Ordinary Time 08, Year B

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Happy those concerned for the lowly and poor (Ps. 41:1)

We are told that St. Vincent de Paul pictured ranks of poor people gathered around Jesus on the last day, helping him to make the final judgment and imploring him from time to time [1]: "She took care of us, Lord. Let her in. He was our friend, Jesus. Welcome him too."

So, then, according to Vincentian thinking, the poor are the ones that give the recommendation for entry into the kingdom of heaven. The poor are the letters of recommendation on behalf of those who seek to be counted among those blessed by the Father.

It is not surprising, for sure, that this is so. After all, St. Vincent considered the poor his portion. "Our inheritance is the poor, the poor," the Founder told his confreres insistently and repeating several times, as though carried away by the importance of the topic and by the excitement of the occasion, Pauperibus evangelizare misit me. According to him, to be, like Jesus, devoted to the poor is the special characteristic of the missionaries, who, by doing that for which our Lord came from heaven to earth, shall then go from earth to heaven. And St. Vincent does indicate that this devotion to the poor, more than anything else, is what the church also recommends should serve as the recommendation for the apostolate here on earth and the glory later in heaven. St. Vincent says with regard to this last point:

We have to be willing and ready to leave
everything in order to serve God and the
neighbor, and the neighbor, mind you, the
neighbor for the love of God. St. Martin,
though still a catechumen, on seeing a poor
person asking for alms, took his sword and
cut his cloak in half to give one piece to
the poor man. Such a charitable act pleased
our Lord so much that He appeared to him that
same evening covered with half of the cloak.
And the church has esteemed and valued so much
this charitable act of St. Martin that she
represents him to us, no longer as a bishop or
archbishop, notwithstanding that this is such
an exalted dignity, but as mounted on a horse,
dressed as a soldier and cutting in half his
cloak.

And it seems clear to me that Benedict XVI is very much in agreement with the Vincentian thinking. At the conclusion of his encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, in article 40, invoking in particular the memory the same St. Martin of Tours, the Holy Father qualifies as "irreplaceable" the value of the individual testimony to charity [2]. He, moreover, mentions St. Vincent de Paul by name, along with St. Louise de Marillac and 8 others blessed by the Father, and includes him among those who stand out as lasting models of social charity. In holding up the icon of St. Martin and the name of one who saw in such icon a unique meaning and a special message on the part of the church, Benedict XVI confirms, in my view, that the poor, or the charitable deeds done to them, do serve as letters of recommendation.

It is not that other things will not figure the day one is called to make an accounting of what one’s life on earth, no matter that Mt. 25:31-46 is silent about other criteria that may be used in determining who should go to eternal punishment and who to eternal life. It will matter, course, that one was a bishop or a provincial visitor, or one built an important sanctuary or a big church, or one improved the economic condition of a religious community, but any one of these will matter only in the context of love, effective, of course, for the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.

And anyone belonging to the Vincentian Family who is genuinely deserving of the recommendation coming from the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, this one can be sure also of having the Founder’s original spirit, to which a constant return is advised (cf. Perfectae Caritatis 2 at [3]). Imbued with such spirit, the Vincentian will have a sense of newness, a sense of that integrity belonging to a new cloak, not to a mended one, a taste of new wine in new wine skins that are not going to burst. Steeped in this spirit, the Vincentian soul will be like the beloved of the Lord, whom he espouses in fidelity, the spouse who responds to the Lord as in the days of her youth and knows him. The only thing this soul has to fear is not to be in the presence of the beloved, which, should it occur, would make fasting more necessary than ever.

"Since God surely loves the poor,"--the Vincentian thinking is worth proclaiming once more--"he also loves those who love the poor." They are surely recommended to be given a warm welcome to the kingdom, then, those who welcome the poor warmly.