An interesting work by Dan Paul Borlik, C.M.
In 1625 Vincent de Paul founded the Congregation of the Mission and in 1633 he co-founded the Daughters of Charity along with Louise de Marillac. His primary heritage to both these apostolic groups, along with many other individuals and groups such as the Ladies of Charity, the St. Vincent de Paul Society (founded by Frederick Ozanam), the Sisters of Charity (founded by Elizabeth Seton) is a spirituality based on evangelizing the poor, on discovering and serving Jesus Christ in the poor, and in being saved as Christian through one’s relation with the poor. Many claim it a truly apostolic spirituality of Charity, for it continues to challenge thousands to a special identification with the poor in their search to be identified with Jesus Christ as “evangelizer of the poor.”
But how does it relate to questions of justice? Does it help one to effectively address the root causes of poverty? How does it view the poor person? Does it enable one to work with and/or challenge those who contribute to poverty? Or does a Vincentian spirituality content itself in treating the symptoms of the illness worldwide, rather than the disease itself? Does Vincentian spirituality perhaps even romanticize the poor, or use the poor in such a way to “fulfill” its practitioners without really transforming them? How does Vincentian spirituality consider its own economically strong organizations such as have the Vincentians and the Daughters of Charity? How can the relatively secure life of a middle-class professional, often seen as member of an elite class, in any way be truly changed or transformed through practice of such spirituality? How does such a spirituality underlying works of charity or evangelization or education, personal or institutional, truly recognize and respond to the poor – where are they as agents in their own process of liberation and evangelization, their own story of salvation? Where does the missionary’s personal experience of the poor enter in? and the poor’s experience of the missionary?
As a priest-member of the Vincentians with extensive ministry experience both among the rural poor in northern Guatemala as well as with an challenging parish mix of wealthy, working middle-class and the poor in USA cities such as Dallas, Texas, I recognize that these are concerns which surface in many similar ministry settings today. They are clearly only a few of the questions, some very personal and troubling, which may arise when any member of the Vincentian Family enters into the world of the poor, especially those poor who have largely been abandoned by society and have little voice or power in their own countries.
Like so many religious and apostolic organizations in the Catholic Church, the Vincentians have responded to the call to study and renew our own charism for the church in the world. What began as retrieval of our Founder’s spirit and a renewal of a sense of foundational mission (1) for the Vincentians and Daughters of Charity has become a vital process of ongoing reflection on the actual mission and practice of our faith and mission in our apostolates and in our shared lives, as well as the backdrop for our institutional and personal stories of struggle and conversion. It has also become a conversation with liberation theologians and with today’s prophets and teachers of liberation, and (when we are at our best) with the poor themselves. It is a long, continuous conversation in fits and starts sometimes, and one that is certainly not unique to Vincentians or Daughters of Charity. This kind of critical self-questioning and conversation with others is both ongoing and vital. Our very life and mission effectiveness depend on it. Knowing this may not make the task easier, but finding and listening to new “conversation partners” may. It is my hope that by a brief exposition of the elements of an effective spirituality of liberation in the context of work and life with the poor guided by some growing insights from liberation theologians, along with an examination of a few sources of Vincentian spirituality (some foundational and institutional, some pastoral reflections), that we might better address a few of these questions so basic to the spirituality that informs Vincentian ministry.
The Notion of Liberation in Spirituality
What is a spirituality of liberation? How does it differ from other spiritualities, or does it essentially? What does it see? What does it seek? The very notion of spirituality has increasingly become vital for those theologians reflecting on their communities’ experience of struggle and vision of a new order of justice for the poor. Gustavo Gutiérrez insists that “we need a vital attitude, all embracing and synthesizing, informing the totality as well as every detail of our lives; we need a ‘spirituality’ [i.e.] the dominion of the Spirit.” He describes it as a “concrete manner, inspired by the Spirit, of living the gospel…a definite way of living ‘before the Lord,’ in solidarity with all human beings, ‘with the Lord,’ and before human beings. It arises from an intense spiritual experience, which is later explicated and witnessed to.” Such a “spirituality of liberation” is built on a conversion “to the neighbor, the oppressed person, the exploited social class, the despised ethnic group, the dominated country.” It means a radical transformation of the person, the evangelizer in this case; it means “thinking, feeling, and living as Christ – present in exploited and alienated persons.”
