For centuries, Catholic and other Christian missionaries would
head to underdeveloped parts of the world to bring the faith to those
Many of us remember well the stories of the priests, nuns and lay
people who encountered indigenous people while braving nature and wild animals
to spread the faith they lived. We note the bloodshed that happened on both
sides of that evangelization, and shake our heads at the brutality.
When you process that and move beyond it, picture a young man sitting
in a church in the Congo listening to a priest, hearing the word of God and perhaps
not knowing that a seed has just been planted.
Fast forward decades and that same young man is now a missionary himself,
but his mission territory is one of the wealthiest counties in the United
States, just a few miles from the seat of government in Washington.
That young man, now a priest only a few years into his ministry,
responds to a sick call and dashes to the hospital to anoint a man in the ICU. The
faith of the patient’s wife, and those close to him, might be termed tenuous. They
are not connected to a parish — not listed on any parish roster. But they asked
for the sacrament, and it was provided them.
This sick call — an expedition into a wilderness of ambivalence,
perhaps even disdain for the church — holds the promise of impact, conversion, perhaps
merely admiration. Maybe that’s enough.
The power of a missionary, be it centuries ago or on a wintry
Monday, may never be known fully. But we can relish the moments when our faith,
a kind of second backbone to our frame, can be shared as a comfort to others who
might recall that seed from decades earlier when life was kinder.
© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017