Prayer and Action: A Systemic Change Reflection

by | Aug 17, 2016 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

Prayer and Action go together for Vincentians. There cannot be one without the other.


“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.  My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient…” Abraham Lincoln.

Doesn’t our work with the impoverished at times drive us to our knees?  Don’t we often also find our own wisdom insufficient?

Prayer and Action.   “Apostles and Carthusians.”  The Martha & Mary story. Like charity and justice, a compelling dyad.  And eminently Vincentian.  In fact, it lies at the very heart of our spirituality.  Prayer that leads us to act on behalf of the poor; action that always seems a bit insufficient and drives us back to prayer.  A continuous circle, a vital combination that empowers Vincent’s many followers to “keep on keeping on” in service to the poor.  The secret to the unique 4th vow of Vincent’s Congregation of the Mission, lifetime stability in service to the poor.

But is true that we are occasionally “driven to our knees” by our work?  For that means that we feel totally consumed about something, that we are at wit’s end, that there’s really nowhere else to turn.

So we might reflect a bit: how deeply do we feel the injustice in the world, the misery of so many?  Do we feel outraged that millions of children cannot have food, shelter and a basic education?  Does it confound us that humankind can advance in so many technical ways yet seem to accept the stark and sinful poverty of far too many fellow human beings around the world?

We Vincentians are certainly committed to serve the poor.  Are we as committed to eradicating poverty?  Are we willing to evaluate—critically—our mission, our approach to serving the poor in charity, with an eye to adopting new approaches?  Do we embrace the work of systemic change, to create new social and economic structures that work for people stuck in poverty?

If we are up to these challenges, maybe they will drive us to our knees, opening us to the wisdom and strength only God provides.  In our prayer, whether on our knees or not, let us seek that wisdom and renewed with it let us return to our apostolates determined to create a new heaven and a new earth, especially for the portion of humanity God entrusts to us, the poor, the “last and least” of our brothers and sisters. Prayer and action. That’s Vincentian.

Jim ClaffeyJim Claffey just retired from the St. Vincent de Paul Society on Long Island, where he served as Director of Formation and Programs. Jim currently serves as the executive secretary of the Vincentian Family’s International Commission to Promote Systemic Change.