In his Faith on the Edge: Religion and the Marginalized Existence, Leonardo Boff asserts that at the bottom of both the practice and the theology of liberation is a “spiritual experience of encounter with the Lord of the poor.” It is a new manifestation of God perhaps, but only effective when it is “heard” or “obeyed” (from the Latin audire, to hear). Once heard and acted upon in the struggle along the side of Jesus, present in the poor, this “spiritual collusion” produces new traits, new virtues which help those living such a vital, concrete encounter with God.
Vincentian Spirituality — A Work in Progress
What is Vincentian spirituality? What elements, practices, approaches are essential to it as a spirituality? Members of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) recently have studied in depth their own founder’s life story and personal reflections, to understand our own foundational charism certainly, but also as a means to our own personal and corporate transformation. In 1984 the New Constitutions for the Congregation of the Mission emphasized it its introduction:
“…in order to revitalize its apostolic activity and its life in the modern world…The Congregation considers it necessary to go back to its roots, and to St. Vincent’s lifelong conversion and original vision, so that it may continue to witness to its role within the Church. This is how it seeks to affirm more forcefully, and loyally maintain, its original identity and the spirit of its Holy Founder, and to draw greater inspiration from these sources. In this way, attentive to the will of God, it seeks to respond to its calling which is manifested in a special way, today as in St. Vincent’s time, in the needs of the poor.
That document was to be the first world-wide reflection and corporate re-commitment of an apostolic congregation of men, mostly ordained presbyters, since its foundation in 1625. Until then the simple Common Rules of Vincent de Paul was to suffice. What had changed? Why the enormous work and soul-searching? Why the (often) painful changes and reforms? Why the uncertainty and insecurity generated by evaluation of our traditional works and time-treasured apostolates, why the subsequent sense of so much uprootedness and need for continued reform and change?
There is no question that for many Vincentian priests and brothers, both young and old, life and ministry in the Congregation has changed and continues to change since Vatican II and in particular since our own new Constitutions were promulgated some 13 years ago. Some have thrived on the challenge of renewal, others have resisted and resented it, but no one has been able to ignore the changes brought on by it. Like the wave of renewed new life and halting, sometimes clumsy change brought on by the proceedings and documents of the Second Vatican Council over the larger church (now very much in the world!), the impetus of our congregation’s reflections and our openness to those with whom we share our life’s work and vision continues to keep us off balance.
Vincent de Paul was no stranger to change. It truly marks his own story, especially his early years of conversion which animate and challenge so many today, especially members of the Congregation of the Mission. He began life in poverty in southeastern France in 1581. Being particularly ambitious, his life’s journey took the direction of Catholic priesthood; this was more likely “to guarantee comfortable support for the entire household” by securing a benefice than out of a strong sense of religious vocation. It is not difficult to understand Vincent as an uncultured Gascon peasant determined and talented enough to escape poverty and all its familial trappings by rising to the clerical class and securing a benefice. What is striking is how this same talented but otherwise ordinary man was transformed to a tireless and creative advocate for the abandoned poor of France and Europe, an innovative educator and the founder of two apostolic congregations. Key to understanding this transformation however is Vincent’s own growing experience of Jesus Christ, the Evangelizer of the very poor Vincent had tried to escape but later came to embrace, in all their impossible poverty and wretchedness.
1608 Returning to Paris after some absence and travels, Vincent was given a position as one chaplain in charge of distributing alms on behalf of the former queen, Marguerite de Valois. Here he did little more than giving hand-outs, filling hands not hearts. But during this time he “took on” the doubts of an associate, a theologian. For three to four years he suffered intensely, then he resolved to visit and minister to the poor at the Charity Hospital. From then on he would realize that the best way to heal spiritual ills was to open people up to service of others.
1611-1617? For awhile Vincent was influenced by Pierre de Bérulle, founder of the “Order of Jesus”, a community of priests (all with doctorates in theology from the Sorbonne) whose association was aimed at holiness through living out the fullness of their priesthood.
1612 – He was placed in charge of the parish of Clichy, a village near Paris, population of 600. Very welcome and successful with liturgy and catechesis, Vincent even began a “prep-school” for those interested in seminary.
1613 – accepting the post as chaplain to De Gondis family (on the advice of de Bérulle), Vincent now was tutor and advisor to a wealthy family whose members held the right to two important positions: commander of the galleys (French naval presence in the Mediterranean), and the bishop of Paris. It was during his stay here that Vincent experienced the radical change in his life.
