A Vincentian View: 2417
400 years. For the universe, or the pyramids, or the Judeo-Christian faith, it does not seem like such a long time, but for human life it really is. In this year, as we all know, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of our Vincentian charism.
Last semester, here at St. John’s University, I taught a course on St. Vincent DePaul for the first year students. For my first three hour session, I tried to describe the character of Paris in the 17th Century. Telling these young people that there was no television, or jet planes or iPhones was only for the sake of humor. They knew those details and many other things about a lack of technology and communication and transportation in an earlier age. What proved more informative were conversations on the 17th C. view of the universe, on the scope of sanitation, the Divine Right of Kings, education and social structure. Reflecting on the reality of disease, the galleys, famine and care of orphans as well as the aged opened up some appreciation of the ministry of Vincent and Louise and their companions. By considering this former period, the class came to some understanding of Vincentian service of the poor.
Understanding the world of St. Vincent offered a challenge. At no point did I think that any of us could come to a really intimate view of this different world. But we could come to a limited grasp of what was important for the spiritual as well as the physical care of the underserved and abandoned. It was to these people that Vincent, Louise and their followers were drawn. In this service, the Vincentian Family exercised compassion, collaboration and community. The members also taught faith, forgiveness, and following Christ. That was my course. My goal was to demonstrate how these same efforts and values needed to be, and continue to be, expressed in the modern world.
Looking back 400 years to Vincent’s time, offers one perspective. One might also ask what it would be like for a young parish priest of 1617 to look forward to a University of 2017. That might be an even more difficult perspective to capture, but it does interest me. As does the challenge to look forward 400 years—from 2017 to 2417.
Despite the rich imagery of some science and fiction literature, I am not convinced that we can visualize that world in any accurate way. All that which is part of our world and was not part of Vincent’s would have its equivalent when comparing that future to our time.
Yet, I know this: if the Vincent Family remains true to its founding charism, it will have a place in that future world. I fear that there will never be a lack of people who are marginalized and abandoned, my prayer is that there will also never be a lack of Vincentians who respond to these “lords and masters” faithfully and fully. We have done so with God’s grace for 400 years, may we continue to do so.