Missionary Objective #7: To teach people to live as God sees us -
First, by the example of our own lives;
then, by friendship;
then, by words.
The final objective of the Missionaries of Saint Thorlak is a call to teach all of the other objectives. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that this word teach derives from words which mean show and demonstrate; also, to point out and persuade. Interestingly, the same root also contains a nuance of warning.
The Online Etymology Dictionary gives a very full portrait of example. From its roots comes the notion that an example is at once a sample, a pattern… and, like our word above, a warning. Its Latin prefix –ex implies that something is to be taken or distributed from the model at hand.
Missionaries of Saint Thorlak are called to teach by example – to demonstrate the pattern of life lived by St. Thorlak in the things we ordinarily do, in the places we ordinarily find ourselves. This runs contrary to the conventional image of a missionary being one who ventures into foreign lands promoting foreign concepts, usually bringing material aid to people in stark need in the process. Why such a different approach?
Following the footsteps of our Missionary Patron
Saint Thorlak of Iceland was in many ways a domestic missionary, bringing the Gospel of Jesus to his own people, providing for them an explanation of moral concepts which, at the time, seemed constrictive and excessive to a people who had enough hardship just living on an island that where crops could not consistently grow and livestock could not reliably thrive. Although Thorlak was literate and highly learned, and wrote prolifically on principles of the moral life, it would be folly to imagine the majority of 12th century Icelanders sitting back and reading such lofty thoughts while the day to day sustainability of their livelihood hung in the balance. The Saga of Bishop Thorlak ,written in the 13th century as a case for his sainthood, tells over and over of how Thorlak lived his life; it does not cite any of his writings once. In fact, none of Thorlak’s writings survived past the Reformation. The account of his actions, not his words, prompted the Icelandic Assembly to declare his sanctity in 1198, and the Roman Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II to affirm his canonization in 1984.
Of even greater importance is the fact that Thorlak was widely known in his lifetime for having a debilitating speech impairment. He was no orator. As written in Chapter 13 of the Saga: “Bishop Thorlak often taught lessons, and that was a great trial because speech was difficult and painful for him.”
Armann Jakobsson and David Clark, who translated Þorláks Saga Byskups in 2013, write in their introduction: “Thorlak’s lack of eloquence and his sufferings when speaking in public demonstrate that it is not always by eloquence that a man can lead, he can also teach by his good example (docere verbo et examplo).”
Our Missionary work is to emulate the Way of St. Thorlak, where we are, as we are, with those with whom we ordinarily interact… first, in the example of our own lives: by a sampling of what we do… the patterns we exhibit in our behavior… and possibly as a warning? For our Pray-Contemplate-Relate this and the next few weeks, we will be presenting the outline of the Way of Saint Thorlak, asking each of us pray about it, contemplate each element, and observe where we notice any of these elements at work in our relationships. The warning will likely occur to us as we go about prayer, contemplation and relationship… perhaps when we observe those times we forget to deliberately apply these principles, or when we see the consequences of using other approaches to relationship.
Over time, with consistent practice and attention to our intentions, may we be worthy of the statement which resulted in the election of St. Thorlak to the office of Bishop of Skálholt:
“Thorlak strives to do everything best rather than talk most.” (Saga, Chapter 9)
Consider, then, how each of these elements comes across in the way we conduct ourselves:
Willingness to set the standard of respectable conduct through our own behavior
Consistently practicing these four elements ultimately leads us to:
( = Consecration of our everyday to God's service)
Looking for Daily Missionary Thoughts?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak