“I want to be a missionary until the end of time” – St. Therese
National Novena to St. Thérèse – Patroness of the Missions 2016
Day 9: Saturday 1 October 2016, Feast of St. Therese – Fr. Robbin Kamemba SMA – Homily:
“I want to be a missionary until the end of time.”
[Editor’s Note: Fr Tim Cullinane’s Opening Homily for the Novena, follows Fr. Kamemba’s homily below]
As it was mentioned at the beginning of the Eucharist, I am from Kenya but I work as a missionary in an SMA Parish in Cairo, Egypt. Since we speak Swahili in Kenya, I’d love to sing a song for you in Swahili (Psalm 23) …
Egypt is a country with a population of approximately 95 million people. 10% of this population is Christian and the rest predominantly Muslim. Consequently, proselytising is strictly forbidden by law.
The question would then be, why have a missionary presence if one is forbidden to bring to the Christian faith those who don’t profess it?
A number of occasions allow us to attempt an answer to this preoccupation and at the same time call us to a great deal of openness as regards our approach to mission:
First of all, St. Therese, the wonderful lady we’re celebrating today teaches us a totally different perspective of mission; how to be missionary without actually being physically in the missions.
Here I pause for a moment to recognise, appreciate and express my gratitude, on my own behalf but also on behalf of many young SMA missionaries in Africa today, for the tremendous effort our SMA supporters here in Ireland have given to the missions for so many years. Just like St. Therese, you are great missionaries even without being in the missions. You’ve participated at your own level, actively and tirelessly to make sure that those who go to the missions are well prepared and actually go.
The presence of our great and “young” missionaries in our house here at Blackrock road is a clear testimony of your work. The mark they have left in the hearts of Africans is indelible. Your support is still needed as the church in Africa is ever growing.
So today’s feast confirms exactly that: we can be missionaries even without being in the missions.
Secondly, we are celebrating the Year of Mercy. The SMA has been in Egypt since 1876 and great men have worked there including a long line of Irish SMA. The great heritage that they left us is that there is that there is no law that can forbid us from being merciful and charitable.
Our ministry, whether in Egypt, elsewhere in Africa or in our families and communities, if it is stamped by our charitable attitude towards all who come to us, all whom we go to and all who we stay with, then the presence of Christ is assured and maintained.
As Pope Francis has encouraged us this year, let us be missionaries of mercy, working as witnesses of mercy in our own daily missions, in our homes and other communities where we offer our services with love.
St. Therese has been called the Saint of Mercy because she deeply believed in the unfailing and unconditional mercy of God. Likewise, we are invited to be merciful and charitable with everyone, and when we don’t manage, as she occasionally wasn’t and writes about it, then we must be merciful with ourselves.
Whenever we fail at love or mercy, we give that failure to God. We can pray with her words and say, “See, Lord, what a mess I am. I give you all my mess! You will have to fix it in your mercy. I cannot. I know you understand and forgive me because you are always my loving and merciful Father.”
National Novena to St. Thérèse – Patroness of the Missions 2016
Day 1: Friday 23 September 2016 – Fr. Tim Cullinane SMA – Homily:
“Prayer is one of the all-powerful weapons God has put into my hands.”
During the days of the Novena we are going to reflect on important sayings of St Theresa as found in her autobiography entitled “The Story of a Soul”.
In this first talk, we will reflect on what she says about prayer. First of all, she teaches us the importance of prayer. “What would I do without prayer?” she asks, “It is one of the most powerful weapons God has put into our hands.”
In times past family prayer like the rosary was very much part of Irish family life but not so much anymore. The average person in Ireland as you may have seen from a recent TV ad advising people to pay their licence fee spends approximately 3.5 hours a day watching TV, with TV side-lining prayer in many homes. There is a parody of Psalm 23 part of which goes like this:
The TV is my shepherd. I shall not want.
It makes me lie down on the sofa.
It leads in the path of violence and sex for the consumer’s sake.
Its channels and remote control, they comfort me and tell me what to think and what to buy.
Surely worldliness and emptiness will follow me all the days of my life.
However in a changed world, what St Theresa said about prayer is still true. “What would we do without prayer? “It is one of the most powerful weapons God has put into our hands. I saw a banner recently with the words, “Life is fragile, handle with prayer.” A question we all need to ask is, “What place does prayer play in my life and in the life of my family?”
Not only does St Theresa speak about the importance of prayer but helps us with prayer by telling us how she prayed herself:
“For me prayer is a surge of the heart. It is a simple look turned towards heaven. It is a cry of recognition and of love embracing both trial and joy”.
