By Msgr. James McDonough
The spirit of January, from the celebration of the Epiphany on the first Sunday to the observance of the conversion of St. Paul on the last, is one of change – a call to do something different in our lives.
Pope Benedict XVI says of the Epiphany, “The Magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star.”
After their long journey to find Jesus, the Magi prostrated themselves and offered gifts. Following the example of the Magi, we, too, are asked to “Go and search diligently for the Child.”
St. Paul’s conversion, commemorated on Jan. 25, shows similar examples for us to follow. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:3-6). This certainly was not on St. Paul’s agenda – he was called to change and do something different.
The Lord is very clear in His message to both the Magi and St. Paul. Go, search for me, and listen to my instruction for your change of course.
Many of us think of change in our lives during January and make resolutions. Our resolutions may be to exercise more, manage our debt or learn something new. In our lists of resolutions, are there any that include a change that would bring us closer to God? Are we ready to do something different?
The something different may be in following the examples of missionaries and by helping the missions worldwide through the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
Missionaries, like the Magi and St. Paul, answer God’s call to leave their homes and go. This changes their lives forever. Many go to the most devastated areas in the world to serve the people of God. Often, they live in the most difficult conditions to help bring salvation and hope to those most in need.
The Salesian Missions and Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales whose founder, St. Francis de Sales, we also commemorate in January, are yet more examples of today’s missionaries acting like the Magi and St. Paul. These missionaries are sending lay people, priests and religious to all corners of the world including India, South America, Africa and even parts of the southern United States.
The missionaries help educate street children, run orphanages, work with the physically handicapped and partially mentally disabled, as well as prepare men for a vocation in the priesthood. “We are bringing Christ’s message to others by the very example of our lives,” one of the local missionaries explains.
The Holy Father told us in one of his mission messages, “Today there are countless people who are waiting for the proclamation of the Gospel, those who are thirsting for hope and love.” And he continues, “There are so many who leave everything for Christ and transmit faith and love for Him to people!” [cf. Spe Salvi, n. 8]
Even if you do not travel to the missions, you can be a missionary by praying for your brothers and sisters all around the world. Pray daily for the Church’s missionary work by saying an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be to the Father to the patron saints of the missions: St. Francis Xavier and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. You can pray that people in other countries learn about Jesus and experience His love. You can also pray to God to help those in need who are suffering because they are poor, hungry or sick.
The Holy Father, in his homily for the Epiphany, concluded with a request for prayer: “Let us pray for the faithful, because all Christians are called by baptism and confirmation to proclaim Christ, the light of the world, with words and witness of their lives.”
Prayer can be the start of our change in January following the example of the Magi and St. Paul. Prayer can lead us to something different in our lives, and through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we can change. He can make a difference in our lives so that we can make a difference in the world. Through prayer, by personal sacrifice – offering to God one’s burdens in union with the suffering of Christ – and through generous financial offerings, we can help the missionary work of the Church worldwide.
Remember, through prayer and acts of sacrifice, by your words and actions, you become a missionary for the Lord.
Msgr. James McDonough is the director of the Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.