The novice brothers and sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and the Institute Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará had the opportunity to participate this past March in a Holy Mission at St. John Baptist de la Salle Parish in Chillum, MD.
These missions are one part of the formation during the novitiate period, giving the novices a taste of the missionary life and work for the first time. Below, you will find an account of the mission, written by one of the novice brothers, giving his thoughts on the “missionary adventure!”
* * *
Surely every religious of the Family of the Institute of the Incarnate Word looks back fondly and warmheartedly on their novitiate mission – some of this year’s novices are already suffering such nostalgia! The novitiate mission is a time of excitement, joy, and trial: after all, you never know what’s going to happen on the mission.
This Popular Mission was centered around St. John Baptist de la Salle Parish, in Chillum, Maryland (which is, in fact, also the parish where the IVE’s seminary is located). It began formally with Holy Mass on Sunday, March 17th. The next morning, the missionaries set out in pairs to begin knocking on doors all around the neighborhood, seeking the sick, the lost, and even those who simply didn’t know St. John Baptist’s was Catholic! During these door-to-door visits, we would invite souls to the Missionary Sermon (a talk on the faith every evening), encourage others to receive the sacraments, and often pray with those we met or bless their homes. At times, we would have to stand up firmly for the faith and defend it; at others, listen patiently to the opinions of people of other beliefs; but always evangelizing those we met, whether they knew much, little, or nothing at all. Many times, the missionaries would simply go from door to door, knocking on each one patiently and faithfully, even though none might be opened. Despite the occasional temptation to despair or weariness, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the aspiration to grow in the sentiments of faith, hope and charity helped keep us invigorated and focused on the goal – saving souls.
After knocking on doors in the morning, the missionaries returned to the seminary to eat lunch, which was provided daily by the generous families of St. John Baptist de la Salle. Each meal was so filling (and scrumptious!) that it was sometimes hard to remember that it was precisely a Lenten Mission!
At 5:00, the youth and children’s missions began. For a while, St. John Baptist de la Salle’s hall would be filled with tangled mass of children, energized from snack and running after a soccer ball while outside the youth might be throwing around a Frisbee or football or shooting some basketball. Each evening was filled with food, fun, and formation. The children would go to the chapel each day for a talk, followed by the youth. The youth group in particular prayed the Rosary each day while walking around the block and carrying, as a group, a large, heavy, wooden cross that some of the youth and seminarians had created out of two trees.
On Saturday, March 23rd, the youth group went to pray at an abortion clinic as part of a day-long retreat. For some of the youth, this was their first time having a close encounter with the evils of abortion, and the period of prayer left a deep impression. After this, they all went to the SSVM novitiate house in Upper Marlboro, MD – “the farm,” as some sisters call it – a wonderful country space, perfect for a field trip. There the youth played sports, ate lunch, and competed in various games. Some of the seminarians and sisters offered a formation talk on chastity, and later, one of the seminarians spoke on the dangers of gangs and witchcraft. Both youth and religious were exhausted when we returned to the seminary, but everyone stayed for the Holy Mass and the “Cross and Rosary” at the end.
The missionary sermon took place at 7:00 PM each day. Father Javier Ibarra, the Master of Novices for the IVE, preached the Spanish sermons, before which, there would be a short “cartucho” – a small catechesis given by a novice religious, expounding on a teaching or some basic aspect of the faith. At the same time, one of the other, vowed religious would offer a missionary sermon in English, following the same format as the Spanish. Once the two groups finished, they would meet in St. John Baptist de la Salle Hall for refreshments and some entertainment. As the days of the Mission continued, it was inspiring to see more and more people attend the Missionary Sermon daily.
At the Closing Mass of the Mission, there were twenty-five baptisms; the most evident fruit of the Holy Mission – with twenty-five more souls made Children of God and Children of the Church. But there were other fruits as well. As Father Mariano, the Pastor of St. John Baptiste de la Salle Parish said, the mission was filled with fruits from God – some you see now, some you see later. Each house that opened its door to us was a fruit of the mission; each person that opened their heart to us, that received us, that heard us; each person that was left thinking about God, life, or eternity. But even those that did not open the door, that did not accept the message, even they were a fruit of the mission, because the Good Lord permitted it to happen, and “The wind breathes where it will” (Jn. 3:8). We missionaries benefited much ourselves from the Mission; bearing with those who shut their doors, bearing with each other – ! – on the days when everyone was tired or under stress, gaining a deeper appreciation for the gift of faith and the grace that had been given to each of us, or growing closer to the Lord, and our Lady, in whose hands are every outcome of every effort of men. In all these things, the cry of the Mission echoes in the streets and in our hearts: SAVE YOUR SOUL!
We give thanks to the Lord for the fruits of the Holy Mission and ask that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John Baptist de la Salle, many people may come to know, love, and serve God now and throughout eternity.
St. John Baptist de la Salle, pray for us!