There are many answers. Some answers are conscious. Other answers are hidden from us in depths of our unconscious.
He contextualizes his reflection with thoughts on questions Vincent might have asked himself.
In order to describe the Vincentian charism of service, we may ask a number of questions. These questions give shape and form to the charism. Though none of these is a direct quote from Vincent, I am confident that they are questions he asked himself and those he gathered around him to serve the poor of seventeenth-century France. Let me pose these questions to help sharpen the image of what the charism of Vincent de Paul means.
MINISTRY AS A CALL – Why do I do what I do?
I would begin with a few words about call to ministry. It is essential that a person knows and experiences his or her ministry to be a consequence of a direct call from the Lord.
For some the call sounds like this: We are loved by the Lord and called to live a life of service. Our call to service is the preeminent experience in our lives of God’s love for us.
We do not serve simply because it is good to do, or because it is the liberal agenda, or that it will prove our goodness.
We serve first and most purely because in love we have been called and our response is to choose to return love. We are not forced to serve; we serve because we are the Lord’s, blessed with this call. This call is life for us. In short, we are given the gift of life. We answer yes to the call as fully as we can. We are then filled with yet more life.
To know our call requires faith. We are created in love, called to life in service of others. We see with the clarity of faith the reality of the Mystical Body. This perhaps more than anything else characterized the power of Vincent de Paul. In the poor, in those we serve, we see and know the Lord. We see the crucified, suffering Christ most often in the person of our brothers and sisters broken by unemployment and enforced idleness; struggling to feed, clothe and house their children with little income and constant challenge. Those beset with the demons of mental illness, bound by cocaine addiction, or the loss of children, mirror the sufferings of Jesus. Our brothers and sisters who find the streets and alcohol the only reality they care to live anymore, running from hurt and responsibility, are members of Christ’s broken body.
We believe, and because we believe we see. In faith what we see leads not just to fear or revulsion, anger or pity; in faith what we see leads us to love. As we have been loved and called, so do we love. As we love the crucified Lord, whose life is poured out for us, so do we love our brothers and sisters in whom we see that Lord, and so do we serve.
As we serve we discover that our service leads back to faith. We serve and our faith is enfleshed. With faith enfleshed we see, and seeing we are called to love. Loving, we must serve. Our service is sometimes halting, fearful, always incomplete. But as we serve, we discover the Lord and our call. We serve, and our call is enlivened and invigorated. We deepen our faith; our vision is broadened; our opportunities to love grow deeper and more full, and in all this we are filled with life.
The following prayer by Tyler Russell in situations of mixed motivations may be helpful as we come to grips with answers to the question “Why do I do what I do?”
Triune God, assist me in my service. Work alongside me, and when I forget the reason I do what I do, draw me back to your heart. Without you, I can do absolutely nothing. Without you, I will always serve myself, rather than others. Receive these works, God, and receive whatever affection my poor heart can offer, for you are its rightful owner, even when it forgets.