Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Other St. Francis, a Missionary's Missionary

Today the Church celebrates the life of St. Francis Xavier, one of the co-founders with St. Ignatius Loyola, of the Jesuits.

Many know of the Jesuits great contribution to the academic world, but not all are familiar with their great missionary work, and yet, St. Francis Xavier is considered the greatest Christian missionary since St. Paul.

He was born in Spain into an aristocratic family in 1506. While studying at the University of Paris he met Ignatius of Loyola. Francis seemed destined for a life of academic success, but Ignatius convinced him of the importance of missionary work. Francis was quickly consumed by a fiery passion for spreading the Gospel in the East Indies, India, China and Japan.

Just as St. Paul's missionary journeys are so impressive, especially when one considers the more primitive forms of transportation, so are St. Francis'. You can just imagine these voyages on 16th Century vessels! Here is a map of his journeys.

St. Francis had to deal with all the adjustments and challenges missionaries face. Learning Japanese was a struggle for him, but that didn't stop him. He used icons and other artwork for his evangelization efforts.

While these missionary efforts are to be greatly admired, it is good to know that we don't have to step on a plane or an ocean voyager or even a car to be a missionary. Only some are called to that, but we are all called to be missionaries in the providence of our everyday lives. Our Founder, Fr. Thomas Augustine Judge, used those words. He said, "you meet certain people, you have contact with certain persons or places, your life has a certain circumscription, God overshadowing and intervening in all. This is called your daily providence. It is yours indeed; it does not belong to anybody else. Like the skin on your face it is yours personally, nobody else ever had it, nobody else ever will have it. Everyone of us is a center of a particular bit of Divine Providence. " This is precisely the place where all baptized persons are called to spread a knowledge and love of God, to remind those around us that God loves each one of us very deeply and is yearning for our response to this love.

Let us pray today for missionaries: that's all of us!

Monday, November 30, 2009


The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. It also signals our preparation for Christmas. In the Missionary Cenacle we say that preparation for the next Christmas begins on Christmas Day! Our founder, Father Judge, had such an appreciation for the mystery of the Incarnation, God taking on our human nature, that he felt this mystery should never be far from our minds and hearts.
I remember my first Advent in Mexico. It was on the coastal area of the State of Guerrero. The average temperature was 115F. This was quite a shock for a missionary who grew up in mountain area of Pennsylvania where you could count on the first snowfall by the end of October! One of the young priests was giving an Advent Day of Reflection for the priests, religious and pastoral workers of the area. He talked about our preparation for Christmas and how we might want to "clean up" the stable of our heart. This became a very real image for Advent. One of our chapels which also served as a catechetical center was perhaps a tropical version of a stable. Donkeys and other animals congregated there on a regular basis. When we arrived for our meetings with catechists or children or to prepare for Mass, the donkeys had to be whisked away and "brooms" which were made for this type of cleanup were put to work. If a Mass were going to be celebrated, people brought flowers and hung plants, the altar was scoured and cleaned, and freshly starched linens were placed on it. Gradually, people who were so deeply faith filled arrived with all the reverence you might see in a cathedral laden with stain glass windows. At the Consecration people knelt on the sometimes muddy ground. Only the best welcome for their Lord and Savior.
Father Pedro urged us to prepare the stable of our hearts which sometimes contains things far more unpleasant than we found in our tropical "stable" turned into chapel, etc. Things like resentments, bitterness, jealousy, acedia, a letting go of our enthusiasm and joy that can lead us down a slippery slope to sloth and despair, need to be swept away and replaced with things that fill a heart with a royal welcome. If we don't know what needs to be swept out of the stable of our hearts, and what needs to placed there, a prayerful, vigilant Advent will do this. Actually, it is the only way.

I pray for each one of us hearts transformed into cathedrals of welcome this Christmas.

Happy New Year. Happy and blessed Advent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Perhaps Misunderstood Feast

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It is one of our big Feasts in the Missionary Cenacle Family.

There are some who seem to be put off by the title of this feast. They say the idea of “king”, royalty is passé, and therefore find it difficult to relate to this title of Jesus.

Perhaps today’s expression of royalty is different. Some political families have been referred to as dynasties. Every movement of certain entertainers is watched. In a way they “dictate” the latest fashion. Athletes, while they might not be referred to as royalty, seem to command salaries fit for royalty! And, people walk around in clothing with their favorite athlete’s name on it. So in a way there is a modern day royalty and, sadly, many in this modern day royalty have “fallen from their thrones”, caused disappointment and sadness to their “followers”.

