Limping along – rethinking “running to put out a fire”

by | Aug 2, 2017 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

How many times this year have we prayed the prayer for our 400th anniversary? It includes “may we run to their assistance as someone who ‘runs to put out a fire.'” What does it mean for Vincentians to be running to put out a fire?

I recently revisited the United States Bishops’ page Two Feet Of Love In Action. It led me to rethink the way I will pray this prayer.

“This foundational tool describes two distinct, but complementary, ways we can put the Gospel in action in response to God’s love: social justice (addressing systemic, root causes of problems that affect many people) and charitable works (short-term, emergency assistance for individuals).”

That’s what the bishops mean by putting “two feet” of love in action.

The page is rich in resources for balancing complimentary needs and walking with two feet, including posters, brochures, activities and storybooks. Everything is available in Spanish as well!

Last week I reflected on the necessity of balancing Pope’s Francis’ powerful insight of the Church as Field Hospital with the image the Church as a long-term rehabilitation center. To emphasize only the field hospital approach is to limp along on one leg.

So let me wonder about whether Vincentians limp along on one leg using an image of “running” from the official prayer for this 400th anniversary of our charism.

First, why do we limp?

Limping is a form of walking that favors the use of one leg over another. It is often a way we protect ourselves from pain or compensate for weakness on one side. It can also simply be that by nature we favor one side of our body or the other. After all, some of us prefer to use our left hand rather than our right.

But this over-compensation can lead to all kinds of other problems that may predispose to hip or joint issues or deprives us the strength of both sides of our body.

Can Vincentians walk without a limp? According to Vincent, they must.

Much as been written about Vincent’s plea to balance action and contemplation and his uniting of spiritual and material needs. To the priests who thought they need only concern themselves with the spiritual needs of people he reminded them that they must be attentive to material needs. On the other hand he frequently reminded the Daughters of Charity who were concerned about the material needs of those in poverty that they should also address their spiritual needs.

Will we Vincentians walk with a limp? Or will we Vincentians balance justice and charity? Will Vincentians balance direct aid with systemic and structural change efforts?

I hope we do both… especially when I reflect on the prayer of the Vincentian Family during this 400th anniversary year.

Whether Vincentians limp or run is up to each one of us!

As I pray the prayer of the 400th anniversary, I pray it from a new place that includes systemic change and justice.

Lord, merciful Father, who instilled in Saint Vincent de Paul a great concern for the evangelization of the poor, now fill the hearts of his followers with that same spirit.

Today, as we hear the cry of your abandoned children, may we run to their assistance “as someone who runs to put out a fire”.

Revive within us the flame of the Charism, that flame which has animated our missionary life for four hundred years.

We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, “the Evangeiizer of the poor” Amen.