1617 – responding to a sick call at one of the villages on the De Gondis estates, Folleville, Vincent began preaching (January 25th, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul) on general confession as a response to the enormous spiritual misery he sensed in the people there. In retrospect (the Congregation of the Mission was founded in 1625) he considered this the first sermon of the Mission. He now decided to put his ideas of how to be a good Parish Priest into practice, left his post with the De Gondis (to their dismay) and took the parish of Chatillon-les-Dombes, near Lyons. It was here that he learned the importance of organization and collaboration in responding to the urgent needs of the poor. He founded the Confraternities of Charity, parish-based groups which would continue their own renewal by caring for their local poor.
That same year, Vincent returned to the De Gondi Family, estates with the agreement of the De Gondis that he could devote more of his time to preaching missions and organizing confraternities among the country poor and visiting the galley slaves.
In order not to lose their chaplain and friend, the de Gondis gave him the means to carry out his plan of gathering other priests for preaching and ministering in missions to the galley slaves and to the country poor – it had become his passion. Appointed rector of the College des Bons Enfants in Paris, Vincent invited the first two missioners to live with him, and began in 1622 to establish his “little company:”
“The three of us used to go from village to village preaching and giving missions, and when we set out we’d give the key to the house to one of the neighbors and ask him to sleep in the house at night…I had only one sermon, which I adapted in a thousand ways, on the fear of God” (XII 8).
Vincent’s understanding and practice of his vocation underwent numerous changes due to the continual conversion he experienced, a conversion away from fear and desiring security towards a growing desire to seek the will of God in the poor around him and responding ever more practically and effectively to them as a priest-evangelizer and as a marvelous organizer. His zeal and compassion was contagious as is indicated by the outstanding growth of his “little company” and even more, the Daughters of Charity. Primarily, Vincent was a man of action: His spirituality can only be understood by his insistence on actual response to urgent, important needs, albeit a prayerful and deliberate response. As a priest and educator his concern was initially the country poor who had been spiritually abandoned. Once, in 1620 – he met and was challenged by a Protestant who objected to Vincent’s statement that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. Vincent listened quietly as he was confronted by the facts:
“Look around the countryside. Priests are vicious, ignorant, without zeal [and] the faithful are left without instruction, they don’t even know what their duties are…. Now have a look at the cities. They are full of lazy priests and friars. In Paris alone there are supposed to be about ten thousand. While such priests are wasting their time the poor people down the country are being damned because of the state of ignorance in which they have been abandoned.”
When in the following year that same Protestant saw Vincent leading a small band of priests, including the archdeacons of Chartres and Beauvais, for a mission in Marchais he converted to the Catholic church. Vincent’s actions had brought this about, rather than his words.
Contemporary Sources for Vincentian Spirituality
Vincent wrote only one book for guidance for the Congregation of the Mission, the Common Rules. Just as Jesus did not begin by teaching (his disciples), but by doing, so Vincent chose to wait many years before summarizing the mission and needed virtues for his fellow missioners. The first edition was in 1658, some thirty-three years after the foundation of the group and two years before Vincent’s death. He presented them:
…not as a product of human ingenuity, but as a gift from the Holy Spirit…. I have tried to base all the Rules, where possible, on the spirit and actions of Jesus Christ. My idea was that men who are called to continue Christ’s mission, which is mainly preaching the good news to the poor, should see things from his point of view and want what he wanted. They should have the same spirit that he had, and follow in his footsteps.
Besides describing the purpose and basic governance and organization of the congregation, and offering inspiration and directives around decorum, relationships within and outside the group, Vincent offers a distillation of his sense of unifying mission through complete identification with Jesus Christ for his fellow members and a practical wisdom of the (private) vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as well as the five virtues which were to characterize his missioners in all their works and relationships:
“Our Lord came into the world to reestablish the reign of his Father in all persons. He won them back from the devil who had led them astray by the cunning deceit of a greedy desire for wealth, honor, and pleasure. Our loving Savior thought it right to fight his enemy with the opposite weapons, poverty, chastity, and obedience, which he continued to do right up to his death. The little Congregation of the Mission came into existence in the Church to work for the salvation of people, especially the rural poor. This is why it has judged that no weapons would be more powerful or more suitable than those which Eternal Wisdom so tellingly and effectively used.
Some [of the gospel teaching] has more application to us, particularly when it emphasizes simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal for souls. The Congregation should pay special attention to developing and living up to these five virtues so that they may be, as it were, the faculties of the soul of the whole Congregation, and that everything each one of us does may always be inspired by them.