As Christians we know there is only one King worth following. “His throne will last forever” and, He will never cause us sadness or disappointment.

Pope Pius XI universally instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas. Pope Pius XI noted that many Christians, even Catholics, were doubting Christ's authority, as well as the Church's, and even doubting Christ's existence. Pius XI, and the rest of the Christian world, witnessed the rise of dictatorships in Europe, and, most unfortunately, saw Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders.

Jesus knew the oppressive nature of secular kings, and in contrast to them, he connected his role as king to humble service, and commanded his followers to be servants as well. In other passages of Scripture, his kingdom is tied to his suffering and death.

When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose "loving-kindness endures forever." Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him. Thus we must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship. (

The more we can make Christ the King and Center of our hearts, the more we can be assured that the kingdom of God dwells within us. This Kingdom is one of “…righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Righteousness, peace and joy, qualities lacking in the pre-World War II world of the 1920’s! Not exactly abounding today either. Let’s strive together to make “God’s Kingdom Come” in our hearts and in our world.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Richer Life

Many years ago somebody made a movie about our Religious Community. It was entitled What Richer Life. As I begin this blog I'd like to share with you about a woman whose life brought to my mind the title of that film, Sister Constance Norick, MSBT. Sister Connie, as she was known, died earlier this week. She was 97 years of age. We'll miss Sister Connie very much, but she gave us much to celebrate. How can that be? Sister Connie was one of the pioneers of our Community. At 14 years of age (no typo!), she left her home and family in Rockford, Illinois for what must have seemed at that time the "middle of nowhere", Holy Trinity, Alabama. There were no jets, and there was certainly no sophisticated interstate highway system. In fact, much of the very young Connie Norick's journey to Alabama was on dirt roads.

Connie was young and so was the Community. Enthusiasm, joy and spirits were high. Our Founders' love for God, great zeal and missionary spirit were contagious. Connie left home and family with one desire, to be a missionary. The missionary spark in Connie's heart was ignited to a brilliant flame that would endure for 83 years, and be passed on to so many.

At our wakes we have the tradition to tell stories about our deceased Sisters. We were reminded about Sr. Connie's and the Community's early days. While spirits were high and joy and enthusiasm in abundance, economic resources were not. Comfort was not part of the pioneers' vocabulary. Sacrifice was the order of the day. Sacrifice is part of a missionary's life.

So many things were said about Sr. Connie. She was very intelligent. She was practical and so creative. Her organizational skills are legend! In the midst of it all, several things stood out. One was that she practiced spontaneous generosity and she encouraged others to do the same. Nothing seemed to be a bother for her. One Sister shared how in her early awkward postulant (first step) days, she was told to mop the floor. She didn't even know where to find the mops. She encountered Sister Connie, and not knowing who she was asked her where she could find one. Sister Connie not only stopped to show this "newbie" where the mop was, but proceded to show her to how to mop a Motherhouse floor! And all in a very patient manner. What a surprise for this young woman to learn later that day that Sister Connie was a member of the General Council (one of the leaders/superiors) of the Community!

We heard how nothing stopped Sister Connie. She felt that she or the Sisters could do anything if they put their minds to it. And besides, Sister Connie had the conviction that the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding us! If the Holy Spirit wants something done and we cooperate, it's going to happen!

It seemed that Sister Connie did do almost anything and everything. She was a nurse. She later pursued university studies and taught nursing and became the Director of the School of Nursing at what was our hospital, Holy Name of Jesus Hospital, in Gadsdon, AL. She obtained a Masters Degree in Biology and ran the Blood Bank in the same hospital.

She was the Dean of Formation in the Juniorate Program. She was responsible for the formation of many Missionary Servants. She later went to Puerto Rico and did pastoral ministry there. She also ministered with the Hispanic immigrants in Lorain, Ohio.

But most of all she was noted for her love for God, for her religious family, her prayer life and great charity expressed in spontaneous generosity.

Sister Connie probably heard the words in our Rule of Life directly from our Founder's lips, "... What more beautiful legacy can you leave than that of an example and life rich in the Cenacle traditions? This mean that even after your death you will be continuing your apostleship through others whom your virtue has attracted to the service of God."

And that is what we celebrate, a life rich in the Cenacle traditions. Thank you, Sister Connie, for the example of a life well lived. Well done good and faithful servant, good and faithful Missionary Servant.

As I listened to stories about Sister Connie's life, I asked myself who are the Sister Connies of the future. I prayed that many young women will be inspired to live this life rich in Cenacle traditions, a missionary life, a life of sacrifice that leads to a great legacy.

And so, Sister Connie, I dedicate this blog to you.