Tenafly New Jersey 25 June 2018
“Truly, truly I say to you unless a grain or wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit” John 12:24
Today as it is on every 25th of June, SMAs all over the world (priests, lay missionaries, associate members, honorary members friends etc) come together to celebrate the home call of the Servant of God, Bishop Joseph Marion de Bresillac, a man of faith, a man of courage, a man of focus and vision and a man of hope.
The theme of our reflexion today is “Courage for the Missions” That is all we need these days. I remember some years back, in the Formation House in Ibadan, Nigeria (Fr. Ricardo Zoggia SMA) our formator from the Italian province, once asked: “IS MISSION STILL POSSIBLE TODAY”? Looking at the realities of today, the situation of things and the world around us, new developments in the mission territories, the increase in diocesan priests, New religious and missionary societies and congregations both local and international, the question arises, “Do we still have our place in the missions today”? The answer is YES.
Reading through and responding to the questionnaire for the preparation of the General Assembly 2019, I felt very moved to say many things that I will summarize in a few lines here and now.
- Proud to be SMA – There is a strong appreciation throughout our formation of the importance of Community living and a spirit of togetherness. Even scattered we are together. SMA missionaries (Priests, lay missionaries, associates both men and women) are unique, a uniqueness formed by our simplicity (Simple life style) easy to be accessed, acceptance of other cultures, languages, peoples, food and mentality. And this is noticed in us… keep it up brothers and sisters!!! Of course, Christ whom we follow was simple, easy to approach, He wasn’t a complicated person.
- Gift that helps me…. an ability to think more horizontally than vertically as exemplified in our willingness to treat all people as our brothers and sisters, not just being selective in associating only with the more influential.
We strive to be faithful to the charism of the founder Bishop Marion de Bresillac, and to the SMA Spirit which has 162 years of experience behind it. I must say that the Local Church is enriched by our Missionary charism. Together we are of mutual benefits to one another through a greater openness and acceptance of one another’s strength and weakness. “Variety they say is the spice of life” ‘The Local Church without Missionaries and Religious Congregations is an incomplete church’ because the church herself in nature is missionary.
Today as we celebrate, let us remember what Jesus said: “Truly, truly I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain but if it dies it bears much fruit “Jn 12:24 – That refers to Bishop Marion De Bresillac in my own opinion. In 1859 everything was chattered by the Sierra Leone Episode and experience, almost all the six first missionaries ever to come to Africa died in a space time of six weeks including the Founder himself Bishop Marion De Bresillac, what a shock, what a failure!!! But God was stronger than what we thought was the failure of man. We thought it was ending but in fact it was just starting, sprouting and germinating.
In the same set of mind, the General Assembly of the SMA in 1983 decided to welcome Africans and Asians into the society as members henceforth, this wasn’t an easy decision to take, many provinces and confreres felt it wasn’t time, for others it wasn’t right, for some others the Founder never meant it that way, and for others it he were to be around, he wouldn’t have done that today, we are missionaries to them they cannot be missionaries to themselves in the Society of African Missions. Pope Paul VI said and I quote:
“The first of these aspects seems to Us to be this: By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves. The Church of Christ is well and truly planted in this blessed soil (cf. Ad Gentes, No. 6). One duty, however, remains to be fulfilled: we must, remember those who, before you, and even today with you, have preached the Gospel; for Sacred Scripture admonishes us to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life; and imitate their faith” (Hebr. 13, 7). That is a history which we must not forget; it confers on the local Church the mark of its authenticity and nobility, its mark as “apostolic”. That history is a drama of charity, heroism and sacrifice, which makes the African Church great and holy from its very origins.” (Homily of Paul VI Kampala (Uganda), 31 July 1969.)
I therefore believe, that the society is growing in the right direction as the founder wished it to, that is the greatest miracle he has performed so far and we are proud of it. He was a law-abiding person, a lover of the word of God and Sacraments, He was a Missionary from the depth of his heart. Let us in the spirit of the words of Pope Paul VI, strengthen ourselves with the words of the Ben Sirach
Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
2 The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
3 There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
4 those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people’s lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
So, let us praise them, not only Bishop De Bresillac but all the six of Sierra Leone down to the two last ones Adam from Poland, Sylvester Ugbogu from Nigeria and the Lay Missionary from the United States Beth Otting who died recently in Liberia. These are our saints.
Courage is the word. According to Mark Twain an American writer – “Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear and not the absence of fear.” So, the missionary courage is the expression of our confidence in God and our love for His people. This courage helps us to overcome our limitations, our limited beliefs and motivates our mission, it guides our actions and it gives joy in our missions. Bishop De Bresillac had this courage while working in India, then later chose to go to the most abandoned of Africa, starting with Freetown in Sierra Leone.
Just a word on the Gospel reading of today: ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get… Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own’? Hypocrite! Mt. 7:1-5
The man deserves this name, because he acts the part of a teacher and reformer, when he himself needs repentance and reform the most. The hypocrisy is all the greater because it does not know itself to be hypocritical.
Here the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount rises far above the level of the maxims which, to a certain extent, it resembles. It gives a new motive to the work of self-scrutiny and self-reformation. While we are blind with self-deceit we are but bunglers in the work of dealing with the faults of others. When we have wrestled with and overcome our own besetting sins, then, and not till then, shall we be able, with the insight and tact which the work demands, to help others to overcome theirs.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, it is very easy to see the errors of others, putting blames on them, as on our ancestors, judging them for what they did and did not do on the missions. This may not be the best for us. Let us rather concentrate on what we can do to make the mission a happy one, bringing our resources together to make the mission as successful as in the past. There is no need condemning others but seeing good in others for the good of the missions.
I wish us all the Missionary Courage as we face the challenges and the uncertainties of our Missions today. May Bishop De Bresillac and all the martyrs of Sierra Leone pray for us. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Julius Olusegun TEMUYI SMA
TENAFLY, NJ – 25 JUNE 2018