Ordinary Time 28, Year B-2009

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
He sent forth the word to heal them (Ps. 107:20)

In her “Confessions of a Modern Nun” (October 12, 2009 issue of America), Sister Ilia Delio, O.S.F., speaks of the distinction made by Father Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., between the Communio and the Concilium Catholics [1]. The Communio Catholics are traditional, while the Concilium Catholics are progressive. The former consider religious life as divine espousal with Christ. The latter, on the hand, see Christ in solidarity with the poor.

Without regard to the question of either the validity or the usefulness of the distinction, I would like to submit that one does not have to choose between Communio and Concilium. Moreover, I would like to point to St. Vincent de Paul as exemplifying the true Christian disciple in whom Communio and Concilium meet together and tradition and progress kiss. St. Vincent was at once radically traditional and inventively progressive.

Fundamentally, St. Vincent was radically traditional because he was deeply rooted in what had been handed over to him from the past, especially, the word of God. He was attentive to God’s word and allowed it to cleanse him. He would later prescribe to the members of the Congregation of the Mission (Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, II, 1):

Let each of us accept the truth of the following statement and try to make it
our most fundamental principle: Christ’s teaching will never let us down,
while worldly wisdom always will. Christ himself said this sort of wisdom was
like a house with nothing but sand as its foundation, while his own was like
a building with solid rock as its foundation. And that is why the Congregation
should always try to follow the teaching of Christ himself and never that of
the worldly-wise.

St. Vincent surely preferred divine wisdom to everything else and, accordingly, sought God’s kingdom and his justice first of all (cf. ibid., II, 2, and Mt. 6:33). He knew, with the certainty of faith, that God’s kingdom, his justice and wisdom as well, would bring along and provide all other good things besides. He must have considered God’s word to be indeed “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart,” as today’s second reading teaches. He allowed God’s word to exercise its effectiveness and sharpness, for instance, the day he donated a large sum of money to a hospital for the poor. Unlike the man of today’s gospel reading, whose “face fell and who went away sad for he had many possessions,” Vincent showed clearly on that day that he was ready to let go of his ambition and his view of the priesthood as a means of social advancement, sensitive to the needs of the poor that he had become and a true follower of Jesus he had resolved to be. God made possible on that day what Vincent apparently had found humanly difficult, if not impossible, for the first ten years or so of his priestly life.

With the provident Lord, then, as his help and guide, and with God’s love being the foundation of his life, St. Vincent’s love expressed itself in his eagerness to do good for others (cf. today’s collect prayer). And he did so much good for others that it was said of him at his funeral that “he just about transformed the face of the Church” (cf. Robert P. Maloney, C.M., The Way of Vincent de Paul [Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, 1992], p. 11). Such transformation could properly be described, I think, in terms used by another St. Vincent—St. Vincent of Lerins—who wrote: “The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import” (cf. the non-biblical reading for the Office of Readings, Friday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Liturgy of the Hours).

The great and vigorous progress St. Vincent was instrumental in bringing about cannot be separated from tradition. His communion with the Lord was equally and inevitably an outreach to others; it was not enough for him to love God if his neighbor did not love him also (P. Coste, XII, 262). And his own creativity in reaching out to the poor was a reflection of the inventiveness unto infinity of the Lord’s love that he saw in the Eucharist (cf. ibid., XI, 145-146). “Do this is in remembrance of me” means “As I have done for you, you should also do” (1 Cor. 11:24-25; Jn. 13:14-15).