A paraphrase of the opening line today from Isaiah reads: “How beautiful are the feet of the one who brings glad tidings, announces peace, carries good news, tells us that our salvation is here and now, and does all this by a life-changing proclamation. And that is, Our God is King!”
To say it another way, God is the most important reality there is. God is number one on the list of who is most precious in life and what is most substantial in it. Still further, the person who goes about not just announcing this but making it believable by word and work is a gift to us all and a precious and valuable member of our race.
Might this ebullient cry of Isaiah describe what the tradition means by the word charism — or better, charism in the Church. And so there are “the great charisms,” those brimming-over energies coming from those enthralling personalities in the history of the Church which got things moving again. These are those graced people whose fresh appreciations of Jesus and whose novel works for the Kingdom “woke up the gospel,” as Pope Francis recently wrote.
And so a Francis of Assisi whose way of living shot a charge of new life not only into the Church but into his whole era. And a Catherine of Siena who took St. Dominic’s charism and gave it a fresh look for her age and her sex. In people like them the Spirit of the Lord Jesus breaks out into the world again in some inventive way that catches the slumbering aspirations of an age and injects a rush of energy into Isaiah’s proclamation that “God is King,” that God is Who and What counts the most.
Today we celebrate today the 400th anniversary of the appearance of one of these waves of Spirit-energy in the Church, the charism of Vincent de Paul and his followers, two special ones of whom are Saints. Louise de Marillac and Elizabeth Ann Seton.
His story. In the year 1617, things began to bubble up in both Vincent and the people around him. He had heard a confession in a small country church — and it moved him. Someone who had been at a distance from God, in this act as a penitence of coming before God, had woken up to God. And Vincent fresh from this experience gets up in a pulpit and preaches a sermon about the sacrament of reconciliation. And the sermon caught; it had power.
For one it caught the people listening. So many started coming to confession that Vincent had to call in some Jesuits down the road to handle the numbers. The words coming out of his mouth and more so the conviction coming out of his heart set off sparks in the souls of the congregation and ignited sentiments that had been mostly dormant before.
But for another, the preaching caught the preacher. Some impulse in his life which had been fairly formless began to take form. Some level of his existence that had been mostly untouched got stimulated and came alive. Sometime later in a parish in Chatillon, Vincent came across a family living in destitution and that earlier glow flared up in him again. Responding, he organized his Confraternities of Charity to help them and families in similar straits. And from this modest beginning sprang today’s Daughters of Charity and all the other societies that now take his name.
You might see all this as a kind of underground wave that with these events began to rise to the surface and in the years to come carried Vincent and the people around him to shores beyond their imagining.
It marked the breakout of one of these “great charisms.” The many works on behalf of the poor people of his day, all the training and sensitizing of the clergy to this vision, the opportunities opened up to similarly inspired women to work in the Church, the energy fired up in the lay men and women all around him both then and over the next 400 years – all can be traced to that miracle year of 1617 when a new vitality woke up inside Vincent as he let that Gospel Word sound through him.
In effect that Word was again making its proclamation that “God is King.” The most important thing you can do in life, Vincent witnessed, is to head out onto the roads of the world and help build God’s Kingdom here on this earth, notably that part of the Kingdom where the least of the sisters and brothers are fed and clothed and visited and given a sense not only that they are worth something but that they are precious in the sight of God.
Anniversaries are for celebrating and anniversaries of these breakout energies of the Spirit are for exceptional celebrating. And doesn’t Isaiah himself supply the lyrics for such festivity. “Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see before their eyes the Lord restoring Zion. Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem. For the Lord comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem… all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation, the healing and loving of our God.”
So, Vincent de Paul on this 400th anniversary of the year God’s Spirit burst out in his heart and caught up both him and all of us in this task of bringing about on earth of how it is in heaven. This is the world of Jesus’ Beatitudes, where the poor in spirit are first, the meek really inherit the land, the mercy-givers themselves actually receive mercy, and the least of the brothers and sisters sit with Vincent at the very right hand of God.
Again, Isaiah. “For the Lord comforts his people” – and does so especially through these great charisms in the Church. It’s a time for celebrating the fertile gift given to Vincent and to all of us, his followers.
Tags: McKenna, vincentian spirituality