A few months ago, I went to visit a friend, an elderly Daughter of Charity. She has retired from all service activity, not because she is already in her eighties, but…because of her illnesses. If it were up to her, she would continue to do something, however small, that is within her capacity.
I have experienced on several occasions that people, who have served long and well throughout life, end up sad and gloomy, and even, in some cases, depressed, when circumstances force them to “slow down” or even retire completely.
Something like this happened to my good friend, this good daughter of St. Vincent. After a lifetime of dedication to the poorest on the outskirts of a big city, she suddenly saw herself forced to live in retirement in a rest home. This, as well as her watching time go by without her being able to keep doing what she had done all her life, made her exclaim, “I’m good for nothing now.”
Nevertheless, I would not want to give the wrong impression: Sister is happy, funny, a great conversationalist, with a great wit and sharp thinking…she’s what we would call “a good daughter of St. Vincent.” It may be that her body no longer accompanies her, but she has a clear mind, her personality remains the same as when she used to walk around the streets of her neighborhood.
Her saying, I’m good for nothing now, makes me think a lot. A few weeks ago, I said that “we are all good for something.” The answer to “what for?” has much to do with the deep sense of personal vocation, of God’s call to us to set out on the road as we are, with our virtues and defects, our strengths and our weaknesses, simply to get up and not look back.
And it’s very true that often others see more clearly than we do what our service could be. It’s important, therefore, to let others accompany us.
It’s important to let ourselves be accompanied by others in service as well as on a personal level (for instance, by someone who appreciates us and looks at us from the perspective of the Father’s mercy), and also as members of movements, branches, communities…
The Year of Collaboration is a great opportunity to put this into practice: to accompany each other on the road of service to others. And we’ve got to do it with enough humility to acknowledge that sometimes we are not doing things adequately… or that we are focusing our mission on projects that are not in conformity with our founder’s spirit of service.
There is a hard Spanish saying that goes, “quien no vive para servir, no sirve para vivir” [loosely translated, “Those who don’t live to serve don’t (de)serve to live.”] We in the Vincentian Family could paraphrase such saying as, “Those who call themselves members of the Vincentian Family, yet fail to serve, don’t deserve to call themselves Vincentians.”
Service is at the heart of the Vincentian charism. However, not just any kind of service: the core of the charism proper to the followers of Vincent and Louise is serving the poor. Only the poor. The poor who suffer from hunger and injustice. Without nuances. Without sweetening harsh reality.
It’s true that there are many ways to shape this service, and many different tasks that are carried out by millions of Vincentians in order to promote the advancement of the poor and the struggle for justice.
Collaboration also means learning to serve together.
For reflection and dialogue:
2016 is the year to foster a life of collaboration among us members of the Vincentian Family. It’s also a year to reflect on how we carry out our mission (to serve, that is) through our works and initiatives. There are many and very good works and initiatives. Are there works in which different branches and members of the Family take part? Undoubtedly, yes, there are. But are they many? Are they sufficient? Do we promote them?
Javier F. Chento