Vincent wants us to see more. Our vision in faith leads to compassion, a compassion that leads inevitably to real and lasting solidarity. But it is all too easy to fall into the trap of “Seeing yet not seeing”(Mt. 13:13).
Vincent calls us to see beyond that ugliness of poverty. Vincent calls us to see a brother or a sister. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, a truth too terrible to believe if we see only deprivation.
Continuing the series of reflections on service to the marginalized written by Fr. Jim Cormack, CM, .famvin offers his thoughts on the questions he thinks Vincent ask of us. Today’s question …”Can we see the Lord in our brothers and sisters and act with compassion?”
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.1) CompassionCan we see the Lord in our brothers and sisters and act with compassion? In Matthew 25:31-46 we read “as often as you did it for one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” What is our reaction to this? Are we able to see with the vision of faith, the presence of the suffering Christ in our brothers and sisters, the suffering poor. What do we see? What are we open to see? I have found that it is easy to romanticize here. The deprivation that marks poverty as telling signs of our selfishness and sinfulness is no uplifting sight. Such deprivation can mask the humanity of a person. Listening to the unconnected and mindless ramblings of a schizophrenic is not engaging conversation. Guiding an inebriated alcoholic to a seat at meals for the poor takes strength, but no great skill or wisdom. The human weakness, seemingly wasted talent, and willful neglect are more than opportunities for pity.Vincent tells us to see more. We are to see, however dimly and haltingly, Jesus the Lord, broken, hurt, and in need. And so we see the Lord and we are not afraid to keep looking, no matter how searing or overwhelming the vision may be. We see the Lord, and so our hearts are moved beyond pity and sympathy to compassion. We move to a stance that believes that our lives join, some way or other; our hurts are shared, for we stand together. We join together to comfort, to relieve, to change, to confront. Those filled with the charism of Vincent de Paul knows in a powerful way just what the Body of Christ is. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, a truth too terrible to believe if we see only deprivation. This is a truth filled with a terrible power when our vision in faith leads to compassion, a compassion that leads inevitably to real and lasting solidarity.In every person called to serve, the gift of compassion is a live and growing trait. Compassion is not born full-grown in any of us, and it must be nurtured in order that it might grow. It must be encouraged and called forth. Much like a child learning to walk, whose first steps are taken carefully with fear of falling, so are our efforts to live compassionately. We begin and try, sometimes fail, and then grow in this ability. Our attempts to respond compassionately lead us to try again.