by: José Vicente Nacher Tatay, CM
(This article first appeared in Carisma Vicenciano: Memoria y Profecía [XXVI Semana de Estudios Vicencianos], CEME, Salamanca, 2001)
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Charism
- 3 Prophecy
- 4 Prophesy in our society
- 5 Conclusions
- 6 Footnotes
“The prophetic character of the Vincentian charism” … when such a title is presented, the thesis that one hopes to develop is clearly expressed. “The prophetic character of the Vincentian charism” is an affirmation, a desire, a commitment.
Is the Vincentian charism prophetic in today’s world? Will it be prophetical in the near future? I believe that in this forum it is unnecessary to respond to these questions because our obvious response is yes. To respond in this manner one does not have to listen to this presentation (or read these pages). On multiple occasions the Church (and society) have recognized the person and the charism of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac; in fact they have been named the Universal Patrons of Charity.
Have the reasons changed that gave rise to this charism? No, rather the drama of poverty in the world has become more acute during recent years. Therefore this charism will continue to exist as long as there are people who are poor.
But be careful here. We are not “the owners” of the charism but simply men and women who have received this charism and therefore men and women who are servants of this charism. If we are not faithful to this charism, the Holy Spirit will bestow this service of charity upon others.
But there is an even deeper question: how can we live our charism in a prophetic manner? In other words, what is our character? The answer to these questions implies that we have an “identity”, that is, that we know who we are and that we experience our identity in a lively manner.
We will try to respond more fully to this question in the course of this presentation. Therefore, we begin with a theoretical framework that defines the meaning of the words “charism” and “prophecy” and that also describes the social situation in which we find ourselves.
Charism in the Church
Charism: a gift of the Spirit that is given to a person whom others follow in a manner that is more or less structured and approved by the Church. The charism is the various gifts that the Spirit, in every era, bestows upon Christians for the good of the Church. The Spirit distributes special graces among the faithful as he desires (1 Corinthians 12:11), making them capable and quick to engage in various works that are useful for the greater edification of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:7). This charismatic element is part of the nature of the Church and is integrated into the Church’s institutional element . Thus Christ and the Spirit constitute the Church and provide it with a life-giving structure for its sanctifying dynamism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: In the communion of saints, many and varied spiritualities have been developed throughout the history of the churches. The personal charism of some witnesses to God’s love for men has been handed on, like “the spirit” of Elijah to Elisha and John the Baptist, so that their followers may have a share in this spirit (#2684). Something similar occurs with Vincent de Paul’s and our own charism.
Vita Consecrata points out: every charism leads to the Holy Spirit, insofar as it prepares individuals to let themselves be guided and sustained by him, both in their personal spiritual journeys and in their lives of communion and apostolic work, in order to embody that attitude of service which should inspire the true Christian's every choice (Vita Consecrata, #36) .
Vincentian charism: gifts that the Spirit bestowed upon Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac and their followers; gifts that moved them to serve Christ in the person of the poor.
Using Vincent own words the Vincentian charism is composed of those gifts that God has used to enrich us so that we might do the same thing that he did while he was on earth: evangelize/serve the poor.
In the words of the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission: the Vincentian charism or spirit is to live in accord with the Spirit of Christ who was sent to proclaim Good News to the poor . The gospel maxims that Christ taught and that Vincent admired and that gave form to the charism are: love and reverence for the Father, compassionate and effective love for the poor, and docility to Providence.
Saint Vincent proposed some useful and necessary virtues in order to fulfill our vocation: simplicity, humility and charity .
The Vincentian communities and their charism
Allow me to begin this section with a personal observation. Not everyone among us (members of the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of Charity, the International Association of Charity, the Vincentian Marian Youth Association, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, etc.) is convinced that our unique and specific purpose in the Church is to be with the poor and to minister on their behalf. Thus many people are members of our groups and /or associations but are not aware of the Vincentian charism.
Mediocrity is often found among us … mediocrity that makes us conformists and comfortable … in all of this we need to be alert so that we do not become accomplices in the causes of poverty.
