Lent 03, Year C

Return and live (Ez. 18:32)

The God of Vincent de Paul, the God of Louise de Marillac, the God of the other saints, blesseds and venerables of the Vincentian family, is the same God that reveals himself to one seeking to follow in the footsteps of these prominent persons.

Perhaps today’s seer, because his sympathies—more or less like Moses—lie with the mistreated and the weak, has risked his life and his future. It may seem to the same seer that his only option is to endure the hard life and settle for the simple pleasures of the workaday world, allowing himself to be carried away by occasional surprises that both fascinate and frighten.

It is not altogether inconceivable that one of the surprises or wonders that attract and frighten the seer is this one: How is it that as burning as the hunger or thirst of the needy is, and in spite of the constant worry that there would not be enough for the multitude, neither the bread nor the drink run out? St. John of God kept wondering thus to a certain extent, I think, since he wrote in a letter, “So many people come here that I very often wonder how we can care for them all, but Jesus Christ provides all things and nourishes everyone.” A little later he added:

And often my debts are so pressing that I dare not go out
of the house for fear of being seized by my creditors.
Whenever I see so many poor brothers and neighbors of mine
suffering beyond their strength and overwhelmed with so many
physical or mental ills which I cannot alleviate, then I
become exceedingly sorrowful; but I trust in Christ, who
knows my heart. And so I say: “Woe to the man who trusts
in men rather than in Christ.” Whether you like it or not,
you will grow apart from men, but Christ is faithful and
always with you, for Christ provides all things. Let us
always give thanks to him. Amen.

To God indeed thanks and glory! For we owe such a wonder to the provident God, the God of the person who is dead serious about embarking on a Vincentian journey. As St. Paul makes us understand while applying to Christians the events of the Hebrew exodus, this God who today reveals himself is the same God, of course, who appeared to Moses to announce the good news to enslaved Israel. Kind and merciful, this God witnesses the affliction of his people and hears their cry of complaints and know well what they are suffering. With an ineffable name that indicates omnipotence and immunity, so to speak, to human manipulations and machinations, this God, who softens and hardens the hearts of even the most powerful earthly sovereigns, comes down to rescue his people and lead them out of misery and slavery.

But the God who goes out of his way to meet us expects us to be attentive and responsive. Essentially, he wants us to turn to him. The fact that God is kind and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness, this does not mean at all that he is wishy-washy and does not care if we behave well or ill. He is looking for fruit on the fig tree. Warns St. Paul, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

The Lord God who has revealed himself fully in Jesus Christ demands first of all that we repent. Repentance, of course, does not merit forgiveness, but it is a condition of it. Repentance too does not tolerate such gesture of compassion that is tainted with self-righteousness, the kind shown perhaps by those who spoke of the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices. To think that these Galileans or other victims of fatal accidents to be greater sinners than all the others, doesn’t this mean to believe oneself, unconsciously perhaps, morally better than those unfortunate departed for simply being alive? But it makes very little sense, not to say no sense at all, to compare myself with another, for what matters really is that I am repentant and ready for any eventuality, for the kingdom being at hand especially. Proclaimed Jesus, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

This proclamation has a subversive dimension, says Kevin B. McGruden in “Mark’s Countercultural Vision” (cf. the March 5, 2007 issue of America). The kingdom of God unmasks the other kingdoms as counterfeit and takes issue with their dogmas, principles, propagandas and lifestyles. The gospel proposes a change in thinking, living and behaving as it disagrees with the peace that is dictated by “brutal military conquest and is frequently maintained through savage reprisal against any and all resistance.” The gospel holds up service as the true manner of exercising authority and shows that the way to salvation and life is through self-denial and death.

And for the one embarking on the Vincentian journey, the presence of the kingdom of God, repentance and belief in the gospel, all this will be proven countercultural to the extent that he peels away the negative meanings, associations and connotations society imposes on poverty and ingests those of the kingdom of God and the gospel (cf. the January 2007 letter of Father Thomas F. McKenna, C.M. at [1]), while headed toward where bread and drink enduring for eternal and abundant life will be freely given to everybody in the presence of the God of Vincent, of Louise, of the other Vincentian saints, blesseds and venerables, and, surely, of Moses.