General’s Letter for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart

Dear MSC brothers,

Greetings in the Lord and our best wishes to all of you as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 23! May it be a time to reflect on the fact that we are Missionaries of that Heart and that we have been sent to be that Heart for others, “to love as Jesus loved.”

This is our last letter to the Congregation that we write in our role as General Administration. The Christmas greetings you will receive later in the year will come from a new administration elected in the September General Chapter. This is our opportunity to say good-by and to request your prayer for us as we go on to new assignments and new challenges.

For these past twelve years (for Wahyudi and myself) and past six years (for Carl and Chris) we have had the privilege of serving the Congregation as General and General Council. Bishop Rafael Rodríguez was with us for the first years and we remember him as we write this. We are most grateful for the kindness and support we have received from you. Your hospitality when we visited, your kindness on so many occasions and your support have been very important to us. We are grateful and we feel that it has been a privilege to have served you in this leadership role. We also ask that you forgive all that was not done or done poorly in these past years.

The members of the Council have asked me to share some of my memories and sentiments with you. This is not easy since the experience has been in many ways overwhelming. The five of us will need to meditate for the rest of our lives on what this has meant for us and how it has changed us. But I will try by speaking of three specific moments each of which involved a different river.

In the Philippines it was the moment I crossed the Agusan River on a foot bridge. I was with Frs. Tito and Charles Patricio and several other people. I have a very strong fear of heights and this crossing was a moment of fear and panic. The roaring river twenty meters below was a powerful reminder of my helplessness and insignificance in the grand scheme of things.   It was an experience of humility and powerlessness. A feeling not unlike one I had in the dining room of the community at Alotau, PNG. I saw my picture on the wall. At the same time I could see the picture of Fr. Mike Curran on top of the waste bin in the next room. I understood immediately that someday it would be my picture in the garbage can! And now that day is fast approaching!   Experiences like this bring one back to reality!

In the Congo it was the period of two days and two nights I traveled down the Tshuapa River in a dugout canoe with Frs. Bruno, Toussaint and Jacques from Bokungu to Mbandaka. I was in complete awe of the majesty of the river and the jungle and the star-filled sky. It was an experience of God’s presence and power in nature. Again I felt small but this time without any fear. It was a deep experience of “ubique terrarum,” a reminder of the courage and boldness of our missionaries both of the past and of the present. It made feel very proud of our Congregation and made me want to be bold and take risks for the mission today.

In Brazil it was a quick trip by motorboat up the Rio Negro to visit a mission station among the native Brazilians in the St. Gabriel da Cachoeira region of Amazonas. I was with Frs. Cortez and Ivo and the novices Jackson and Junior. It was a feeling of closeness, of being present: to my confreres in the small boat, to the people we met at the mission chapel and to the river itself and the piranhas we imagined to be lurking in the water! It was a powerful reminder of my connectedness to my brothers in community, to the people I serve and to nature itself with all its wonders. For me it was an experience of the mystery of incarnation. It was in this reality of people and nature that Jesus lived with us, shared our humanity and “gave himself up for me.” I am called to live this closeness in community, wherever I am, with my confreres and with the people with whom I work.

The “river” is a powerful biblical symbol. The river from the new temple of the future is found in Ezekiel 47 and in Revelations 22. The water from Jesus’ open side in John 19 is part of that same image. Rivers of living water flow from the heart of the believer (John 7) and to the Samaritan woman (John 4) Jesus speaks of living water. In the text we have chosen for the General Chapter (John 2), water becomes wine and it is “the best wine” that the groom saves until now. That “best wine,” like the “living water,” “the real bread come down from heaven,” the true light,” “the real shepherd” and “the resurrection and the life” is, of course, Jesus himself. Water flowing in a river, especially powerful rivers like the ones I have mentioned, calls to mind the faithful love and presence of the one who came to be with us, live our life, and share his life with us. In the “memorare” we ask Mary to lead us to the rivers of living water.

A lot has happened to me (and to the five of us) over these past years. Have I grown? Have I undergone the conversion I preach to others? I must say that I am more aware now of my need for conversion than I was before. I hope this is a step in the right direction! Above all I believe I have had many moments in which I have experienced God’s overwhelming love for me. In dealing with problems, in meeting with confreres and seeing all the good and all the love in them, in my travels around the world, in life in the generalate and in my prayer and reflection on this reality, our Constitutions take on new meaning. Aware of God’s love and of my littleness, aware that God loves this “nothing,” I am motivated to love in return and to continue this mission in the years I have left. I wish to thank God, all the members of this Administration and all of you for what I have received.

Please continue to pray for the September General Chapter (our 25th) and for the discernment the Chapter members are called to make.

God bless you all!

Mark McDonald, MSC
For the General Council

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