The other day I read the remarkable story of a man by the name of Oliver Blanchette.
Oliver Blanchette was born and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. From a very young age, he felt the call to become a priest. He resisted it — and, in fact, when he attended Assumption Prep School, he only went reluctantly. “They better not try to make a priest of me,” he told a relative.
Well, by the end of his second year, he made up his mind to join the Augustinians of the Assumption, commonly known as “the Assumptionists.” After ordination, he served a number of parishes in Massachusetts and New York, doing what parish priests do, leading retreats, directing RCIA programs, celebrating Mass wherever he was needed. Late in life, he was offered an assignment he couldn’t turn down: he was asked to be a missionary in Africa. It was something he’d always wanted to do, and he eagerly accepted.
At the time, Oliver Blanchette was 83 years old.
Father Blanchette spent seven years in Kenya and Tanzania — teaching English, directing retreats, serving to foster vocations to his order. He left east Africa and returned to the United States when he was 90.
And still he kept going, offering the sacraments at parishes, raising money for the missions, whatever he could do.
At a party for his 100th birthday, he told friends, “I can hardly say, as did Jeremiah, that I am too young to speak. Yet, I thank God for creating and loving me as my Father all these years, and giving me his Son Jesus as my Savior and friend.”
Last week, Father Oliver Blanchette’s work came to an end. He entered eternal life. He was 104 years old — the oldest member of his order in the world.
On this great feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we hear the concluding words at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and I can’t help but feel Oliver Blanchette took Christ’s command, what we sometimes call “The Great Commission,” to heart:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
There is a daunting challenge. How many of us could say we fulfilled that command?
Even though it comes at the end of the Gospel, it is a command that doesn’t signal an ending, but a beginning. It is the disciples receiving their marching orders.
There is work to do here. “Go,” Jesus tells them. Make disciples, baptize, teach.
Christian faith is meant to be lived in the world, to be spread. It is active.
We are not mere spectators to a mystery, but bearers of Good News.
What does this mean? We are called, every one of us, to be nothing less than missionaries.
Of course, at this moment, that’s easier said than done. Many of us are still in lockdown. How can we be missionaries when most of our days are spent walking between the bedroom, the living room and the kitchen?
The answer is closer than you think. This is a moment, I believe, to rediscover the “domestic church” — those who are closest to us, our families, our children, our spouses. It is a time to build up the parish that exists in the walls of our homes, in the walls of our hearts.
In his beautiful exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis writes, “Each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord who, despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives.”
You don’t have to be an Oliver Blanchette, a missionary in Africa, to fulfill “The Great Commission” and bring the Gospel to others.
We do it here and now. With patience. With prayer. With attention.
We do it with generosity.
We do it with love.
So often, we take those around us for granted. Well, I think these days are a time to see them anew. At this moment, they are more than siblings or spouses or kids doing classes on Zoom.
They are our church — our domestic church.
Cherish that. And find ways in that church “to communicate Jesus.” Give generously. Forgive tenderly. Share selflessly. Pray together in solidarity and hope.
“Love is patient, love is kind,” St. Paul famously wrote to another church, the one in Corinth. It bears all things, hopes all things. It never fails. Maybe we need to think of our own church at home that way, especially during these times when patience and kindness can sometimes be as scarce as toilet paper and Purell.
As the letter to the Ephesians that we just heard puts it, “May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened.”
And may we go about our missionary work in this unique and uniquely beautiful church, the “domestic church,” remembering that we do not do it alone.
Jesus’ last words in this Gospel should give us comfort and hope — especially now. It is his certain message to an uncertain world, a world on the brink of a new beginning.
“Behold,” he says, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”