by an unknown MMM author – undated 19.02.2022
A Chinese riddle asks which is better ‘a teaching, a story or a greeting?’ The answer given is a greeting. Why we may ask: To greet is to bless, to bless is to greet, to greet is to expect a response. Every greeting has elements of anticipation: will I be welcomed, will I be included or will I be rejected and perhaps excluded?
This may explain why so many greetings in the Bible contain the words “be not afraid”. An unusual greeting: yet the phrase is repeated 366 times. A bit like a prescription – repeat once a day and include the leap year.
‘Come if you’re not afraid to come alone’ was the greeting and the invitation sounding in the heart of a young Dublin volunteer missionary when she set out in 1921 to Nigeria to teach. Marie Helena Martin, later to be known as Mother Mary, Foundress of the Medical Missionaries of Mary allowed the words “be not afraid” echo within and influence her whole life. Searching for a way forward Marie Martin climbed over the edge of what seemed possible, to follow what she believed. During her three years experience in Nigeria she became convinced of the need and missionary value of a medical service in Africa, especially for women and children. She decided to provide such a service and give continuity of care through the formation of a missionary congregation. The dilemma she faced was that the Church legislation at the time didn’t allow women religious engage in medical work. For thirteen years she waited for the consenting voice of the Church. But actively sought to overcome the barriers that for another might have proved insurmountable. She knew years of illness which restricted her pursuit. Her heart throbbed with vision, her mind searched ways to represent the need she had seen. Her activity was to impress upon all those who would listen, the urgency of the need to give appropriate care to mother and child in Africa.
The Church’s position changed in 1936. Within a few months Marie Martin set sail for Nigeria ready now to found her congregation. Within two months of arriving in Nigeria Marie Martin herself became seriously ill. She was admitted to hospital where she rallied, and as soon as permission to found the congregation came from Rome she was professed on what had recently seemed her death-bed. “The infant congregation was born in a hospital” is how Mother Mary in a letter to her mother summarised her illness and the foundation of the congregation. She left Nigeria not knowing whether or how she and the infant congregation would survive. Recalling those days the Bishop who officiated at her profession wrote “From a human point of view the whole future seemed precarious in the extreme. To us who saw Mother Mary to the boat, her going seemed the end of any hope for the new venture. For Mother Mary the words echoed “be no afraid” like Our Lady her response was “I will as you say let it be.’
The Chinese riddle asks which is better ‘a teaching, a story or a greeting?’ Is the answer for you now a greeting?