The Vincentian Witness
Not that God needs it, but in today’s culture do you ever get the urge to stand up for God? A spiritual writer recounted a conversation with a college friend after not seeing him for years. After catching up, the friend told him he had heard the journalist was “into religion,” and then continued, “if that’s your thing, it’s fine with me.” Digesting that remark later, the author recoiled, “My thing! The Creator God of the universe to whom all reverence is due and who loves me so much as to die for me and to Whom all life is heading — my thing! God as a kind of hobby?”
Not just in a secularized age, this is an ancient refrain heard on the lips of the psalmist. “I’m angry, O Lord, because the wicked forsake you… I am consumed with rage because your foes forget your words!” (Ps 119). Consternation at the attitudes and behavior of those who don’t take God seriously, who don’t, in a contemporary cinematic phrase, “give Him respect.”
The issue shows up in Jesus’ life with the different people who missed the weighty presence of God in him, this contrasted with the believers who confessed him as Son of God and in fact with the demons who backed off because even they sensed just how much Godliness was in him. How could anyone consider him “just your thing”?
In every age, the counter to this kind of blasé reception is always personal witness. And doing this not just with statements and professions of faith but with a person’s whole body and soul, mind and heart, words and actions even unto death. Christians put substance into their conviction that God is real by witnessing in life to “what they have actually seen and heard.” (I Jn 1:3)
When someone voiced such skepticism about God’s consequence in the world, Frederick Ozanam answered back with what might be called the Vincentian response. Provoked over challenges to the genuineness of divine compassion for the poor and hungry, Ozanam took to the Parisian slums to give his very concrete retort. Speaking the convincing language of charitable action and following in the footsteps of Vincent de Paul he made visible the kindness God showers on His least ones. Frederick’s is the signature Family answer to cultural indifference about God. His behavior makes good on the claim that our God is the God of abounding kindness.
Someone once referred to Jesus as the “as if person,” speaking and acting “as if” his claim about his Father’s character as the all loving God was indeed the truth. His healing deeds, his beatitude ways and his willingness to give all for the sake of others would make little sense were not his Abba graciousness itself — and powerfully so.
There’s a strain in society which is skeptical about the “real world” validity of our Vincentian agenda and even more so about the religious dimension of our service. And the doubt is not only on the outside. As the writer referred to above, John Shea, comments, “Today, we are not apologists arguing with unbelievers. We are secularly influenced followers of Jesus, re-convincing ourselves.”
We do our best to counter all this when we, like Jesus, live “as if” the most real of all realities is this All Gracious God who cares for the outcast, the prisoner, the widow and the orphan. It’s just that kind of everyday witness that disputes religious indifference, that comes through and “stands up for God.”