Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12.
God speaks to us ‘… in many and various ways …’ (Hebrews 1:1). Today’s readings remind us of this reality of revelation; God has always engaged in communicating with us in ways that we can understand. The apostle Paul reminds us that ‘everything that was written long ago in the scriptures, was meant to teach us ….’ (Romans 15:4). The prophet Isaiah declares that ‘a shoot will spring forth from the stock of Jesse … and his word is a rod that strikes the ruthless… (Isaiah 11:1,4).
The incarnation teaches us that the word of God takes a form that can be understood by us. In the Old Testament it was carried by the prophets, in today’s gospel reading it is carried by the Baptist, and throughout the history of the Church it has been carried by many faith-filled teachers and martyrs down to our day.
Joseph De Piro understood this mission and lived it through his preaching and also through his articles in the almanac San Paul: Almanakk tal-Istitut tal-Missjoni. As a further reflection today we can propose an article published in the 1933 edition of the almanac, the last one published by De Piro. In this article, while reflecting on the prayer used by St Francis Xavier, and later adopted by St John Bosco: ‘Give me souls, take away all else,’ De Piro makes reference to today’s first reading from Isaiah.
‘Lord, give me souls….’
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, all over the world, a stirring cry for compassion has been prayed; a sincere, faithful prayer to the Lord of all creation: ‘Lord give me souls.’
Now the wolf and the lamb will eat together and drink from the same valleys. They will join forces so that together they can befriend other animals. (cf. Is 11:6) People from different backgrounds will come together – people with darker skins and those with lighter skins, uneducated and educated, corrupt and honest, poor and rich, old and young. No distinction will separate them any more; they will gather to share the bread of the Eucharist that transforms them into one nature, one body, one blood, one spirit, under one Lord who desires nothing else except unity, faith, justice and mercy. (cf. Eph 4:4)
‘Give me souls, take away all else.’ This sublime cry prompted many hardworking people to leave friends, brothers and sisters, parents and country and travel to distant lands where the gospel has not yet been preached, and offer up their lives in the service of those who have not yet learnt that they had been redeemed by the precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Like heroic soldiers, many bishops, priests, both secular and religious, religious sisters and lay-people, have offered up themselves, ready to fulfil Christ’s instruction to his apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Mt 28:19).
From St Peter’s throne, our beloved shepherd Pope Pius XI, writes, encouraging the faithful to wage war against the powers of darkness; fighting, not with swords, but with the more powerful weapon of the gospel. The words of the gospel penetrate the toughest hearts, not using the destructive weapons of war, but by promoting noble customs that can overthrow the dreadful strongholds of evil. A war of peace not of sorrow; not a war of defeat, but of certain victory; a war of triumph, not with an authority that comes to an end, but of a heavenly kingdom that has no end.
The cry ‘Lord give me souls,’ persuaded Pius XI to encourage and help the work in mission lands so that missionaries could reach far distant lands and challenge the kingdom of Satan, bringing triumph and enlightenment with the light of faith and sowing the seeds of truth.
God grants the grace of a missionary vocation to those called to respond. We invite all those who are drawn to assist missionary vocations to check whether they are responding.
Missionary work is built upon the continuous and hard sacrifices of those who accept the call to become messengers of the Word of God for the salvation of all peoples. They go forth fulfilling the prayer of holy people who have desired to convert those who still do not know God. There is no limit to the ministry of the missionaries who endeavour to preach about Christ and to convince unbelievers to abandon their superstitious behaviours. Religious sisters care for the sick, look after orphaned children, and prepare young ones for their Baptism and First Communion.
Missionaries teach catechism and offer material help. They teach new customs to the people they minister to, instructing them in trades, sciences and other useful subjects.
We who are already aware of our salvation should imitate these courageous missionaries who, by their actions, have disrupted the work of the enemies of Christ. May our prayer ‘Lord give me souls,’ soon be fulfilled through our work, words and prayers.”