Some individuals believe they are “prophets” because they say things that are witty or combative. When we speak about prophesy we often confuse this with a superficial, bland “modernism”. We cannot say: “I am a member of the Vincentian Family therefore, what I do and say is Vincentian.” The prophetic character ought to influence the whole of our personal and community life.
Correct me if I am mistaken. Few among us have a prophetic character and/or the qualities of a charismatic leader. We can agree with Father José Ignacio F. Mendoza who states that we need people who understand how the Vincentian charism is being lived and how it should be lived; we need people who are filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: joy, peace, kindness and wisdom ; we need persons who are imbued with a prophetic and eschatological spirit; we need people who understand the past, live in the present with hope and move out toward the future; we need people who accept risks, who are energetic and willing to confront life’s struggles; we need people who inspire enthusiasm and motivate others (we note here that a reduced group of prophets was sufficient for Israel).
I believe that a basic means that will allow us to maintain the prophetic character of the Vincentian charism is for each group of the Vincentian Family to know their constitutions, norms and conclusions of their General Assembly. For example: The Congregation of the Mission, faithful to the gospel, and always attentive to the signs of the times and the more urgent calls of the Church, should take care to open up new ways and use new means adapted to the circumstances of time and place. Moreover, it should strive to evaluate and plan its works and ministries, and in this way remain in a continual state of renewal (Article #2 of the Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation of the Mission) .
Or with regard to the Daughters of Charity: 
We could also cite here the constitutions of the other Vincentian groups which refer to the actualization of the charism that has been received.
Prophecy is a supernatural gift which enables individuals to help others see things that they do not see or do not want to see (denunciation/proclamation).
To prophesize means that one expresses in word and with one’s life “the marvelous wonders of God” (cf. Acts 2:11) while preserving the truth and the uniqueness of each person.
Prophecy in the Bible
Biblical prophecy consists of the proclamation of the primacy of God and the evangelical values.
In the New Testament the word to prophesize appears twenty-one times and the word prophecy sixteen times. This fact gives us some idea of the importance of these realities not only for ancient Israel but also for the early Christian community.
The biblical prophets experienced a powerful call from God to be his messengers. The prophets live in the freedom of the Spirit. Through authentic prophets God not only reveals his will but in fact reveals his very self.
If prophecy enlightens, encourages, motivates and purifies the believing community, then how are we to be prophets in an unbelieving world?
The constants of biblical prophecy:
- Prophecy is a collective phenomenon which later demands more personal action.
- Prophecy functions in the prophets as a profound religious experience by means of which it interrupts the life of the prophets and sends them on a mission (the prophets do not “reprimand” others but rather they live and act in accord with God’s will. Are we willing to be men and women who are totally dedicated to God?
- Prophets are clothed in the authority of the One who sends them, that is, clothed in the authority of God. The power of their words is derived from God. Prophets are not supermen or superwomen; they are believers, nothing more.
- Prophets courageously confront whoever must be confronted. Their denunciation is not a human complaint but is first of all the judgment of God on human plans. (Therefore, prophets outlive their prophecy rather than live their prophecy … it is neither easy nor pleasing to be a prophet).
- Prophets do not speak the words “that people want to hear” but rather proclaim what God wants to say: they denounce evil and proclaim salvation (they combine harsh words with tender language.
Important aspects with regard to the messages of the biblical prophets:
- They educate: in the name of God the prophets educate believers concerning the most important values for life.
- They interpret: even though God is always present, people frequently do not recognize God. The prophets unveil God’s presence and in the name of God they interpret the meaning of ordinary and extraordinary events.
- They denounce: the prophets denounce the error of those who have gone astray and invite them to engage in a process of conversion.
- They proclaim: because so often we cannot see anything beyond ourselves, the prophets proclaim the reality about what God wants us to build (a more just and fraternal world). The prophets move us toward a future that we must create (there is no guessing or predictions), namely, they move us toward a future that will become a reality because God has pledged his word.
