October Editorial – The love of Christ compels me…

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‘Love is repaid by love alone,’ wrote the Patroness of the Missions, St Thérèse of Lisieux (Feastday, 1 October), in her journal which became The Story of a Soul. In a sentence, she had encapsulated both the motive and meaning of mission, the impulse to respond with gratitude to the gift of love and faith offered by God. St Paul witnessed to that same impulse when he explained his mission to his beloved Corinthians, ‘The love of Christ compels me …’ (2 Cor 5:14).

Some years ago, when chaplain to one of our Institutes of Technology, I struggled to engage students’ interest in liturgy or theological discussion. One area, however where there proved to be no such struggle was that of voluntary, overseas aid programmes. Young people, who might have been presumed to belong to the ‘me’ generation, instead became animated and even passionate about the plight of people in need in faraway places. The places for such programmes were always oversubscribed even though the volunteers were to raise their own fares and had very modest resources allocated to them on placement. Through organisations like SERVE, a development and volunteering organisation and a partner of the Redemptorists, they worked with marginalised and oppressed communities around the globe, empowering them to tackle the root causes of poverty that help to transform the lives of some of the poorest communities in the world. Substantial numbers of transition year students like those on this month’s cover of Intercom have also taken part in similar projects.

Speaking later to those who had returned from building homes in Brazil and elsewhere, it was clear that the experience for some was life changing. Like Eliot’s Magi who returned from Bethlehem ‘no longer at ease’ in their own kingdoms, such young people now found themselves restless in spirit with the desire to change the world for their less prosperous brothers and sisters. They may not have been impelled in quite the same way as the legions of Irish missionaries who answered the call of Pope Pius XII in Fidei Donum (1957) throughout the 1950s and 60s, but can one doubt the impulse of the same God who is the author of all missionary endeavour to be equally present in the heart of our ‘millennials’ as this generation are now designated? ‘I am the Lord and I do not change’ (Malachi 3:6).

Paul Clayton-Lea