A Vincentian View: Taking a Second (Better) Look
I think it is rare that we get things right the first time—at least, that is my experience. In order to learn how to do something, I need to do it more than once. To really understand something, to really allow it to sink deeper and more clearly into my thinking, I really need to give it a second or third or tenth look. I found that to be true of theology for example, what I thought to be true on a first examination or reflection oftentimes changed as I thought more carefully and allowed myself to remain open to other possibilities. I could say the same about teaching.
Each of the Scripture readings of this past Sunday offers an invitation and—more than an invitation—an insistence on taking a second look at what we think and what we do.
Let me consider only the first reading, but something could be said along these lines for each text. We have the situation in the early Church in which someone needs to serve the community at table and make sure that all people are treated fairly. The reasoning of the Apostles is that they cannot leave the important work of proclaiming the Word of God in order to perform this humble service for the community. And so, seven deacons are selected for this role. When we look at the names of those selected as deacons, and when we read the next stories in the Acts of the Apostles, we see that there was a flaw in the reasoning of the apostles. Among these new deacons who are to serve at table are Stephen and Philip. Stephen will soon be the first martyr of the early church for his bold and unswerving proclamation of the word. Philip will be forced to leave Jerusalem and we soon find him preaching and teaching in the Gentile world. What is evident is that there cannot be a clear separation between preaching the word and serving the other needs of the people of God. The apostles are going to need to take another look at their reasoning. It was not the operational attitude of Jesus.
We know that Vincent repeatedly had difficulty with this way of thinking which separated word and action. He speaks to his priests, but application can be made throughout the Vincentian Family:
If there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way. . . . To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, and that is the most perfect way; it is also what Our Lord did, and what those should do who represent him on earth, officially and by nature, as priests do (CCD 12:78).
For Vincent and Louise, the entire person must be served.
We never capture the entirety of something important at the first look or in the first decision. Something more always cries out to be learned, something more to be discerned. This is true whether we are considering the truths of our faith, or the depths of a human being, or the possibilities in a situation.
What message can we take away from our Sunday readings and felt experiences? Perhaps, that God always has something new to say and to teach. Perhaps, God has a different future in mind for us and our communities. We open ourselves to God’s transforming Spirit and to God’s will which offer the blessings of a second look.