Prophets in the Church
Baptism makes every Christian a prophet and makes every Vincentian a prophet. All Christians, who are aware of the presence of the Spirit within them, ought to ask themselves: what gifts have we been given in order to serve our sisters and brothers in a better way. We ought to discern these gifts and recognize the fact that these gifts proceed from the One who bestows all good things upon us. At the same time we should use these gifts to build up the Church, the community of salvation.
The Vincentian charism is a charism of the Church and if we are faithful to Christ and the Church then this charism will always be relevant and actual just as Christ is relevant and actual.
Prophets speak in the name of God. They interpret history. They apply the word of God to the present reality and in light of the Kingdom they frequently make judgments concerning that which is lacking in this reality. Jesus is the culmination of the prophets. The Kingdom of God came into the light of day with Jesus. Jesus continually proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near and he called his followers to proclaim the same Good News. Christians are called to proclaim to the world that the Kingdom of God is here. We struggle against the various forms of poverty not for sentimental reasons or some purely human reason, but we do this in order to serve the Kingdom.
The characteristics of authentic prophets today: [A] They do not announce the future, but rather judge the present . They know how to look at life with the eyes of faith and thus discover (and help others discover) where God can and cannot be found. [B] Prophets are those individuals who help us live the truth with greater evangelical integrity; they do not compromise their voice on behalf of the interests of the powerful of this world. [C] They proclaim the true demands of the Kingdom of God. [D] They discover the plan of God in history and involve us in accomplishing God’s plan.
The prophetic and anti-prophetic dimension of our life
There have been and there are numerous prophets among us, men and women throughout the world who have honored us with their membership in the Vincentian Family. We recommend re-reading the biography of the great Vincentian Prophets: Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Catherine Laboure, Frederic Ozanam, Jean-Gabriel Perboyre …
At the same time we can appear as anti-prophetic when we act in away to accommodate ourselves, when we are mediocre, when we act like everyone else. Then we do not give witness and in fact we become contra-signs.
Some examples: we become contra signs when we do not prepare a homily or a catechetical lesson in prayer, then our words begin to sound theoretical and improvised; when a priest of the Mission has good relationships with the wealthy members of the parish but never visits the poor; when I do not talk with my brothers/sisters in community but instead criticize them in the presence of lay people; when I choose the most comfortable works; when a Sisters chooses the easiest courses and always leaves the more difficult courses for others … . In these situation one is not a prophet.
We must also be aware of the subtle temptations that can entrap us . Therefore it is necessary to recognize and overcome certain temptations which sometimes, by diabolical deceit, present themselves under the appearance of good.
To be prophetic means that we are willing to engage in a struggle to overcome those tendencies that prevent us from giving true witness: encounter God in the person of the poor, silent adoration, asceticism, self-discipline, self-control, evangelical poverty, placing oneself on the side of those who are in need and being aware of the subtle temptations of consumerism.
How to prophesize today
First of all we should recall these words that Paul wrote to the Romans: Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).
The prophets are situated between humanity and divinity and therefore create the possibility of a dialogue between humanity and divinity. What can the Vincentian charism do in this regard? Clearly it can do much because importance is given not only to what is said but also to who says what. Therefore, our witness creates the possibility of being heard.
The prophet not only speaks “in the name of God” but also “speaks about God” … and this is better. Does the Vincentian charism speak about God? Without a doubt it does. Indeed, for the society in which we live, is there a better way to speak about God than that of using the gestures of justice and charity?
The center of the Christian life is prophetic witness on behalf of the Kingdom. “Jesus is alive”, says the prophet, “he is here!” The life of the prophet challenges the world, challenges the present generation as well as future generations to recognize the Risen Lord. Today, such a recognition will not be obtained by putting in place some grand theory but rather by concrete and practical proposals. Men and women today are not moved by slogans but when presented with specific actions will become involved. To be a prophet today is to open paths of solidarity and to make real “the wealth” that the poor possess.
I believe it is best for our Vincentian Congregation and Associations to develop specific, simple social works that provide visible alternatives to the responses offered by others (doing what no one else wants to do). Members of the Vincentian Family should act in a new way by offering a “Christian quality” that others, even though they have more resources available to them, will do only with great difficulty.
