“A Vincentian Vernacular” Another reflection In Patrick Griffin’s series “Considering Consecrated Life”
For emphasis, we choose significant “years” to begin and end on certain dates. Thus, Pope Francis decided that the “Year of Consecrated Life,” would begin on the First Sunday of Advent 2014 and conclude on the Presentation 2016. We can imagine a reason for those dates. For the “Jubilee Year of Mercy,” the Holy Father determined that the Immaculate Conception 2015 would mark the start, while the Solemnity of Christ the King 2016 would identify the finish. In the document announcing the year (Misericordiae Vultus, 11April2015), he explains his reasoning. Our Superior General, Fr. Greg Gay, CM, decided that the “Year of Collaboration” for the Vincentian Family would begin on Pentecost 2015 and run through Pentecost 2016. What was he thinking? Why Pentecost?
Consider: Pentecost is really more about listening than speaking, more about burning ears than fiery tongues. Note what is said over and over:
“each one heard them speaking in his own language. . . . how does each of us hear them in his native language? . . . we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
Each person who attends to the disciples’ preaching recognizes his native speech! Each person grasps clearly what the disciples say as they proclaim the mighty acts of God. The address arrives in a familiar idiom. Without understanding, without good communication, there can be no belief or acceptance or change of heart. Through the Spirit, the people hear and marvel at what God has done in Jesus.
The connection of Pentecost to collaboration becomes evident. In the Vincentian Family, we all speak the same language! We hear the call of the Gospel in the same way. With the Spirit, the early Christian community was “of one mind and one heart” (Acts 2:42; 4:32). That should describe us as well!
Commonality of purpose does not stop with rhetoric. Actions necessarily give evidence to the direction of a life. I am thrilled by the example of Marguerite Naseau who searches out Vincent because the service which he wants to provide for the poor adheres so closely to her own attitudes and abilities. She wants to work with him, and Vincent famously identifies her:
“[She] was the first Sister who had the happiness of pointing out the road to our other Sisters, both in the education of young girls and in nursing the sick, although she had no other master or mistress but God.”
She was a wondrous collaborator for Vincent as well as Louise because they understood each other. One could say the same about Frederick Ozanam and Rosalie Rendu, or any of untold thousands of other (less well-known) members of the family who served side-by-side. These people spoke the same language, heard the Gospel in a like tone, felt the needs of our world with a similar heart.
Sr. Betty Ann McNeill’s interesting and collaborative study of the Vincentian Family (“The Vincentian Family Tree”) finds 268 communities of women and men who employ our dialect. Attracted primarily by direct, incarnational service of the poor, groups have discovered in the charism of Vincent and Louise, and in the Common Rules of both foundational communities, a practical guide for outreach to the most marginalized. As Sr. Betty Ann notes, this spiritual progeny of women and men, religious and laity, Catholic and non-Catholic, has found a spirit, mission and rule which adapts to many cultures and serves effectively within each. Again, communication and inspiration emerge. We use the vernacular of the Vincentian family. Collaboration becomes not simply possible but essential for greatest effectiveness.
When I was Director General of the Daughters of Charity, I received hundreds of letters at Christmastime. Many would contain not simply a warm greeting, but a story of the work of the local community and how it collaborated with other members of the Vincentian Family. Each missive uplifted me with its tale of service of the poor through a family effort.
Back to Pentecost. Could we describe it as the Feast of Collaboration? Most of us would concede that collaboration begins with good communication. We need to speak a common language and learn to see the world in a similar way. This happens with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our Vincentian heritage provides a vocabulary and a context within which the Paraclete can enlighten. We can recognize the wisdom of Fr. Greg in binding our Year of Collaboration with Pentecost.
Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.