As important as the Common Rules have been to members since the Congregation’s foundation they provide only a glimpse of Vincent’s reflections found in his Conferences and Letters (which he had forbidden anyone to copy or keep, and was fortunately disobeyed!). Here, much more of his spirituality is found in his own explanations through letters to confreres and friends and in his many conferences offered to the Vincentian and the Daughters of Charity. Understandably, much of Vincent’s pedagogical and theological style and his sources of inspiration are clearly seventeenth century French and continue to be a worthwhile challenge to translate and understand in terms more familiar to his descendants. However, the primary task of Vincentians today has been not so much to retrieve Vincent’s spirituality, as if by re-telling his story our congregation would be renewed. Rather, our own experiences as Vincentian missioners to the poor and our own efforts at renewal since the second Vatican Council may well be making his reflections and teachings all the more relevant to Vincentians now on a path that is unfamiliar to many of us.
As an example of this is the question of justice. Vincent uses the word once in his Common Rules (Chapter II – Gospel teaching) in this way: “Christ said: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things which you need will be given to you as well” as an illustration of complete identification with Jesus Christ, the model of holiness. There is little mention of injustice (except when referring to those without bare necessities, such as galley slaves and materially poor), much less a critical analysis of causes of poverty. We know that Vincent de Paul was passionate about the need to alleviate poverty and suffering, particularly spiritual pain. And he was very realistic about what that would mean to missioners or to the Daughters of Charity, if they were to be effective at all. Indeed, he demanded that his confréres consider the poor “our masters/teachers” and to sincerely ask forgiveness when offering in charity to the poor the very bread that was due them by right or in justice. He knew that it was no easy task to win the hearts of the poor who had, of necessity become very untrusting and resentful toward those charity workers and penitential missioners who would come in and out of their lives at their own will. Vincent’s kind of justice was hard won and at close quarters. His spirituality was marked by a great deal of personal contact with the poor and suffering, a concomitant developing of resources and collaboration with the wealthy and those in power, and a realistic, constant commitment to personal conversion. But it is in Vincent’s insistence on complete obedience to Jesus Christ and identification with His mission which signals that his spirituality is much more than inspired social action. As one prophetic voice for religious renewal has said:
“The central truth of religious commitment is that it is about more than dedicated social work. Steadfast social workers have been part of every culture in the world from Nazi Germany to segregated South Africa. They bind the wounds and meet the pleas of any people too weak to provide for themselves. The do it out of a sense of human compassion and social order. Contemplatives, on the other hand, are driven by a sense of the unremitting will of God. No social order, however well it works, however much it is accepted by the population at large, is enough to quiet their restless passion for universal life and unboundaried possibility. The contemplative stands in the middle of society with the eye of a cosmic dreamer and announces the dream. (Chittister, 1996, pp. 23-24)
Vincent had been led back by the Lord, full circle, to the very circumstances and people he had tried so hard to overcome. Now his dream was to be inextricably bound to the poor and forgotten, particularly those away from whom the church with all her spiritual riches had grown distant and indifferent. Those same poor were to be the key to Vincentian holiness, perhaps first as “subjects of evangelization” but ultimately as teachers and companions.
Towards a spirituality adequate to “follow Christ evangelizing the poor”
In reviewing the growing literature by and about Vincentians and Vincentian missions today it is not easy to limit a study to the understanding of and practice of justice. It may be more helpful to identify some current and growing insights around justice and the larger, social community in “liberation spirituality” and then to relate these to what has been developing within Vincentian organizations as well as in our membership. There are general characteristics of spiritualities described as liberationist:
1) Whether it is the starting point or a central characteristic, liberation spirituality is historical, that is it is born of real, concrete experience of people who themselves suffer in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as in many sectors of so-called developed countries. It will not critique the poor for being unsuccessful or lazy nor will it promote passive suffering in hope of a better world. It comes from conscious, responsible people, actively participating (subjects) in the project of God’s Reign envisioned as bound to come realized more fully on earth, although in God’s good time. (2)
Questions that may arise for Vincentian ministers:
What does the poor person, as subject, contribute to the process of evangelization?
Where does his/her experience enter into the relationship?
How is poverty understood by the poor?
2) Practically any spirituality adequate for people today can be described as relational. Relationship not only with God but also with other human persons as well as with nature itself becomes paramount as our world grows ever more complex and interconnected. For many who reflect with the poor of the world, especially in Latin America, Jesus Christ is the “paradigmatic embodiment of this relational spirituality.”
Questions that may arise for Vincentian ministers:
What role can “outsiders” play effectively and with some assurance of welcome in the relationship?
