“Hey buddy, the door swings both ways!” Often said in anger, this phrase can be a push to us Vincentians. Today is the day that the “Holy Door” opened on a year mercy. Are we ready? It’s also the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Do we contemplate and understand this mystery?
“Some might be inclined to think that something like the Immaculate Conception made things much easier for the Mother of God, and in this regard, I think such folks would be mistaken. The Immaculate Conception was not a kind of decorative accessory, but a reality that would be essential for the Mother of God to fulfill her mission. It would express itself in a capacity to love that would have far exceeded our own. And this would not have made things easy.”
Fr. Steve Gunow of Word on Fire ministries wrote this in a reflection for last year’s feast of the Immaculate Conception. It has haunted me for a year now, and I don’t think it’s going away. I spend more than a few hours every Advent trying to be truthful about myself – about my adequacy and inadequacy, about the darkness and light within, about the sin and the grace which I experience. Of all the missionary virtues of St. Vincent (cf. Maloney, The Way of St. Vincent de Paul) humility is the virtue most necessary. When we draw close to the impoverished person, the marginalized person, it often exposes sides of our character that we’d rather not encounter. Have you ever felt that way?
Vincent taught, “For, take my word for it, it’s an infallible maxim of Jesus Christ, which I’ve often proclaimed to you on His behalf, that, as soon as a heart is empty of self, God fills it. God remains and acts in it; and it’s the desire for shame that empties us of ourselves; that’s humility, holy humility. Then it won’t be ourselves acting but God acting in us, and all will go well. (SV-11:281) So, don’t get stuck in your inadequacy. As we were taught on a Catholic Vocation Network retreat recently, “We’re all inadequate.” So, what to do? As we begin this Year of Mercy, let’s remember that for Vincentians, the holy door opens OUT. I chose the image leading off this post as an image of being on the inside looking out, as if I was poised to move (thanks for the photo on Facebook, David Serrano, C.M.) As we walk out the door, we can’t forget to ask ourselves, “What is the relationship between justice and mercy? This is not merely a speculative question; it goes to the heart of many of our activities as human beings in both our personal and social relationships. How can I live with my fellow human beings in ways that are both just and merciful?” Terry A. Veling’s The Beatitude of Mercy is a fine treatment of this question (quote from the book jacket) So, out we go,
- To feed the hungry – are we concerned with worldwide food security?
- To give drink to the thirsty – are we working against the commodification of water resources?
- To clothe the naked – are we still sending used clothing into areas that are trying to develop their own industries?
- To harbor the harborless – are we partnering with anti-homelessness and re-settlement initiatives?
- To visit the sick – are we concerned about assuring health care as a right?
- To ransom the captive – are we speaking out in the face of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric?
- To bury the dead – are we concerned about life issues, war issues, violence against women and working to make sure no one dies and “unnatural” or untimely death?
Are we loving with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows and the incisiveness of our minds?
Fr. Steve concluded,
“The Immaculate Conception is not something easy, it is mysterious and miraculous, but is nevertheless a beautiful and extraordinary gift – a gift through which God in Christ acted to save his Mother, and us from our sins, from all our refusals to love.”
#IamVincent. A sinner saved by grace. So are you. Out we go. That doesn’t mean it will be easy.