Sr. Genie Natividad, MM, reflects on the meaning of mission in light of her work at the Maryknoll Sisters' Center in NY.
What struck me in the selected gospel passages for this liturgy are the last two verses (Lk. 18:7-8): Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.
I found two other related passages:
1) Lk. 21:16-19 - You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your patient endurance you will save yourselves.
2) Heb. 10:36 - You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
Before I became the Ministry Coordinator for our elderly sisters at our Center in Maryknoll, NY, (at which we refer to those sisters who are still ambulatory as the “Chi Rho” community), what I was familiar with is the sisters’ work in foreign mission, notably their dedication and commitment to serving the poor who struggle for justice. This is a religious missionary community that is certainly not lacking in history of courage, even to the point of martyrdom, which, I must admit, has been the enduring attraction for me. I have had the pleasure and the honor of knowing many of them, some of whom have become my closest friends.
My three years of accompanying the Chi Rho sisters, these missionary giants who are now on the last stretch of their journeys certainly gave me a better awareness and understanding of mission in general, and of who the Maryknoll Sisters truly are in particular.
My dear sisters in their golden years, most of whom are now frail and declining in body but never in spirit, have touched and changed me forever. They have taught and shown me what the phrase “patient endurance” means. I can only guess what must be the reward that is sure to come in the end for each of them.
When I think now of “mission immersion” or what being “in the thick of mission” means, I no longer just simply think of the work that is going on out in the field where the “real action” is. I now know that what happens out in the field continues in our retirement house and care facility where our elderly sisters now reside in their wisdom years. Mission for these sisters is just as intense, just as challenging, just as rewarding as the mission they were immersed in during their young active years whether in Asia, in Africa, in the Americas and elsewhere foreign. Just because they are no longer in “foreign mission” does not mean they are not aware of what is happening and what the implications are for theology, spirituality, and pastoral ministry. They are avid readers and those who are physically able attend seminars and lectures offered at the Center.
The “foreign” dimension of mission that Maryknoll Sisters are so keen on is a relative thing. In fact, all meaningful missions are always in the here and now, never outside of or distant from the present moment. Mission always begins and ends with the ones closest to us in the here and now. While I am here with the Chi Rho sisters, they ARE my mission and their needs determine my action, while my actions define who I am as a missioner exclusively for them. They are the focus of my mission. They are my main preoccupation. Anything and anyone else outside of that must be another day’s mission agenda.
And for these senior sisters who pray constantly, mission is just as relevant, important and significant as any mission they have ever been involved with in the past. Justice, mercy and compassion, indeed, love, are all essential components of the same mission no matter the venue. Mission is real and significant at any time, in any place and with anyone or anything “for where two or more gather in Jesus’ name, he is there with them” (Mt. 18:20).
There is something noble, something sacred and beautiful seeing a Maryknoll Sister fully embracing her mission as she breathes her last. Her death is the fulfillment of her mission, her life-long passion. Her breath returns to the Breath (Ru’ach) that breathed the One Life shared by all. It is seeing, once again, the seed falling to the ground that it may die, rise and then bear fruit (Jn. 12:24). It is witnessing a blade of grass fulfill its mission in the drying up, falling and decomposing to become a fertile ground for the next seeds sown.
The last act of the faithful servant, the last expression of mission, is the patient endurance through the last stages of life until the last breath. Only then can love truly shine through eternity. I can only respond quietly and in humility at the passing of each Maryknoll Sister I have ever had the privilege of witnessing: AMEN.