A Vincentian View: “A Vincentian Pentecost”
Like many of you, I have been thinking about the 400th anniversary year for a while. Partly, that is because of my desire to celebrate it worthily as an individual and within my ministry, but more so because I want to understand where I come from and where I should be going. Tales of origin should have that influence and power. A reverent attention should be paid to our story. We can honestly ask ourselves: has the child truly been father to the man (à la Wordsworth)? When I try to select an image which gives form to my thinking, two emerge most clearly: Paul and Pentecost. Today, I am going with Pentecost.
You will remember the way in which the Acts of the Apostles describes the Pentecost event—as a driving wind and as tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in a way which everyone understood. The motto of our community connects with the “spirit” of Pentecost and with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
One can imagine Vincent speaking in that fashion in Folleville. Empowered by God’s Spirit, he spoke the message which the people needed to hear and, in that moment, were longing to do so. The summons to a general confession could be described with the imagery of Isaiah. Vincent offered words of glad tidings, liberty, recovery, deliverance and a hope-filled future. People want to hear that message, but they (and I) need it couched in a welcoming yet compelling package.
I envision the Spirit at work in Folleville. Those gathered felt it, and possibly each one felt it differently. Was it like a strong wind or a tongue of fire or a light, silent sound (1 Kgs 19:12) or some other force? However that proved true, Vincent invites the Spirit in that moment for the benefit of this people.
What does our anniversary offer for me in this year? Well, I appreciate the remembrance of the birth of our charism across the Vincentian family. I sense its strength and its truth. I also hear the call for a personal examination of life. But, I also sincerely want to be the instrument of healing in the lives of people who know that they are hurting, but are unwilling (or unable) to seek that which the Lord wants so lovingly to grant. In the end, I think that hope filled Vincent. We can hardly tell the story of Folleville without first telling that of Gannes. Vincent could not have preached so convincingly at the former without the experience of the latter. The experience of being a healer made Vincent eager to continue to carry out this ministry.
Thus, our 400th anniversary inspires me with confidence in the presence of the Spirit today in our lives and communities. We can pray to be guided and empowered as instruments of hope in our words and actions as we ponder the message of our founder.