We can affirm that there is a need for more effective collaboration among the members of the Vincentian Family, a collaboration that will multiply and actualize our potentialities. There is no doubt that there are many examples of this collaboration but there is also no doubt that said collaboration can be strengthened and further promoted. Something very real and specific has been suggested: warehouses for just commerce. Do we not have the sites and the personnel and the money available to initiate such an endeavor? Do we not have a great number of men and women who are missionaries in other countries and who are looking for ways to offer self-promotion to the people they are serving ?
This could be a way to point out the fact that the prophetic element of the charism does not depend on the number or the age of our member but on their willingness and their faithfulness and their ability to live the gospel in a radical manner. I would call this “creative fidelity to the foundational charism”.
But perhaps the prophecy that our society demands today will even go beyond these actions of service on behalf of the poor. Perhaps in places in which every need seems to be satisfied, the prophetic attitude should be that of proclaiming evangelical poverty as a value in itself . The most profound and difficult prophecy consists of giving witness about a God who is the “true richness” of the human heart. Therefore, evangelical poverty and active contemplation, which was so much a part of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac and so many others, can provide us with an energizing response to the primary idolatry of our time, the idolatry of money.
Prophesy in our society
Challenges of the present society
But today, do people want prophets? Do they value those who live prophetic lives? Are we not all weary of those who tell us what we ought to do?
What characterizes our society and the society of the near future? What aspect of society should we illuminate?
We could define in a schematic manner the present reality of Christianity and the challenges that Christians of a not for distant future will have to confront:
- Today: popular religion; religious syncretism; loss of the coherency between faith and life, faith and morals; sentimental devotions; generosity in helping in specific situations and assisting perons and organizations that are known.
- In the future: prophetic activity will help people live Christ’s personal experience in their own life; proclaim the truth with a new ardor so that there is a coherency between faith-life; a clear and radical option on behalf of the poor of the world; a rejection of neo-liberal economics that crushes the weak.
It is clear that we live in a new context. The changing circumstances of society make it necessary for Vincentian communities/groups to continually adjust their life and mission.
Today we are not being asked to lead protests (like those that occurred thirty or more years ago). But perhaps we are being asked to help to discover those realities that are not shown on television. Today we must present specific situations and make them come alive with photos, videos, etc…. come alive so that they can be seen. Some of the characteristics of our present society are:
- hedonism , the “resurrection of the flesh” (immediate gratification) --- response: chastity;
- a desire to have more and consume --- response: poverty;
- freedom with no regard for the truth or moral criteria --- response: obedience;
- globalization of poverty and indifference toward others --- response: solidarity;
- longevity and a corresponding lack of esteem for the elderly --- response: respect for the elderly;
- lack of ideals and integrity, self-absorption --- response: fidelity.
We are moving toward an ever more pluralistic world (and are already in the midst of that world), a world in which races and languages and cultures and religions are all mixed together; a global economy; territorial inequality; monetary and financial concerns … What will unite us? Who will guide us?
In the following sections we will describe in greater detail the responses to these challenges.
First of all there is a response from the Church, the Church which we are part of and which we serve as a result of our charism.
Because of its prophetic function in the church, it denounces evil and injustice. It should be noted, however, that proclamation is always more important than denunciation. Therefore denunciation cannot leave aside the reality of proclamation which provides it with true soundness and with a power to motivate.
True prophecy has its origins in God, in friendship with God and results from a process of listening attentively to God’s Word as it is revealed in the various circumstances of history. The prophets experience a burning desire for the holiness of God and, having accepted the word through a process of prayer/dialogue, they proclaim the word with their life, their lips and their actions … they become God’s spokesperson against evil and sin.
