Sometimes there are so many insights in an article it is hard to write a summary. Father José María Villar Suarez wrote such an article about the impact of the more than a decade Vincent spent ministering to the parishioners at Clichy.
At one level Father José María Villar Suarez draws attention to the fact that Vincent came to the awareness that in order for his evangelization efforts to have any success it was necessary for him to engage in a twofold effort:
- formation of his parishioners and
- promotion and formation of future vocations.
This awareness then led Vincent to the preaching of missions, the establishments of the Confraternity of Charity and the establishment of a “seminary” in the rectory at Clichy.
He presents Vincent de Paul as someone who
- promoted a pastoral process of direct evangelization in which he encouraged new projects that went beyond a strict sacramental approach
- created movements that today would be called apostolic groups.
- engaged in a process that allowed him to come to know the situation of his parishioners and that allowed him to become present in their midst … a process today that we would refer to as incarnational.
- worked with those individuals whom he found at his side and formed them so that they could give witness to their faith and communicate the faith to others, a process that we refer to today as an evangelizing presence in the midst of society.”
At another level he sprinkled many gems throughout this presentation to participants in a Study Week in Spain.
“I have often asked myself if we truly desire to be members of the Vincentian Family … and furthermore are we willing to grow together in this vocation that we have received, a vocation that has a diversity of functions. There are times when I believe we can become so passionate about defending our differences that we forget about the realities that unite us. I think that the lack of life in our family arises from the terrible illness of mediocrity which in turn stems from pointless discussions and an attitude of defensiveness in light of perceived personal attacks. If this is true, then it would be good to take the time to purify our criteria, behavior and activity … it would be good to take the time and reflect on the ways in which we can all become part of a family that is both healed and a healing agent.
“Vincent was able to cultivate this union in his parish community through the establishment of personal relationships, through going from house to house visiting families, by taking the time to know each of the parishioners. Then he reflected on the attitudes of people in order to discern which ones that should be praised and encouraged and which behaviors needed to be corrected and healed. Thus through this mutual knowledge, healing was able to take place. Is this not the time to take steps in the direction of family communion and therefore program activities together instead of inviting one another to participate in activities that have already been planned?”
“we have to search for a formation that allows the Vincentian Family to oppose the currents of indifference and individualism. A serious, careful, conscientious formation will be the necessary vehicle that allows us to put aside our rebelliousness and become a family that is able to strengthen and consolidate the bonds of communion. We can sum up the objectives of this formation in the following manner:
- To enliven our faith and our membership in the Church and in the Vincentian Family in such a way that people begin to experience the significance of being members of a community, the significance of being active members, adults, co-responsible for the mission that has been entrusted to them.
- To awaken a critical conscience in believers so that they can analyze and reflect on the unjust situations that their sisters and brothers experience in the midst of this world. In this way we can promote an attitude of risk-taking and confrontation that serves as a way of purifying our conscience. Today there are many occasions when we find ourselves relating with other groups, families, etc. These relationships ought to be a means that enable us to offer the Good News as a value that gives life to people’s faith.
- To be an agent of fermentation with regard to the gospel and the Church and to do this in the midst of marginal and marginalizing situations, in the midst of professional situations, and in the midst of all those situations where the future is decided. We are in the situation of being a family that is blessed with a vast and rich pluralism, with a natural facility of accepting the commitment of inculturating the faith. It is up to us to take advantage of this wealth.
- To be sources of true evangelizing-charitable activity. It is not enough to encourage individual solidarity but rather we have to form people who promote evangelizing-charitable activity as a community reality that arises from living out a Christian life and commitment. This demands that the Vincentian Family be able to organize itself and look for a common insertion within the general coordination of the family.”
“Today, as members of the Vincentian Family, we are presented with the same challenge. There is no need to be afraid to promote the diversification of ministries and functions in our groups and associations. Our family needs to empower its members so that all are able to embrace the ministry which they have received as a particular vocation. At the same time our family should become the mother of vocations to ordained ministry (such as Vincentian Missionaries) and the mother of vocations in which people are able to commit their whole life to serve the poor as Daughters of Charity. If we are able to do this the Vincentian Family will walk in the mist of our world as a sign of hope for people and a source of strength for the Church.”
” Today more than ever before we have to listen fearlessly to the call to evangelize in the mist of our communities, groups, summer experiences, in our workplaces, in our schools, hospitals, and families … as members of the Vincentian Family we should not and ought not excuse ourselves from promoting vocations to the Daughter of Charity and the Congregation of the Mission.
“Hopefully at this present moment we know how to act like Vincent de Paul, how to be an agent of fermentation in the midst of society so that we might recuperate our vision of “being” and as a result are thus able to calmly discern how to act together as members of the Vincentian Family.
Finally he raises the question of whether we are inviting others to collaborate with us in works we have planned or collaborating with together in planning?
“This is the question posed in a reflection on what Vincent learned during the decade in which he kept close contact with the parish at Clichy : Is this not the time to take steps in the direction of family communion and therefore program activities together instead of inviting one another to participate in activities that have already been planned? At the same time he also refers to the objectives of all Vincentian formation, namely, to enliven our faith and our membership in the Church and the Vincentian Family, to awaken a critical conscience, to make people agents of fermentation with regard to the gospel and the church and assist people in becoming sources of true evangelizing-charitable activity.
(This article first appeared in San Vicente de Paúl, Ayer y Hoy, XXXIII Semana de Estudios Vicencianos,[Saint Vincent de Paul, Yesterday and Today, XXXIII Vincentian Studies Week], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2008)
The full translation is available in the Vincentian Encyclopedia. The author has a second article examining Vincent and his ministry at Châtillon le Dombes which is currently being translated and will also appear in the Vincentian Encyclopedia.