This is a very simply way to pray taking less than a minute and can be done anytime during the day as we walk along the road or wait for a bus or during the ad breaks on television or while we are waiting for the kettle to boil. It is like two people in love feeling a surge of love in the heart and turning to each other and saying “John I love you” or “Mary I love you.” This prayer is a look towards God who is always looking at us with love. Therese practised it as she looked at the crucifix and said, “Jesus my only love.” It is a prayer for times of sorrow as well as joy. Jesus Himself practised it on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
In Nigeria, for times of joy and thanksgiving they have a similar type of prayer called the “Thank you Jesus Prayer” using a special rosary. You call to mind what you want to thank Jesus for and say as you touch each bead “Thank you Jesus” and for the large beads between the mysteries you say, “O thank you Jesus.”
St Therese also teaches us another way to pray. She writes:
“It is not necessary to read from a book beautiful prayers composed for our particular needs before we can be heard… I have not the courage to make myself search for wonderful prayers in books; there are so many of them, and it gives me a headache. In my case, each one seems more beautiful than the one before. As I cannot say all of them, and do not know which to choose, I just act like a child who can’t read; I tell God, quite simply, all that I want to say, and He always understands”.
St Theresa of Avila says the same thing, “Prayer is very simple in terms of being a friendship with God, frequently conversing alone with one, who we know loves us.”
That is the way Moses prayed: “He spoke face to face to God as a man speaks to his friend.
Many of us learned prayers like Our Father, Hail Mary and the responses at Mass at home or at school before we really learnt what prayer is. Rattling off prayers like these can be mere lip services unless they come from the heart. Jesus complained about such prayer. “These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Jn. 29:13-14). What St Theresa did as she said herself, “I tell God quite simply what I have to say and He always understands.”
Sometimes we get distracted or even fall asleep during prayer and are annoyed with ourselves. Theresa had the same experience but it did not worry her and this should encourage us:
“Really I should be very upset,” she says, “for having slept so many times during my hours of prayer and thanksgiving after Communion; but I am not. I remember that children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake.”
Now we come to this Novena in honour of St Theresa.
In this Novena, St. Theresa is praying with us and for us, and her prayers are very powerful. Theresa was 14 years of age when the ghastly murder of two women and a child occurred in Paris. Henry Pranzini, a native of Alexandria in Egypt, was charged with the murder. Theresa read in the newspaper that he had refused to meet the prison chaplain when he came to visit him. She prayed repeatedly on her own and later with her sister Celine for Pranzini’s conversion. “I felt in the depth of my heart that my prayer would be answered but I asked God for a sign of repentance from Pranzini.
The day after Pranzini’e execution Theresa read in a French newspaper that just before he was guillotined, the condemned man noticed that a priest was standing nearby with a crucifix. He cried out, “Quick, hand me the crucifix” and kissed it three times. A few seconds later he was beheaded and Theresa saw his last minute repentance as a sign that her prayer was answered. In this Novena Theresa is praying for us as she prayed for Pranzini.
Before she died she wrote, “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth”. In the most widely used picture of her, she is seen holding a crucifix and a bouquet of roses with petals falling to the ground signifying the favours or shower of roses that she promised to bestow on those who turned to her for help. Today, if you go to the chapel in the convent at Lisieux where she lived and died you will see along a wall beside the chapel many small marble slabs with words “Merci Therese” (Thank you Theresa) for every type of favour you could imagine: recovery from sickness, the birth of a child, finding a suitable partner, deliverance from evil, cure of addiction, getting a job, soldiers surviving the war… put there by people from all over the world who had come to her convent in Lisieux to thank her for favours received.
In this Novena we bring our needs and the needs of all who are dear to us, and of all making the Novena, and ask her to pray for us and with us. St. Theresa is patroness of the Mission so we ask you to join with us in praying for our SMA and OLA missionaries everywhere, especially for those working in difficult circumstances.
Jesus does say, “Ask and you shall receive” and people have received many blessing through the intercession of St Theresa but we need to remember that even the sincerest prayers do not come with a guarantee that we will get what we want for prayer is not magic but one thing is sure God always answers prayers though not always in the way we expect. We should pray like Jesus in Gethsemane, “Father if it is possible let this chalice pass me by but not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Prayers not answered in the way we expect can also be a blessing as the writer of this reflection found out:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed
Luke 11:9-13 “ask and it will be given to you”