As part of their ongoing preparation to celebrate their 400th anniversary the AIC (Association of International Charities) offers this continuing formation reflection devoted to practical evangelization in the spirit of Vincent. Booklet Jul14 EN (Word)
It is not enough for me to Love God, if my Neighbor doesn’t Love Him – Evangelization
Text: Lottie Espinosa de Pivaral — Translation: Father Charlie Plock
Introduction: May the Spirit of Christ Live in me
Who is my neighbor? Who is my closest neighbor? Saint Vincent spoke about spirituality and he shared with us his understanding of that reality when on December 13th, 1658 he addressed his followers and stated: “When we say that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone, it means that this Spirit, residing in that person, gives him or her the same inclinations and dispositions Jesus Christ had on earth, and they cause the person to act in the same way — I’m not saying with equal perfection, but according to the measure of the gifts of that Divine Spirit” (CCD:XII:93). Thus we have a very simple description of spirituality, namely it is the Holy Spirit acting on our interior. Our interior is our spirit: thoughts, feelings, criteria, convictions, etc. This is also where the Holy Spirit acts. Since the Holy Spirit is the same Spirit of Christ, therefore when the Holy Spirit interacts with our spirit, it is natural that our spirit should be filled with the spirit of Jesus with his inclinations and dispositions… indeed, the ideal would be that we are able to say: “I live, no longer I, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Development of the Theme:
“It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbor doesn’t love him” (CCD:XII:215).
These words of Saint Vincent apply to all of us as Vincentian volunteers because he frequently said that “if we have love, we should show it by bringing people to love God and the neighbor, to love the neighbor for God and God for the neighbor” (CCD:XII:215).
- Evangelization is done within the Church
From the time of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise, the volunteers have always understood that their origins were rooted in the Church and therefore, as part of the Church we carry out our mission of love and service on behalf of those living in poverty. In the Church we were gifted with faith; in the Church we have developed and grown in faith; as members of the Church, God has called us to this vocation of service on behalf of those persons who are most poor and most vulnerable.
Our charitable action, our transformative efforts and our commitment to justice and charity are the best arguments and the best witness that in turn make the Church credible.
- Saint Vincent de Paul and the Church
Because of Saint Vincent’s love for the Church (he was very aware of the Church’s faults and defects) he was convinced that the community of the faithful is called to holiness and perfection. For Vincent de Paul, this perfection “lies in charity” (CCD:VII:356) and “in doing the will of God” (CCD:V:613). This charity involves helping our neighbor to come to a knowledge of God’s will and also helping our neighbor to love God.
- The Church of the Poor
We cannot separate the Church from love and we know that the incredible growth in the number of poor people played a decisive role in the ecclesiological awareness of the Apostle of Charity during the seventeenth century (cf. CCD:XI:98-100). A quick reading of the gospels will convince us of the fact that the followers of Jesus were mostly poor people and Jesus himself was also poor.
Those of us who have read something about the life of Vincent de Paul have been able to understand that Vincent imitated Jesus; Vincent opted for the poor; Vincent taught the poor to love Jesus and to open themselves to an encounter with Jesus. Throughout his life Vincent taught the poor to love Jesus and he used Vincentian volunteers, volunteers like ourselves, to help him in this ministry on behalf of the poor.
The Church has a social mission: The Church not only offers men and women the message and the grace of Jesus Christ but also seeks to discover ways that will better the material life of those same people. It is here that our mission as Vincentian volunteers shares in the mission of the Church. The application of the gospel message to the social realities demands of us a humble spirit of charity and also demands a spirit of humility in understanding that “doing good isn’t everything; we have to do it well” (CCD:XII:148). This may mean that we have to look for more appropriate techniques and tools in order to bring the true charity of Christ to our present world, to all men and women who are not only living in poverty but who also are not loved and therefore do not know how to love. Therefore we, as volunteers, are challenged to share with them this love so that they will learn how to love. We have to learn how to evangelize them so that they come to know the love of God and the ways in which God loves them personally.
- The Church is Love: We, All the Baptized, are the Church
We seek the conversion of everyone; we desire the conversion of everyone; we make every effort, if necessary, to bring about the conversion of everyone. There is no other way to be faithful to Christ. We are not about winning debates or making ourselves pleasing to our brothers and sisters. We are about saving souls and there is one name that is given to men and women who want to be saved: Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
Are we to preach only with words? No, our works give witness to God. Jesus said: “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).
The letter of James exhorts us in a similar manner: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if some people say that they have faith but do not have works? Can that faith save them? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:14-18).
It is for this reason that the church has always accompanied the preaching of the gospel with charity toward those who are most in need. We cannot have one without the other and it would be a serious mistake to put aside one of those two realities. We cannot offer sacrifice to God without providing food for those who are hungry and without giving water to those who thirst. Yet we cannot be satisfied with providing the sinner with just bread and water but we must also offer them the bread that has come down from heaven. It is outrageous to think that we would deny people either the earthly bread or the heavenly bread since we are able to offer people both of these. Who would raise their voice calling for people to respect their neighbor and yet not offer the gift of salvation to the neighbor? Who would think that it is enough to speak about Jesus and therefore feel no need to act like the Good Samaritan who cared for the man who had been left lying half dead on the side of the road? Is not that type of care a form of love?
We conclude this theme in the same way that we began. Here, however, we cite Saint Paul: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast… for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Saint Vincent explained this to us when he stated: “It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbor doesn’t love him” (CCD:XII:215). Indeed, we can ask what does it mean for us to love God if those who share life with us on a daily basis do not find us to be true evangelizers as a result of the attitudes that we communicate? We would become like the rock that causes people to trip and fall, we would become a scandal to those whom we are called to communicate the faith and the love of Christ and the Church.
Let us be creative and innovative so that all people might be able to love and teach others to love, so that we might be able to continue to move forward as we follow Jesus Christ and follow Louise Marillac and Vincent de Paul…
“Love is inventive to infinity” (CCD:XI:131).
Personal and Community Reflection:
Who is better, those who love God but are not concerned about the neighbor or those who love the neighbor for love of God? Which of these is the purer and more disinterested form of love? (Cf. XII:214-216).
Activities and Questions:
- In our service what specific things can we do that will give life to this evangelizing love that we have learned from our Vincentian charism? (Think of something that involves systemic change).
Come, Holy Spirit, and from heaven send forth your light.
Come, Father of the poor, come and give us your gifts, come and give us your light
Come, Consoler, filled with goodness, marvelous guest of the soul.
With your holy light enter into the most intimate part of the soul of your faithful followers.
Without your divine assistance there is nothing in the human person that is innocent.
Cleanse us and satisfy our thirst and heal our wounds.
Tayde de Callataÿ | AIC aisbl | Director of the International Secretariat
AIC International Secretariat – Rampe des Ardennais 23 – 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
| (: +32(0) 10 45 63 53 | 7: +32(0) 10 45 80 63 (fax)
AIC, an international network that fights against poverty, which works primarily with women.