In the words of John Paul II, prophetic witness today demands: a constant and passionate search for God’s will, unfailing communion in the Church, the practice of spiritual discernment and love of the truth … the denunciation of all that is contrary to the divine will and the exploration of new ways to apply the Gospel in history, in expectation of the coming of God’s Kingdom (Vita Consecrata, #84)
The proclamation of the divine goodness touches us as Vincentians and makes us mindful of the deformed divine image that we behold on the face of so many brothers and sisters . The prophetic stance of the Vincentian charism arises and takes form (takes new form and perhaps more radical form) as a gospel response to the primary challenges that contemporary society directs toward the Church and toward Christians. But the foundation and the ultimate model of our charity is the charity of God which leads us to a selfless and active love. Vincent de Paul was so convinced of this that he pointed this out to the Daughters of Charity: The spirit of the Company consists in giving yourselves to God, to love Our Lord and to serve him corporally and spiritually in the person of the poor in their homes or elsewhere; to instruct poor young women, children, and generally all those whom Divine Providence may send you (CCD:IX:465).
In light of the rampant materialism “to have more” and the lack of concern for the needs and the sufferings of the most vulnerable members of society we want to propose a “spiritual therapy” for humanity: reject the “idolatry of creatures” and in some may make visible the God of Jesus Christ, the God of the poor.
Naturally this witness must accompany our love for the poor, the chosen ones of Jesus and must be manifested in a special way by sharing the pain of those who are destitute and by taking up their cause. More than a few Daughters of Charity and Missionaries and members of the Vincentian Marian Youth Association live in the midst of the poor and the marginalized. Many members of the International Association of Charity and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society minister by sharing the condition of the poor and participating in their sufferings, their problems, and their perils .
How can we recognize Vincentian prophets? What are signs of their presence among us? Allow me to list five signs which are inspired by the words of our superior general.
Signs of the Vincentian prophet
Signs of the prophet:
- The prophets radiate transcendence. If the prophet is one who speaks for God, then surely the clearest sign of prophetic authenticity is that we see God in him or her.
- They have vital contact with dire human need. “The blind see, the lame walk, the poor have the good news preached to them.” Prophets not only cry out for justice, they walk alongside the poor in the journey toward liberation.
- They live in solidarity with others. In a world where there is so much individualism, the prophet proclaims co-responsibility, family, integration, the unity of humankind.
- They witness to simplicity of life. Prophets know what is important in life. Their values are clear. They seek the “one thing necessary.” Everything else is secondary. For that reason there is a beautiful simplicity in their lives.
- They communicate joy. The joy and the peace of the Lord shine out through the prophets. They sing a new song. The Risen Lord rings in their words and in their actions. They are resurrection people with alleluia as their song .
The poor: our unrenounceable charism
What for others ought to be a predilection or a “preferential option”, for us becomes our unrenounceable charism: the poor and their cause. Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).
What is the foundation for this radical option? The foundation is found in Jesus himself who at the beginning of his ministry proclaimed, in the synagogue at Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Luke 4:18-19) . Jesus, with special attention and an authentic “preferential option”, reached out to those living in the midst of some of the most precarious situations, those who, therefore, were most needy . Thus Jesus took up anew the former prophetic tradition of the Old Testament in defense of the rights of God, which, per se, became the defense of the poor against those who were powerful.
The option for the poor is inherent to the very dynamic of love that is lived in imitation of Christ. All the disciples of Christ are obliged to love in this manner. Nevertheless, the members of the Vincentian Family ought to feel even more obligated to live this precept. The sincerity of our response to Christ’s love leads us 1) to live like the poor and embrace their cause, 2) to denounce the injustices committed against so many sons and daughters of God, 3) to commit ourselves to the promotion of justice in the social area of society.
Present day situations are renewed and transformed through the witness of countless persons who today live this charism, that is, through the dedication and sacrifice of so many individuals who have modeled their life on that of our Founders: Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac dedicated their life to serving the Lord present in the poor .
Vincent de Paul liked to say that when one is obliged to set aside prayer in order to attend to a poor person who is in need, one, in fact, is not interrupting prayer because he/she is leaving God for God (CCD:IX:252; X:3). This is not making light of prayer or spirituality but rather it is an elevation of Service. To serve the poor is an act of evangelization and at the same time it is also a sign of evangelical authenticity and an encouragement for on-going conversion .