What need to be the behaviors, the attitudes and skills of a person “working with” the poor?
What needs to be avoided?
3) In centering on the life and ministry of Jesus, such a spirituality is markedly Christocentric. Jesus’ ministry was proclaimed as mission to the poor (Luke 4: 18) with whom he lived and ate and whom he chose, without distinction as to gender or class, as his disciples to bring forth the promised Reign of God. His Good News challenged that day’s old order which thrived on distinctions of conqueror/subject nation, ruling elite/working peasant and laborer, free/slave, religious leader/sinner outcast, man/woman, and so on. Those who today identify with Jesus and claim his ministry as their own will need also to confront the unjust (and horrific) divisions of wealth and power in our world and in our own nation.
Questions for the Vincentian Evangelizer:
How do the poor relate with Jesus?
How does the “Christ” so central in our spiritual tradition relate to the “Christ” expressed to us by the poor?
How can or do we together identify Christ’s place in the question of justice? Fellow sufferer? Redeemer? Doctor? Teacher? Prophet? Liberator? Reconciler?
Is how they relate to Jesus important? Why?
4) Especially recently liberation spirituality is becoming increasing concerned with ecological issues. Just as liberation for one group of people cannot be achieved through oppression of another, so also the devastating results of a driven, often sightless, mechanistic anthropocentric worldview seen in so many cases of disappearing and dying ecosystems are becoming recognized and critiqued. Liberation spirituality now presses from restored or new sensitivity to our interconnectedness with all created being, not just human life.
Questions for the Vincentian Evangelizer:
How are the poor directly or indirectly affected by local/national/global decisions about the exploitation of organic and inorganic resources?
What responsibilities and what voice do they and we have, what part to play?
How do we invite and include the new voices of the poor, spoken and heard – for a fuller perspective, for changing insights, for changing strategies?
Some dynamics called for in Vincentian spirituality today.
We can recognize (especially in those items highlighted below) a renewed emphasis on actual and personal relationship with the poor, a call to critical thinking and analysis around causes of poverty, a sharing in the condition of the poor so as to be evangelized by them, and a call to conversion (!) all are found in the Constitutions of 1980 (promulgated 1984):
12.–These are the characteristics to be kept in mind in this work of evangelization which the Congregation proposes to carry out:
1 clear and expressed preference for the apostolate among the poor, since their evangelization is the sign that the kingdom of God is present on earth (cf. Mt 11:5);
2 attention to the realities of present-day society, especially to the factors that cause an unequal distribution of the world’s goods, so that we can better carry out our prophetic task of evangelization;
3 some sharing in the condition of the poor, so that not only will we attend to their evangelization, but that we ourselves may be evangelized by them;
4 genuine community spirit in all our apostolic works, so that we may be supported by one another in our common vocation;
5 readiness to go to any part of the world, according to the example of the first missionaries of the Congregation;
6 striving to live in a state of continuous conversion both on the part of each individual member and on the part of the whole Congregation, according to the mind of St. Paul, who counsels us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm 12:2).
As a follow-up to the process which produced the Constitutions, the Lines of Action (1986) was a world-wide commitment for six years to evaluate ourselves in light of our renewed sense of the Mission. In the area of “Evangelization of the Poor” the situation showed promise and hope with a “more prophetic…trust toward the poor in our evangelizing work”, “a sharper sensitivity to the unjust situations existing in a large part of the world”, and ” a greater closeness to the world of the poor; that is, to poor people themselves and to the environment they live in.” But there was acknowledgment of a “serious analysis of the causes of poverty, injustice and violence as well as consciousness of the need to commit ourselves to work against those evils”, as well as a scarcity in “pastoral planning with a realistic diagnosis of problems and with precise, concrete goals”. Self examination and judgment such as this would end with a commitment to particular “Lines of Action:”
Each confrere and each local community shall hear the urgent call to continued conversion and make efforts to respond to that call, or order to live out, as their own, the spiritual experience of St. Vincent.
Participation in the life of the poor and commitment to the cause of their liberation and salvation are an integral part of the conversion to which the missionaries and the local communities are called.
And on the part of the provinces, a corporate commitment to draw up a six year plan which would include (among other commitments):
Evaluation of the province’s work, revitalization of those forms of mission [fitting the] context of each country, [giving special attention to the] unchurched and fallen away, [taking into account] inculturation, [and insuring that] the poor themselves might be agents of their own evangelization and liberation.
