My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Just a few days ago on October 3, we celebrated the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Affectionately known to many as the “Little Flower,” St. Thérèse is the patroness of the Missions. Perhaps the great paradox of her patronage is that Thérèse never left her cloister. Her entire religious life was lived out in her humble convent in Lisieux, France. Though she desired so deeply to be a missionary, she was compelled to live a life of relative obscurity, to become a missionary through her prayer, her sacrifice and the “little way” that defined her life and has inspired the lives of many.
Thérèse’s simple life reminds me of a quotation from another saintly missionary, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “do small things with great love.” Each of us has been compelled to encounter how to carry out the Christian way of life in our own “cloisters” as pandemic restrictions had us holed up in our homes in the early months of COVID-19. Somehow, our lives as people of faith and as disciples of Jesus Christ had to carry on. Admittedly, to do so we had to find creative ways to be faithful to our worship and acts of prayer as our public worship was curtailed. We found ways to reach out to family and neighbors even as we were limited in our physical contact with them and discovered opportunities to support the poor and vulnerable as so many religious and social service agencies found it challenging to meet their needs.
This is the crux of missionary discipleship. Certainly, many have and will continue to travel to places throughout the world to serve as missionaries. Indeed, in our own country, missionaries will continue to serve the needs of the poor and marginalized as they seek to alleviate their burdens. And, yes, many will continue to serve with a missionary zeal in a spirit of servant leadership from their homes. Not everyone—whether it’s because of illness, age, or other circumstances—can leave their homes to engage the mission entrusted to them. Much can be learned from the example of St. Thérèse who, despite never leaving her cloister, is among the most notable missionaries in our Church.
In his message for World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of “a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing…” However, he went on to highlight that there is an “urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care and promotion.” Surely, even from a distance we can serve and can encounter. Let us endeavor to do so spurred on by the life of St. Thérèse and the Gospel mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton