Many years ago our province started giving a “Mission Cross” to those who were transferred from one community to another inside the United States. I had not been aware of this new practice till I was “Missioned” for my first time May 28 1992 from San Bernardino, CA to Youngstown, OH. I had accepted that I was never going to be “Missioned” as long as I served just in the United States. Then somebody in Provincial Administration made it a practice when a person was transferred from one Community to another. This is a sacred ritual elevating a necessary administrative function to an action sharing in the redemptive plan of Jesus and our Church
I was impressed as a High School seminarian at Sacred Heart Mission Seminary, Geneva, IL when I witnessed my first “Mission Ceremony” during my freshman year, 1963-64. These men we held in high regard as they were sent by our province to give of their life to a people far away and different from themselves. There were the overtones of sacrifice as a significant virtue which is proactive to bringing to these people God’s gift of redemption and salvation. When the passing of the “Mission Cross” was used in domestic transfers these moves from one community to another share in the Divine commission to evangelize with our lives where ever we live. “From the point of view of the divine and hierarchical structure of the Church, the religious state of life is not an intermediate state between the clerical and lay states. But, rather, the faithful of Christ are called by God from both these states of life so that they might enjoy this particular gift in the life of the Church and thus each in one’s own way, may be of some advantage to the salvific mission of the Church” Lumen Gentium, 33.
My mission as pastor of St Michael the Archangel Parish is a missionary endeavor within the Archdiocese of Chicago, IL, USA. When I focus my attention to the clerical role of Pastor I’m like a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese. Yet, when I asked to serve this parish I came as a religious, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, living our motto “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be loved everywhere.” The motto that began my day as a seminarian is the vision of my daily activities. As mundane as a task can be in reality it characterizes the elevated goal of loving as Jesus loved us.
Within the boundaries of the city, I live a cross cultural life. Besides the basic cultural difference of Religious Life and Laity I’m a Caucasian white as a minority in a diverse community. Here is a Christian challenge to be like Jesus, who had a human identity through the incarnation though he was divine. One of the challenges of a missionary is to let go of an image of superiority or one coming from a superior culture. I may be educated and ordained but I’m not more of a member of the Church than any other baptized person. The charism of a Christ-like person is to be a neighbor with those with whom we live. A missionary is not coming from a separate world but has enculturated oneself as a neighbor.
The other day a visitor to St Michael Church engaged me in a conversation. He said that I was the face of Leadership in the Church. As we conversed I responded that I was the face of leadership but not the only one who was called to exercise leadership in our Christian community. The laity must step forward to Christianize the neighborhood. I’m not above the baptized no matter what race or position I live. Each of us influences our neighbor. The Pastor has the responsibility to organize and structure that service. I pray for the day that this community of diverse ethnic groups will have a leader that represents the majority of the people who live here.
This past month we had Ceremonies of Confirmation and First Communion. Each ceremony is embedded with memory which guides the importance of the experience for the participants. The child is the focus of the ritual but the parents have the need to see their memories validated in the experience of their child. Even though the Parish of St Mary Magdalen was merged with St Michael the Archangel Parish, these two ceremonies are the last ceremonies to be celebrated in their former Church. It would open the wound to force their participation with St Michaels because they had invested their memories with that Community. At St Michael’s we asked the parents to remain in the seats and take pictures from that place. As a photographer I realize the desire to get the perfect pictures. Except for one recalcitrant boy, all other photographers respected the need for the solemnity of the moment. As a person coming in I needed to learn the culture of this community and not force my perceptions of propriety that come from my childhood and religious culture.
I’ve also participated in a community organization, Alliance of the South East, which is trying to promote the needs of the local community as a very large development progresses in an attached vacant area. I could distance myself from this endeavor but as I enculturate myself to this neighborhood their future needs to be a value for me as well. One of the goals is to have vocational training to prepare the local residents to qualify for the jobs that will open up.
Even though I was not missioned to St Michael Parish I identify myself as a Missionary. Each activity is shaped to bring the experience of God’s love into the daily fabric of this community’s life.