The Vincentian Family and extremes

by | Apr 2, 2016 | Formation, Spirituality and Spiritual Practice

In a world of extremes, the Vincentian Family embraces a wide spectrum of approaches to addressing spiritual and material poverty.

[Click here to view the complete listing of the hundreds of Catholic Religious, Lay Associations, and Non-Catholic groups founded in the charism of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise.]

Sometimes tensions arise in maintaining the “both-and” balance of spiritual and material focus.

In Structures of Grace, Kevin Ahern tackles the question of where exactly the balance lies for these organizations between the temporality of social justice and the eternity of the spiritual self. How do organizations strike a fair balance between verticalism (a predominant focus on spiritual needs) and horizontalism (a predominant focus on social justice and earthly needs)? On top of that, Ahern raises the further challenge of organizations that stray away from their initial charism, and from Christianity altogether, and how this may affect their ability to achieve their intended goals.

What can we learn from the wisdom of our founders? In an address to one of the early Vincentian Family Gatherings ten years ago in Princeton NJ Regina Bechtle, SC wrote in “Going with God’s Flow”:

As Vincent, Louise, Elizabeth, Catherine, Rosalie, Frederic, and Thomas listened to the Word of God and pondered God’s ways with humans they had the intuition that the WAY TO GOD IS THE WAY OF BOTH/AND, not either/or. As they faced the tensions and conflicts of their times, as the Spirit opened their eyes wider and wider to see the face of Christ everywhere, they planted themselves firmly in the “AND.” Not with their heads in the sand, but with their heads and hearts and bodies in the “AND.” AND is a key Vincentian word.  Our founders were people who lived at the extremes and chose to hold them together:

Our challenge:

  • Love God AND love the neighbor
  • Rich AND poor
  • Action AND prayer
  • Solitude AND community
  • Head AND heart
  • Now AND not-yet
  • Charity AND justice
  • Service that is material AND spiritual

All of our ancestors to whom we look for guidance on this Vincentian way found energy there, in the AND. Sr. Regina continues…

Our founders Vincent and Louise gave us a revolutionary, radical insight. They took a daring step; they paid very close attention to their world, to the way things were, to the categories people used to describe and regulate how things were, in society, in church. As they paid attention, they kept saying, “There is MORE – there is another way to name reality, there is more to see, more to do.” They placed what they saw and heard against the bigger horizon of the Gospel, the life of Jesus who gave a new name, a new definition to their reality. They were forever stretching us beyond the place where we would settle into comfort. It’s always bigger than we think. That’s true even in our respective organizations within the Vincentian family, isn’t it?

What are your thoughts?

  • How comfortable are you with the Vincentian AND?
  • How well do you hold on to this tension in your life?
  • How well does your branch of the Vincentian Family hold on to this AND?
  • How does the Vincentian AND find resonance in the words and actions of Pope Francis?


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