Fr. Patrick Griffin reflects on “Collaboration” in his series “Considering Consecrated Life”
September 27th falls on a Sunday this year. For me, two elements emerge from that fact. One is that in a diocesan parish setting, I will need to use the proper readings of the Sunday. The second is that I want to preach on Vincent de Paul wherever I am. In this Year of Collaboration, Fr. Greg has asked us to pray specially on September 27th for the grace of working together in the Vincent Family. Thus, I prayed for the movement of the Spirit as I listened to the Word of God for this Sunday. I was not disappointed.
The first reading comes from the Book of Numbers. Some of the spirit which has rested on Moses is bestowed on seventy elders who accompanied him to the Tent of the Lord. They begin to prophesy. Two other elders who had not been part of this group begin to prophesy as they too receive the spirit. Some of those who had gone along with Moses complain. They are upset that that these others who had not shared their experience are carrying out the same ministry! Listen to what Moses says:
“Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
Moses did not want to restrict but to expand the people who carry out this ministry. The more, the merrier!
In the Gospel, the disciples of Jesus are upset because some people are carrying out healings through the power of Jesus’ name. They want Jesus to stop them, but listen to what he says:
“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Again, the lesson is clear. Would that everyone used the power of the Lord’s name to heal and preach and cast out demons! They are on our side. Let everyone use this gift as they are able.
Thus, both Moses and Jesus call forth the gifts of the community in the service and care of the people. Vincent understood that discipline very well. He wanted everyone to share their gifts with as much time and resources as they were able. Only by working together can the unimaginable needs of the poor begin to be managed and resolved. (Are you overwhelmed when you see on the news how Europe needs to deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees? Who can handle that situation alone?)
Can you hear Vincent alongside Moses encouraging us to prophesy—to take note of the ills of our time which harm the poor and speak out clearly and boldly? Doesn’t Vincent look natural standing beside the Lord and repeating his words on how all those who serve the needy are on our side? He would confidently affirm that those who work for the poor are our companions on the journey. In whatever way a person or organization, especially those working in the name of the Lord, carries out “mighty deeds” or casts out the demons which influence our society, he/she/they are our colleagues and co-workers.
On this day on which we remember the death of Vincent, the scriptures invite us to consider his life and how collaboration was such an integral part of how he worked. He marshaled ordinary parishioners, local clergy, influential ladies, poor country women, the hierarchy and the powers of the state in the service of those who were poor. No one who wanted to pull in the same direction was ignored; everyone who desired to contribute something was welcomed. We cannot imagine him turning anyone away because they were not part of our “family.” He rejoiced in the good done by others, and held them up as a model for us.
We are called to collaborate, to work together as a Vincentian Family. Some of us might choose to become more connected to the Vincentian charism through the Ladies of Charity or the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Some may consider the possibility of becoming a vowed Vincentian as a priest or brother or sister. Some may choose to support parish or local or national efforts which have the best care of the poor in mind. We can choose to notice the way in which, on our jobs, we remain faithful to the call to evangelize for the cause of the needy through word and deed. Most recently, we have been invited to consider the corporate possibilities which emerge for systemic change.
Whatever our future holds, let us ask the Lord that we might see and respond to the ways in which we can do good together. Teamwork should be an integral part of our thinking. It was the way of our founder and our inspiration, St. Vincent de Paul, whom we remember in this particular way on his feast day during the Year of Collaboration.