More specifically, the Missionaries of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity have a special way of participating in the prophetic ministry of Christ, a way that has been communicated to the whole People of God by the Holy Spirit and communicated at the same time through means of signs which the Second Vatican Council recognizes as a dimension of those men and women who have dedicated themselves to the consecrated life. These individuals, then, as prophetic witnesses, ought to reveal the primacy of God and gospel values in the Christian life. In light of this primacy there is nothing more important than personal love for God and for the poor in whom God lives .
Another provocation of society is a found in a view of freedom that separates it from its constitutive relationship with the truth and moral norms. For example the vows that the members of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity profess … these vows proclaim that the Kingdom of God makes them free. Father Maloney has explained this very clearly .
Our Vincentian charism will only be a credible prophecy if we truly live it. The key to prophecy is fidelity (remembering). Anything else would be a scandal, a lie, a history about someone who gave and then took back what had been given. So then, let us be faithful to our vocation and faithful to the Lord, the origin of our vocation. If we are faithful to the charism, the charism will keep us faithful.
Discernment: Do we attempt to live out that which comes from God? Is this the right time? Are we willing to accept the difficulties? Are we willing to enter into the dynamics of the Paschal Mystery --- to die in order to live? If we are, then yes, we have a place in the Church because the Holy Spirit has given us gifts (gifts for service, gifts for evangelizing those who are poor.
We can summaries all of this with the words that Robert Maloney wrote after he met an elderly Daughter of Charity in China who had gathered around herself a group of five aspirants: I ask myself: What did this Sister, who is nearly blind and deaf, do to attract them? The answer I came up with is this: Really, she did almost nothing, but she lived with enormous fidelity, joy, and peace, filled with faith in the presence of the Lord. She was, and continues to be, a prophetic witness to the gospels .
We conclude with the words of John Paul II, words addressed to the Daughters of Charity during their 1997 General Assembly, words that, with their permission, we direct to all Vincentians: The charism of Monsieur Vincent is ablaze today and, with your whole spiritual family, it is your responsibility to bring it alive right where you are.
 The Church has an institutional and visible aspect and at the same time has a charismatic and invisible aspect (Cardinal Suenens).
 The encyclical also states: In fact it is this threefold relationship which emerges in every founding charism, though with the specific nuances of the various patterns of living. This is so because in every charism there predominates "a profound desire to be conformed to Christ to give witness to some aspect of his mystery". This specific aspect is meant to take shape and develop according to the most authentic tradition of the Institute, as present in its Rule, Constitutions and Statutes (Vita Consecrata, #36).
 Robert Maloney provides us with this definition under the title “Espiritu Propio” in the Diccionario de Espiritualidad Vicenciana, CEME, Salamanca, 1995, p. 204-213.
 For the Congregation of the Mission, these virtues are five: simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal for souls (Constitutions, #7).
 Translation: here in the Spanish text there is a reference to Galatians 2:22 but there is no such verse and so I do not know what the proper citation should be. The following statement is also part of this reference: spirituality is not spiritualism or flight or the denial of the historical dimension of the human person. Spirituality means that we live and act in the light of and under the influence of the spirit of Jesus Christ.
 More specifically: We are gradually to withdraw from those apostolic works which, after due reflection, no longer seem to correspond to the vocation of the Congregation at the present time (Statute #1 of the Congregation of the Mission)
 It another section it is pointed out:
 The more ancient prophets were great defenders of the relationship between ethics and faith. The persuasive power of their prophecy was derived from the coherency between proclamation/life. In Proto-Isaiah (chapters 1-39) two significant themes are highlighted: the social problem and the political problem. Comfort, luxury and pride, unbridled greed and injustice … these can have no part in an authentic spiritual life (to what degree do these same realities have to be denounced and illuminated today?). Isaiah denounced the fact that people believed they could control history when in fact history was in God’s hands and people needed to be converted to God’s ways. Micah condemned liturgical acts that were not accompanied with moral integrity (6:1-8). Jeremiah, after denouncing the various errors when the situation appeared to be irreversible, (it would have been easy to make kindling-wood from the fallen tree), spoke words of hope and announced a new resurgence.
