Vicar general encourages students to have a missionary spirit
On Friday, September 10, the formation community at Sacred Heart Monastery welcomed Fr. Stephen Huffstetter, SCJ, to speak about what it means to be a missionary, to have a missionary spirit. Originally from the US Province, Fr. Steve is now vicar general of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians) based at our Generalate in Rome. After a year-long delay due to the pandemic, he is finally enjoying a return to North America, taking the opportunity to visit SCJ communities and ministries, as well as his family.
What does it mean to have a missionary spirit? For Fr. Steve, the idea of “encounter” is key. “We learn from others, we see God in others,” he said.
Fr. Steve cited three scripture passages when speaking specifically to what it means to be a Dehonian missionary.
“The first is from Luke 9:3,” he said. “It basically says, ‘Just go.’ Take nothing for the journey. Fr. Dehon’s first missionaries weren’t always well prepared, but Fr. Dehon told them to ‘just go,’ adding that if they listened to the people, they would learn what they needed to serve them.”
The next passage Fr. Steve cited was Matthew 10:19: “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.”
“God will give you the words,” said Fr. Steve, adding that while it is important to prepare as much as one can, it is also important to be flexible and not be overly worried about how one will be received. Prepare, but trust in God.
And finally, Fr. Steve said that to have a missionary spirit is to be willing – at times – to feel like a “little child.” (Matthew 18:3). He spoke of his own experience in Rome, feeling like a frustrated child, struggling to learn a new language (Italian). “It is important to not just do what we are good at, or what we are comfortable with,” he said. “We have to be open to going where we are not comfortable so that we can learn and be supportive of others, and respect those who are different than ourselves.” The struggle of learning a new language as an adult is something that prompts many to feel like a “little child.”
However, having a missionary spirit, emphasized Fr. Steve, doesn’t require one to go beyond one’s borders.
“It means going out to be with those who are of a culture different than one’s own.” He spoke of his experience of working with the physically disabled (and realizing that a part of welcoming people to the Church with a big “C” is making sure that they can actually get into the church with a little “c”), with the homeless at a soup kitchen, with the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota, and with people in a variety of age groups.
“There is no one white culture, no one Black or Hispanic culture,” he said. There are many cultures within a larger culture; having a missionary spirit requires one to recognize this and always be open to learning.
Talking about increasing international communities in the congregation, Fr. Steve said that while Dehonians value internationality, there is still much work to do. “We sometimes put people together from a variety of cultures and think they will work it out and be an international community just because they are together.”
To make international communities work, they must be intentional, meaning that members of an international community must have a missionary spirit open to learning about and respecting each culture within the community before the community can in turn minister to others.
Fr. Steve’s closing advice to the students? “Never stop learning,” he said. “The end of initial formation is not the end of formation. Take care of yourself, and continue to be open to and learn from others. Have a spirit of ‘Ecce venio,’ like Fr. Dehon.”