Vincentians – A Reconciling Tradition

by | Jul 19, 2015 | Formation, Reflections

mckenna-peace-facebookFr. Tom McKenna  relates Sunday readings (Ephesians 2:13-18) to Vincentians in a reflection on “A Reconciling Tradition” as a  “… theme running through the readings which echoes a chord in this Vincentian tradition” 

We call ourselves members of The Vincentian Family, those more than 2 million people around the world who use Vincent de Paul and his particular take onJesus’ Gospel as a lens through which to see the world and respond to it. And so, the Vincent de Paul Society, all the Vincentian youth and volunteer programs, the Vincentian priests and brothers, the Daughters of Charity, the Ladies of Charity, the AIC, lots of religious orders, the many, many people who feel Vincent’s influence. What unites us is the mentality, instincts, point of view, and stance in life of this Saint and his followers.

The reason I bring that up today (16th Sunday in Ordinary time) is because there’s a theme running through the readings which echoes a chord in this Vincentian tradition.  And that is the theme of being a reconciler, a bringer of peace, a person who would stand in the middle and work to bring disparate sides together.

Listen to this letter to the Ephesians as it puts its finger on Jesus’ key mission, Jesus’ core purpose.

“You, who were once far off, have now become near, in Christ Jesus (by the blood of Christ.).” You were far apart and in Jesus you’ve now come close up to one another.

And so, what did Christ Jesus then do?

  • “He broke down the wall of hatred between you, this dividing barrier – and the made the two of you into one.”
  • In fact, “He is our peace, the establisher of peace, the reconciler, bringing together all warring parties, creating one new person in place of two.”
  • “He came and he preached peace to those who were far off and those who were near, giving these separated folks the one same access to His Father – in the Spirit.”

If you were to ask the writer of this letter, who is Jesus and what is he about, you can hear him saying:” Jesus is about bringing reconciliation, knocking down walls, — and doing this by standing in the breech, in that very messy and even dangerous place between two opponents.”

And you know how tough that place can be – or as the saying goes, “keep me out of this.  “I don’t want to get caught in the middle.”

Vincent de Paul’s tradition picks up on just this aspect of who Jesus is and what he wants.

So we have Vincent himself, seeing the gap between rich and poor, and doing so much to fill in that gap. Then there’s Vincent again, sending out his priests and brothers to give parish missions. He instructs them that one of the most important things they should do there is to try to bring the estranged families and neighbors of that district back together again.

But even more striking than Vincent is his perhaps most well-known follower, Frederick Ozanam, founder of the Vincent de Paul Society.

Though the Society’s method focused on individual, and face-to-face help to people up against it, Frederick himself also had a broader, society-wide vision of what that help should aim at a reconciliation, helping the opposition parties come together. And most to the point, doing it by standing in that very dicey breech between the warring sides.

In one of his most quoted letters, Frederick writes:

            “For if the question which disturbs the world around us today is not a question of political approaches but a social question, if it is the struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much, if it is the violent clash of opulence and poverty which shakes the earth under us, then our duty to ourselves as Christians is to throw ourselves between these two irreconcilable enemies….We are to make one side stop demanding and the other stop refusing. We are to make equality as operative as possible among peoples… We are to make charity accomplish what justice alone cannot do.” (To Francis Lallier, Nov 5, 1836)

And in another place, he puts a still sharper point on that precarious place in-the-middle.

            “Between these two classes of rich and poor, a confrontation is coming and this looming crash will be terrible. On the one side, there is the power of gold, and on the other the power of despair.

            We must cast ourselves between these two enemy armies, if not to prevent, at least to deaden the shock. … It is good to have mediators who can prevent a collision…who can make two camps listen.

            (These are the mediators) who can bring to the one side words of acceptance, and to the other counsels of mercy — and can give to everybody  involved the reconciling wisdom that would bring a better order.” (To Louis Janmot, November 13, 1836).

My point: to be in this Family of Vincent and Frederick (and all its other peace-bringers) is to be influenced by this reconciling strain in the Family history. It’s letting myself feel the summons to do what I can to bring about peace and reconciliation – even sometimes moving into that painful zone between the disputing parties and there holding their hands to bring them together.

And so, this might mean looking around in my life and seeing where I might contribute to this effort, even a little bit.

For instance, listening more attentively to warnings coming from so many places about the dangers arising from the ever growing inequality of wealth around the world, and indeed in this country. Or it might be a family dispute, or some tension between friends or neighbors that’s pulling the neighborhood apart.

It could also mean supporting and praying for all the reconcilers in society, the marriage counsellors, the arbitration lawyers, the labor negotiators, the social workers, the psychologists, the diplomats and international negotiators.

In short, the Word of God today in Ephesians, and in this Vincentian family tradition calls us to what Paul calls “the ministry of reconciliation,” Jesus’ own ministry.

And through that same Word, the Gospel brings up the figure of the Good Shepherd, that caring, sacrificing individual — who not only gathers the sheep together in the sheepfold, but does what he or she can to bring it about that they can be at more peace with each other when they come into that sacred place.