 Another example: prophecy is seen in our interaction with others. To speak only about spiritual themes can become “wearisome” and cause “holy alienation”. But, as often occurs in our houses, to speak only about human themes can become all too common. Thus, one position or the other is both unattractive and communicates no prophetic vision.
 In Vita Consecrata John Paul II warned against some of these temptations, for example, the legitimate need to be familiar with today's society in order to respond to its challenges can lead to a surrender to passing fashions, with a consequent lessening of spiritual fervor or a succumbing to discouragement. The possibility of a deeper spiritual formation might lead consecrated persons to feel somehow superior to other members of the faithful, while the urgent need for appropriate and necessary training can turn into a frantic quest for efficiency, as if apostolic service depended primarily on human means rather than on God. The praiseworthy desire to become close to the men and women of our day, believers and non-believers, rich and poor, can lead to the adoption of a secularized lifestyle or the promotion of human values in a merely horizontal direction. Sharing in the legitimate aspirations of one's own nation or culture could lead to embracing forms of nationalism or accepting customs which instead need to be purified and elevated in the light of the Gospel (Vita Consecrata, #38).
 This would be a way of fostering complementarity and self-promotion … complimentarity among the different branches of the Vincentian Family and between those who reside in Spain and those who live in other countries and are being served by the missionaries. Self-promotion would be encouraged by opening effective channels for the sale of their products (manufactured goods and food products).
 This reminds us of the first beatitude and our call to imitate the poor Christ.
 For example, a hedonist culture that separates sexuality from any objective moral norm will frequently reduce it to some kind of game and/or an object of consumption. With the complicity of the means of communication, said culture makes sexuality a form of instinctual idolatry. Consecrated chastity, for example, or marriage fidelity, supposes a concrete response to this culture.
 Faces disfigured by hunger, faces disillusioned by political promises, faces humiliated as a result of seeing their culture disrespected, faces terrorized by daily violence and discrimination; anguished faces of minors, faces of women offended and humiliated, tired faces of immigrants who do not find a friendly welcome, faces of elderly men and women who do not find even minimum conditions that would enable them to live a dignified life.
 Robert P. Maloney, CM, Seasons in Spirituality, New City Press, Hyde Park, New York, 1998, p. 167-168.
 Matthew 25:40 and Luke 4:18 are the two biblical passages with which we began our reflection during the Vincentian Studies Week.
 In the multiple dimensions of poverty, the poor are the oppressed, the marginalized, the elderly, the infirm, the little ones and those individuals who are viewed and treated as” the least” in society.
 We continue with the description found in Vita Consecrata, #87.
 John Paul II expressed this same idea in Vita Consecrata, #75.
 John Paul II affirmed this stated in Vita Consecrata, #84.
 In his book, Seasons in Spirituality, Father Maloney states: The vows proclaim that the Kingdom of God sets us free. Believe in the power of the kingdom, the vows say. Be free to go wherever in the world the needs of the poor call you, rather to hold on tightly to the security of your own home or a job you like. Be free to share your own material possessions with the poor, rather to store them up for your own comfort. Be free to stand with the poor in their struggle for justice, rather to stand with the “powers that be,” who often insulate themselves from the problems of the poor. Be free to speak the truth in the face of the social problems of our times, rather than to be concerned about your own image or tranquility. Be free to live together in community as friends who love one another, rather to isolate those who are different because of nationality, race, class, sex, or other factors that create prejudices. Be free to spend time in prayer, rather than to feel that you must always be “doing something.” Be free to discern the will of God with others, to listen well, rather than to dominate or claim a personal monopoly on knowing God’s will. Be free to renounce immediate gratification for the sake of more important goals, rather than to seek solely what pleases you in the here and now. Be free to witness to forms of love that are more lasting than sexual union, rather than to focus on sexual relations as if they were the only way of loving (p. 162-163).
 Robert Maloney, op.cit., p. 161.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM