St Arnold Janssen

Founder of the Divine Word Missionaries, (entered heaven this day in 1909)

Dear Arnie,

Did you ever go to one of those ‘hall of mirrors’ at the carnival, or the circus, or the amusement park?  You go inside and all you see are reflections of yourself, some distorted in one direction, others distorted in another direction, all recognizable as you, but each one interesting and captivating because it’s you in a slightly different form.  Imagine if you lived in one of those halls of mirrors.  You would go insane.  You would lose touch with reality.  You would be convinced that the world looks more or less like you, and that you are pretty much at the center of the world.

Well, as your devoted uncle, I think I have the duty of telling you that you are, indeed, going insane.  Your college campus is not coextensive with the world, my narcissistic young nephew.  The world is wide and full of other events and happenings and problems and opportunities.  But you have let your mind get sucked into the little plot of land and the little worldview touted by a few provincial intellectuals who hang out in cafes.  Don’t get me wrong: cafes are fine; intellectuals are fine; college is fine – but only if it develops your understanding of God, self, and the world, not distorts it.

Maybe a quick look at today’s saint will clarify my meaning.  He was a devout but very normal diocesan priest from a big German family.  He was dedicated to teaching and preaching and serving the Apostleship of Prayer in his home diocese.  Very responsible, very zealous, and very provincial.  Then Bismark took over, and the Kulturkampf steamrolled the Catholic Church.  Fr Arnold and some of his fellow priests were forced to leave Germany.  He took refuge in Holland, where he began to open his eyes to the rest of the world.  Certain providential meetings made him aware of the crying needs being experienced by Christians in mission territories.  And so he started a publication that would inform his countrymen of what was happening in the missions.  Then another idea started brewing.  All these priests who had been kicked out of Germany, why not send them to help with the missionary work, instead of leaving to twiddle their thumbs in cafes?  He asked for and received permission to form a congregation of missionary priests called the Divine Word Missionaries, and his first envoys went to China.  He expanded his publications in order to promote vocations and raise funds, and soon he founded a parallel congregation of women missionaries, the Servants of the Holy Spirit.  As the spiritual and material needs of his work increased, he felt the need to give more prayer support, and started a contemplative order of nuns, the Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration, to serve as a powerhouse of grace.  Now the congregations count almost 10,000 missionaries working in over 60 countries.

This provincial, self-absorbed diocesan priest turned into a grace-filled globe trotter.  He could have gotten trapped in Bismark’s Kulturkamphian hall of mirrors, but, thanks be to God, he didn’t.  In this age of Internet and media overload, there is no reason why you can’t break out of your mirrored mentality too.  Live college life to the full, my talented young nephew, but don’t forget what college is for: educating world leaders, not carnival sideshows.

Your globalized uncle,


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