Commitment to justice and to the promotion of the poor, especially the marginalized and the abandoned. Such activities should be rooted in an understanding of the concrete causes of the situation and will be carried out in collaboration with the poor themselves an with all those who attempt to change unjust social structures by peaceful means.
The continued process led most recently to a “pastoral letter” conclusion to the 1992 General Assembly in which the newly elected Superior General synthesized the work of six years into New Evangelization, New Men, New Communities. “New Evangelization” carried a renewed emphasis on personal encounter with the poor (since it was a decisive factor in Vincent’s life), a integral and continuous formation of priests and laity in collaboration with contemporary society and in the light of the Church’s social teaching to “promote creative solidarity in favor of the poor”, and a renewed impetus to missions, both popular (within our countries) and ad Gentes (to other nations). “New Men” urged a renewed commitment to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ, to living in a deeper way the evangelical counsels and the five virtues of simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification, and zeal, and a renewed emphasis on ongoing formation as paths of conversion that can lead confreres to deepen their Vincentian vocation and acquire the competency required by new evangelization. “New Communities” for the mission built on the communitarian love the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reiterated Vincent’s mandate to “live with one another as very dear friends”, give special attention to our elderly and sick confreres, seeking to inculturate ourselves and insert ourselves among poor people in order to “make our solidarity with them effective, yet including all members in the community plan to balance community life with the demands of the apostolate. Again it was noted that “integral formation” in which each confrere be responsible and accountable was required for such a transformation.
The Limits of Inspired Documents
A fundamental question continues to arise. Given the need for profound conversion and transformation both on an institutional or corporate level for organizations such as the Vincentians, can such change truly and effectively be brought about through institutional, structural decisions and commitments? If so, why are not more Vincentians fired with passion in settings along with the poor? Granting the individual members whose lives have been completely dedicated to direct service to and a lifestyle in solidarity with the poor, why do the national and international organizations of Vincentians not stand up publicly along with the poor? Why are we not known for our work around justice? Why do not the poor recognize us as brothers and sisters in complete solidarity? Or can institutions not be tied in any way to global injustice, or not in any way even contribute to the divisions and injustices they stand against?
Certainly, all our efforts notwithstanding, conversion cannot be programmed or orchestrated. Rather, it seems to be a grace which begins to be offered and to unfold only when it is sincerely sought, and only then through the agency of others…perhaps those very ones we had intended to help.
One outstanding challenge to Vincentians today is to recognize and welcome the growing role of the poor in our lives as missioners. They need to become the dominant voice in any needs assessment which would involve our resources and leadership in service to them. It is their full collaboration with us in efforts of evangelization which will make us and our labors more effective, and which will truly evangelize us as “outsiders.” This is all the more critical for ordained presbyters whose ministry will emphasize liturgical leadership. In the context of the very process of inculturating the liturgy in the United States, taking into account the pluralism and multicultural reality of the people of God, is itself a call to justice. As Thea Bowman points out:
The quest for justice demands that I walk in ways that I never walked before, that I talk and think and pray and learn and grow in ways that are new to me. If I’m going to share faith with my brothers and sisters who are Chinese or Jamaican or South African or Winnebago Indian, I’ve got to learn new ways, new means, new languages, new rituals, new procedures, new understandings, so I can read my brother’s heart, so I can hear my sister’s call, and I can live justly.
Perhaps the most promising sign of renewal in a group as diverse as the world wide Congregation of the Mission is found in the many stories and personal, pastoral reflections shared and sometimes published by Vincentians. They range from profound, critical retrievals and restatements of the virtues originally proposed to his fellow missioners by Vincent de Paul to insightful reflections arising from those experiencing a renewal of spirit and mission. They all echo a “conscious striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but of self-transcendence toward [one’s] ultimate value.” But the “horizon of ultimate concern” is, as it is with Vincent de Paul, Jesus Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor. And it is the poor who continue to invite our involvement and elicit our conversion. As with Vincent de Paul, the Gascon peasant originally seeking refuge from the poverty of Landes in southeast France, so too with his spiritual descendants; it is with the poor where we discover and are transformed by the Christ who has offered us a share in his role, “Evangelizer of the Poor.”
(1) As called for in Vatican II’s Perfectae Caritatis, October 28, 1965, Ecclesiae Sanctae, August 6, 1966 and various other Church documents.
(2) Mary Hembrow Snyder, “Spirituality and Liberation: Introduction”, Liberation Theology: An Introductory Reader, Curt Dadorette et alii (Eds.), (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Press, 1992), pp. 221-222.