I have two images for us to consider. First image: a candle, set on fire, sitting on top of a stand. Second image: same candle, set on fire, sitting on top of a stand but with a basket over it. And with these two images in mind I have a question for us to consider: which candle are you?
Now you might be wondering why I’m talking about these two images today, seeing as how they don’t seem to relate directly to the readings of today. And it’s true they don’t relate directly to our readings, but today happens to be a special celebration in the Church throughout the world. Today in every Catholic Church across the globe we are celebrating World Mission Sunday.
Now, typically, when we hear the word, “mission” in the Church we usually think of men and women going off to some distant and remote country, where they have to learn a foreign language so as to proclaim the Gospel. And that’s true. The most common understanding of mission relates to these efforts. And it is fitting for us today to both pray for and support those men and women who go to foreign lands to preach the Gospel.
But whether or not we ever go to Africa, or China, or India, or where ever, we are all called to be missionaries. To be a missionary, in its most literal sense, means to “be sent.” Missionary comes from the Latin word “missio” meaning to send. Some of us probably remember the end of the Mass when it was said in Latin. That ending was, “Ite missa est.” It was from that ending that we get the word Mass. Ite missa est means, “She is sent.” The “she” in “she is sent “is the Church. And as you know you and I are the Church. At every Mass you and I are sent by our Lord Himself to go out into the World, beginning with our homes, to speak about the One we meet. The One we meet at the ambo, at the altar, and in the assembly.
And this brings us back to the candle. Jesus says in the Gospel, “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.” Because that would make no sense. It would serve no purpose. Our Lord says, you “Light a lamp and put it on a stand for all the house to see.”
“The house” is the world in which we live. And “the lamp” is us, you and me, every single one of us. He has lit us; He’s set us on fire. And we have been lit to shine. At confirmation our Lord, through the Bishop, used sacred chrism to sign us with the cross on our forehead. In that gesture our Lord was saying to us, “You are mine. I love you with an infinite love, go be my witness and I will give you every bit of wisdom, grace, and courage you need.”
I want share a little bit about St. Gianna Molla, canonized in 1994. Gianna was born in Italy in 1922. She was a regular Catholic and as a young adult she studied medicine specializing in pediatrics and it was her dream to go to Brazil, as a missionary, where she intended to offer her medical expertise in gynecology to poor women. However, her chronic poor health made this impossible, and so she remained in Italy practicing medicine. In 1954 she met her future husband Pietro, they married the following year. Three children quickly followed. In 1961, Gianna was again expecting. During the second month, she developed a fibroma on her uterus. The doctors gave her three choices: an abortion with surgery later to remove the tumor; a complete hysterectomy; or removal of only the fibroma, with the potential of further complications. Abortion was out of the question and wanting to save her child’s life, she opted for the removal of the fibroma.
There were many complications during that pregnancy. But Gianna was quite clear about her wishes, saying to her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other – I want them to save the baby.” On April 21, 1962, Good Friday of that year, Gianna went to the hospital, where her fourth child, also named Gianna was successfully delivered via caesarean. However, Gianna continued to have complications and she died of a severe infection 7 days later. At her canonization Mass, Pope St. John Paul II called Gianna, “A simple but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.”
Gianna’s daughter once read a letter to Pope Francis at a public gathering. This letter was one her mom had written to her dad soon after their engagement. In it St. Gianna highlighted the Christian virtues of marriage, writing that God had called herand Pietro together as a couple to serve God in a saintly way, by marriage, the sacrament of love.
St. Gianna shined not as a missionary to Brazil as she had hoped but as a wife and mother and physician. She was sent. We’re all missionaries, we’ve all been sent by God. And thinking about my own life, especially my youth, no priest, deacon, or sister taught me nearly as much about what it means to be a Christian as did my mom and dad. They were my best teachers. It was their example I saw every day. My folks let their light shine by the example of daily prayer, of going faithfully to Mass every Sunday, of giving generously, and by their joy. Parents have a great and privileged mission in the Church. They introduce their children to Jesus.
As Christians it’s a great honor to be sent by God, out into the world. To tell the world of our Lord’s wondrous deeds. In prayer today, especially after receiving the Eucharist, ask Him to show you one concrete way, this week, in which you can let your light shine.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley