this man who later gave his life to the people of Zambia and Malawi. Now, he probably wasn’t the greatest driver in the world and we all held for dear life as he swung around corners but we knew that we were in the presence of greatness. May our most recent deceased brother missionary rest in peace.

What I saw there was the great and beautiful commandment of today’s gospel, in action.: ‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” The Jesuit activist Daniel Berrigan once noted: “We cannot love others if we don’t love ourselves, and if we dishonor others we dishonor ourselves.” And so it is important that we gather here today to honor our deceased missionaries who down the years tried to live out that commandment to the best of their ability often in very difficult circumstances, including extremes of poverty, sickness and violence. Their love of God was inextricably linked to love of their fellow human beings, men women and children, all children of God.

Because that’s what is at the heart of mission, indeed at the heart of Christianity. It’s a ‘being sent’, a ‘going therefore ‘… and from the moment of our baptism into the family of God, each and every one of us is being prepared for mission, under that great commandment of love.

We may be missioned to the home we create, the office we work in, the school we teach in. We can be missioned to serve in our local community or on the other side of the world.

When I returned from Zambia I noticed how energized and touched I was by all the people I had encountered there. The generosity given to others by our missionaries and you, their family and friends, is also mirrored in the generosity of the people and families whom they were privileged to work with and serve.

Almost every Jesuit missionary I’ve ever spoken to has made it clear to me that missionary work is two-way traffic. These men went out to love and serve and found themselves being loved and served in return. They went out with a vision of Christian love and hope, and the people with whom they lived and worked gave them new eyes with which to view the world and to understand the gospels.

You may have experienced as I have, the wisdom and expanded vision that our returning evangelizing missionaries give us at home. Our Irish Jesuit Missions Office plays an important role in this regard.

Your brothers, cousins and uncles went out to evangelise – that is to share the good news concretely, building schools, farms and hospitals, teaching and training young people. They came back home intermittently, evangelized by those with whom they’ve lived. In turn, they taught and evangelized you. Your hospitality, your love, your faith in their work, in turn supported them. You became part of their missionary work. A circle of love.

And that is how it should be, for under God we are one family. As the great mystic Julian of Norwich tells us, “We are all knitted into Christ who is knitted into God.” And as St Ignatius understood it, after his mystical vision of the Holy Trinity in the church at La Storta, the whole story of incarnation is about communion.

This is very good news for all of us here this November day. Because essentially what we are talking about now is the communion of saints. The oneness of us all, living and dead, in the body of Christ that we will share in, in a very real way at communion time. This is something that St Monica, mother of St Augustine, understood well. As she was dying she gave out to him and his brother for worrying about what country she should be in so that she might die happy. Instead she asked that she be remembered by her sons “at the altar of the Lord, wherever you may be”.

Monica was directing Augustine and his brother to look for her in the Eucharist, telling them that they would know a deeper communion with her within it than by a visit to her grave.

I began by telling the story about the missionary life as being one of goings and returnings. The death of our loved ones, however far from home, is indeed a going, but it is also, in its own way, a returning, through the communion of saints.

Our deceased love ones are with us here today. And what they have been to us and others, what they have formed in us and others, lives on. We are all one in Spirit in the eternal God who is outside of and beyond time.

I am aware of the lamentable limitations of my prose here, but I am grateful for the help of poet John F Deane. This is from his poem Goldcrest, and I’ll finish with it.

GOLDCREST

Of course they come back,
The dead,
Because they are there,
Just beyond our being,
On the other side of nothingness.
Because there is work to be done,
On earth and in the heavens,
And because we haunt them..

So I find contentment this side of nothingness,
And being ghosted by the presence of
Those I have loved and lost.