- He has sent me to preach the gospel to the poor (Lk. 4:18)
To walk in God’s ways, says Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in article 208 of his Bibilical Literacy, means to ask oneself before performing a deed: “Is this what God would want me to do? Is this the Godly way to act?”
The questions that a true Christian asks or must ask are not much different. The true Christian believes, of course, that Jesus is the way to finding God and God’s will. For he sees the Father, the one who sees Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the Son who is both the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Jn. 14:9; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). So the question, then, for the true Christian becomes, “What would Christ do if he were in my place?” Thus did St. Vincent de Paul ask himself and recommend too that others likewise ask themselves, holding up Jesus Christ as “the true model and the great invisible picture on whom we should model all our actions” (cf. Sister Juana Elizondo, “Vincentian Charism and Spirit” ). The saint kept urging:
- Another point to which you should pay particular attention is
- to depend greatly on the guidance of the Son of God; I mean to
- say that, when you have to act, you should reflect like
- this: “Is this in conformity with the maxims of the Son of
- God?”... Whenever there is a question of doing a good work,
- say to the Son of God, “O Lord, if you were in my place, what
- would you have done? How would you instruct the people?
- How would you console this person with illness of body or
The presumption, of course, is that one who reflects in this manner and tries to follow the teaching of Christ and not that of the worldly-wise is likewise ready and willing to listen very attentively to God’s word. To listen to Jesus—said Benedict XVI last Jan. 7 in his Angelus allocution—is a commitment that springs from baptism. It means to believe in Jesus, to follow him docilely and to do his will. By listening thus one can tend to holiness.
And he or she better be ready for anything the person who seriously wants to listen attentively to God and to Jesus Christ. Says Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., in The Way of Vincent de Paul:
- If you listen well, the word of God will enter your life
- in strikingly diverse ways, always with a view toward your
- conversion and growth [and, if I may add, to impart Spirit
- and life]. Sometimes it will come as food (Ps. 19:11) to
- strengthen you and build you up. Sometimes it will be
- refreshing water (Is. 55:10) to quench your thirst on the
- journey. But at other times God’s word may jolt you like
- a hammer that shatters a rock (Jer. 23:29), breaking in on
- your too-settled ways or your hardness of heart. It may
- also strike you like a sword (Heb. 4:12) to pierce your
So, then, the word of God, along with the interpretation provided by those sent by God, can bring about sadness and weeping or joy and celebration, as the first reading from the book of Nehemiah indicates. It all depends on God. And St. Vincent recognized this when, marveling at the ways of Divine Providence and recalling the sermon he preached at Folleville on January 25, 1617, he said that “God blessed it so greatly that all the inhabitants of the place made their general confession, and in such crowds, that I had to get two Jesuit fathers to come and help me hear confessions, preach and instruct.” It all depends, yes, on what God wants to realize in the hearers or on the end for which he sends his word.
But whatever may be the effect that God wants to produce in the listener, the efficacy of God’s word is proven real and certain to the extent that the hearer, becoming a doer, shares the good news with others and lets God’s generosity toward him overflow into other persons, such that grace comes full circle (cf. Jas. 1:22; 2 Cor. 9:8-15). It is not enough, then, that, in order to celebrate the proclamation of the gospel, I eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, if my neighbor has nothing to eat or drink. Christ’s generous love impels me and leaves me no other option but to allot portions to those who have nothing:—if the evangelization of the poor is really going to be fulfilled today; if indeed the different parts are to form one body of Christ.
It is eucharistic this body, in the first place, because the different members, in sharing their property and possessions and in breaking bread, eat their meals together with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and thanking him for his indescribable gift, and in the second place, because “the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God” (Acts 2:44-47; 2 Cor. 9:12, 15). We are commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and we get the explanation, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” We find in the Eucharist, then, the basic answer to our question, “O Lord, if you were in my place, what would you have done?”