The Infant–King's First Missionaries

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

A story is told of a French Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI) missionary who worked among the Eskimos in the North Pole in the early decades of the 20th century. He lived with them. He learned their language in order to communicate Jesus' message to them. He traveled by dog–sled from village to village to be with them. He also joined them in hunting and ice-fishing — their only means of livelihood.

In short, he did everything to make converts of them. He even used a gimmick by inviting them at night for tea in his igloo during which occasions he talked to them about God becoming man. He was laughed at for such a ridiculous and stupid idea. But he persisted.

Later, he became depressed because his teaching did not have any impact on the Eskimos. One evening, an idea struck him. He wrote a letter to a friend in France asking for some soil from the grave of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Who was St. Therese? She was a young, sickly Carmelite contemplative who lived a hundred years ago. She was the apple of her father's eye but he never stopped her when she asked permission to enter the convent at 15. As a contemplative, she did not do anything extraordinary. Rather, she did ordinary things in an extraordinary way through her lofty motivation — she offered all her prayers, work and sufferings as little flowers to her Beloved Jesus, for the missions and the success of the work of missionaries.

Shortly after she died at the age of 23, she was canonized a saint and later, made the Patroness of the Missions. At her centenary two years ago, she was made a Doctor of the Church. And at last year's Jubilee Year, she was made the saint of the millennium.

To go back to our story, when the soil arrived, the missionary again invited the Eskimos for tea. As they were leaving his igloo, he sprinkled tiny amounts of soil from the grave of St.Therese on each of them. Sometime thereafter, one Eskimo came to him for instruction and later, asked to be baptized. Many others followed and before long, the entire village was converted.

He went to other villages and did the same. The result was the same. Today, among the Eskimos, there is already a native church complete with native priest, brothers, sisters and lay leaders. All these happened because of the intervention of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany — the manifestation of the Infant-King to the Gentiles through the Magi from the East. Through this event, God shows us that His plan of salvation is for all — universal — and not just for the Jews, that His Son is indeed the Light of the Nations.

How did God invite the Magi — pagans who looked at the stars for the interpretation and projection of events happening in the world? Through a star.

When the Magi returned to their home country, they told people on the way and in their own country about the Infant born in a manger in Jerusalem; how they were led to Him by a star and how they worshipped Him as King. Then they did not know Christ's teachings yet. But they had prepared the groundwork in their own country by being the Infant–King's first missionaries. Thus, when the early Christian missionaries later went to the East, they were surprised to know that the people had already heard about the Infant Jesus.

The Feast of the Epiphany reminds us of three things:

  1. As Christians, we are to reflect Jesus, the Light of the Nations. Do we proclaim our faith in Him through our words and deeds?
  2. Today, when we talk about the missions, we generally mean going to tribal groups in the hinterlands who have not yet heard about Jesus. True, there are still many such groups. But one of the biggest missionary effort of the Church today is to bring back to the faith those who have embraced the new religion of secularism and consumerism whose primary principle in life is pleasure now. We can be missionaries at home for their re–conversion by offering our prayers and sufferings out of love for God as St. Therese did for the missions and for missionaries.
  3. Today the Church is in great need for missionaries. When we talk about vocations, let us not expect to be called through a star as the Magi were. God may be calling us or our children through a soft inner voice. Like the father of St. Therese, parents should encourage their children when they show signs of a vocation.

On today's Feast of the Epiphany, let us pray to God in a special way to give us the grace to enflesh in our lives the message of the Light of the Nations. Let us also pray for the missions and missionaries so that more people will accept Jesus as the Light of the Nations and live His teachings.