Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A-2011

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
I am the Lord (Lev. 19:3, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37)

“Missing in us is the truth of ‘good works’ and we fill our life with chatter and all kinds of disquisitions.” So notes José Antonio Pagola in a reflection that has graced the pages of Somos Vicencianos [1]. I do think the “truth of good works” is what distinguishes a holy person from the rest. And this is the case with St. Vincent de Paul.

It was not enough for the holy Founder to love with words, not even with angelic words. He loved God with the strength of his arms and the sweat of his brow [2]. The love that led him to visit the poor in a hospital for indigents and later to give to it a considerable sum of money was the same love that gave him not only the courage not to resist a colleague who had accused him of theft but also the hope for vindication from God. This initial love, one might say, subsequently made way for amazing creativity and greater works.

Not that St. Vincent relied on his works or, much less, boasted of them. In the first place, he did not focus on what had already been accomplished but rather on what still needed to be done (cf. Phil. 3:12-14). As a case in point, he felt guilty not a few times that he was returning to Paris from conducting missions in rural areas when so many other villages were waiting for him to do for them what he had just done elsewhere [3].

In the second place, St. Vincent never considered his the works he, the other missionaries and the Daughters of Charity were doing or proposing to do. He deemed them rather to be God’s works, realizable by God’s grace and to be done in accordance with divine means and the dispositions of Divine Providence. It is only God’s hand, he told Antoine Durand, which prevents human effort from spoiling divine work [4].

By no means, then, was St. Vincent ever a “heretic of action” (if it was really more than just a matter of caricature or of straw men and there were those in the Church indeed, as Pope Pius XII’s apostolic exhortation Menti Nostrae indicates, who have presumed “that the world can be saved by what has been rightly called the heresy of action, that activity which is not based upon the help of grace and does not make constant use of the means necessary to the pursuit of sanctity given us by Christ”). St. Vincent’s works were founded on his faith. This faith worked and was kept alive through love (cf. Gal. 5:6). It can perhaps be said that this faith was but little at first, for to affirm it in the midst of horrible doubts assailing him, all St. Vincent could do was to touch a piece of paper in his pocket on which he had written down the Credo. But this faith, very small like a mustard seed, was able to realize works that were at once unexpected or unbelievable and far greater (cf. Lk. 17:6; Jn. 14:12). St. Vincent acknowledged that he could do nothing without Jesus (Jn. 15:5). He also knew with certainty, however, that he had the strength for everything through him who empowered him (Phil. 4:13).

The truth and the holiness, then, of St. Vincent’s good works derived basically from the truth and the holiness of God. Motivated by God’s perfection, St. Vincent made every effort to be perfect. Strong-willed, easily moved to anger and having the tendency to be moody, he turned to God and begged him incessantly to change his dry, contentious manner and to give him a warm, gentle spirit. And by God’s grace, St Vincent added, and with the little bit of attention he gave to holding back the movements of nature, he had somewhat changed his dark moods. He sought in earnest to be no more and no less than a reflection of God, in a similar manner that St. Francis de Sales was. The latter, because of his meekness, was seen by the former as a clear image of divine meekness [5]. Jesus was St. Vincent’s reason for being and doing. Thus he kept asking Jesus [6] : “Lord, if you were in my place, what would you do on this occasion? How would you instruct this people? How would you console the sick of mind or body?” Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Vincent had no religion but Christ alone—if there is truth in Rumi’s saying that “the lovers of God have no religion but God alone” [7]. St. Vincent discovered that all belonged to him because he belonged to Christ and to God, through Christ. Hence, he was not worried about being vindicated or about the dishonor of being struck on the cheeks or being calumniated, either personally or community-wise. He was ready and willing to lose all for God, for Christ, to spend everything for the sick and the poor [8].

Indeed, as St. Teresa of Ávila recited, “only God suffices.” Only Christ can fill our emptiness and cover our nakedness, notwithstanding that we try hard to do so ourselves by calling attention, for example, to our “good works,” as Dag Hammarksjöld already observed [9]. We have nothing really that can justify us or of which we can boast (Rom. 3:27-28; 1 Cor. 1:28-31; 4:7; Eph. 2:8-10).

But if only God suffices, if Christ is the rule of life and of the mission, to do one’s best to imitate him means one cannot settle for what is commanded but must get off the beaten path of the usual religious observance. One has to go beyond, for instance, the justice of the law that forbids two eyes for one eye or three teeth for two teeth. One has to go beyond tribalism, beyond loving one’s relative or neighbor and love strangers as well, and even one’s enemy and persecutor, although exceptions to Christ’s demands have been made, justifiably perhaps, because, for one thing, one would rather have a lesser evil prevail than a greater evil (cf. Jn. 18:22-23; Acts 22:25; 23:2-5; 25:11) [10].

Jesus practiced what he taught. He walked the whole way of more than one mile, or even two miles, toward death. We who take part in the Eucharist pledge our readiness and willingness to walk with him, to be followers also of St. Vincent. We are held to a higher standard because of the higher authority we answer to.


NOTES:

[1] “El coraje de no ser perfectos” at http://somos.vicencianos.org/comentarios/2011/02/05/ciclo-a-5%c2%ba-domingo-de-tiempo-ordinario-reflexion-de-jose-antonio-pagola/ (accessed February 16, 2011). On Pagola’s best-seller that led to an investigation, cf. http://ncronline.org/node/20835 (accessed February 16, 2011) and also http://iglesiadescalza.blogspot.com/2011/02/vatican-opens-process-against.html (accessed February 16, 2011).
[2] P. Coste XI, 40.
[3] Ibid. XI, 445.
[4] Ibid. XI, 342-351.
[5] Ibid. XIII, 78-79.
[6] Ibid. XI, 348.
[7] As quoted by Dag Hammarksjöld in Markings (New York, NY: Random House, Inc.; Ballantine Books: 1983) 86.
[8] Cf. Inter-Varsity Press Commentary at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Avoid-Retribution-Resistance (accessed February 16, 2011).
[9] Dag Hammarksjöld, 31.
[10] Cf. P. Coste VII, 77-79 ; cf. also Inter-Varsity Press Commentary cited above.