Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission took part in the main celebrations of the 400th Anniversary of Vincentian Charism in Poland. They were held in the Basilica of St. Vincent de Paul in Bydgoszcz from Friday to Sunday, September 22-24. The culmination of the three day event was the Sunday Eucharist presided by the Most Reverend Jan Tyrawa, Bishop of Bydgoszcz. Fr. Tomaž was homilist. We share the full text of his homily here.
As you are well aware, this year the Church celebrates the 400th Anniversary of the Vincentian Charism. We began the celebration in January, in a special way on the 25th, with the pilgrimage of Saint Vincent’s heart to Folleville, where, four centuries earlier, he had preached the first sermon of the mission. Over these past nine months, there have been festivities in many of our provinces and missions to mark this event. Yours here in Poland is one of them.
In that village of Folleville, Vincent de Paul had the first of two life-changing experiences, when he learned of the spiritual poverty of the rural people. The second experience came some months later, in the town of Châtillon, where he was confronted with their material poverty. These brought about a personal conversion, for he understood that Jesus was calling him to give up his life for the service of the poor. In answer to this call, Vincent began responding to the urgent needs he discovered. His approach was to the person as a whole, looking for and trying to help in a holistic way those on the margins of society. He started where the poverties were most pressing: spiritual, emotional, physical, material, as they appeared to him in concrete situations.
The small mustard seed, planted in 1617, today has grown into a big tree that we call the Vincentian Family. It is composed of lay associations for both men and women, as well as women’s and men’s Congregations of Consecrated Life. It has over 200 branches with some two million members and is present in 150 countries.
Today, I address you who are officially part of some of the branches, as well as others who, inspired by the example of Saint Vincent de Paul, dedicate yourselves to the service of the poor. I hope that this 400th Anniversary of the Vincentian Charism, celebrating our service to all those who live on the margins of society, on the peripheries, will encourage many more people, especially young men and women, to give up their lives to assist the less fortunate of their brothers and sisters.
Jesus put the poor at the center of His mission, at the center of His plan of evangelization, at the center of the Kingdom. Vincent wanted to follow Jesus along this path. The turning point in Vincent’s life was when he started to identify with the poor, when he began to realize his own poverty. When Vincent discovered the poor person in himself, when he reached the point of saying no longer “the poor” but could exclaim “we the poor,” it became a clear sign that he openly recognized his own poverty, his own weaknesses, his own sinfulness. From that perspective, from that moment on, he went out to meet others.
In this way, the other person – the spiritually, materially, physically, mentally poor person – became part of him, of his family, became his brother or sister. Thus, Vincent de Paul discovered “Jesus’s face” in the poor and the poor in Jesus. This became his most precious treasure. As he told his confreres, “How beautiful it is to see poor people if we consider them in God and with the esteem in which Jesus Christ held them!” Vincent often remarked, when you go to the poor, there you meet Jesus. He lived what he once expressed so strikingly in words: “Your pain is my pain.” No matter the field in which we are called to serve, we know that the poor are “Our Lords and Masters,” that “the charity of Jesus Crucified urges us” to serve them.
Vincent discovered the unbreakable unity between prayer and service, the Sacraments and service, the mysteries of Faith and service. The Incarnation, the Holy Trinity, the Eucharist, and Mary, became the pillars of his spirituality. The virtues of simplicity, humility, meekness, giving priority to Jesus and not to persons and things, for the mission, for the salvation of humanity were virtues that Vincent discovered in Jesus himself. They became very much a part of the spiritual structure Jesus was building in the heart of Vincent.
The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, works, moves, encourages, brings fire within the Church through numerous gifts and does not cease to amaze and surprise us, to bring us to the goal of all humanity: the Kingdom, eternal life, life in Jesus, with Jesus in eternal happiness. The Holy Spirit brings to life different charisms within the Church, different paths towards the same goal.
A specific charism means discovering a particular hue on Jesus’s face, being attracted to, inspired by, called to follow Jesus, finding a place in the Church, the way to serve, to live the faith, to participate in Jesus’s plan of salvation for every single person and all humanity. As members of the Vincentian Family, we ponder the face of Jesus Vincent de Paul had discovered and by which he was inspired. We see the face of Jesus that changed his life, in which he found the true meaning of his existence and understood the mission he was called to accomplish. We, as his followers, are trying to carry it out in the here and now. Vincent de Paul invites us to deepen in our own lives, and to encourage others to discover and follow, the “face of Jesus” that he left to us.
The Vincentian Charism is a way of life. As a way of life within the Church, it is a road to sanctity, the sanctification of our own lives and the lives of others. We can call the Vincentian Family a movement composed of persons who belong to a specific branch of the Family, as well as those who do not belong yet to a specific branch, but are inspired by Saint Vincent de Paul’s way and live it in their lives. This is a movement that is inspired by the “face of Jesus,” discovered and followed by Saint Vincent de Paul.
Saint Vincent also reminded us that “love is inventive to infinity.” I hope that we can continue seeking new and creative ways to respond to the needs of the poor. To this end, and to mark the 400th Anniversary of the Vincentian Charism, we are launching, during the International Symposium of the Vincentian Family next month, two initiatives: the Vincentian Family Global Initiative on Homelessness and the Vincentian Film Festival. We hope, as the Holy Father invited us in his message for the First World Day of the Poor, to add these two initiatives to other contributions in the evangelization of today’s world, new contributions to practice in our lives the essence of the Gospel.
Let me take a moment now to address the young people present here today. Dear youth, dear young men and women, all of you, who feel that Jesus is calling you to offer your lives in service to Him in the poor as a sister, lay brother, or priest, with complete trust and confidence in Him answer: Yes, Jesus, here I am! I trust this 400th Anniversary will inspire many of you to follow in the footsteps of Saint Vincent the Paul.
May the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and all the Saints and Blessed of the Vincentian Family help us continue the mission that will not end until “Charity is Globalized,” until Charity reaches the farthest corners of the earth.
Rev. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M.