Admittedly I have been tremendously influenced by Vincentians in my adult life. Prior to that, I had known of the ministry of the Vincentians (read: I had heard of the St. Vincent de Paul Society) since I was little. Unfortunately, that probably remains the greatest association with this vast religious community, other than perhaps De Paul University in Chicago. Like many of the saints, this touchpoint is only the tip of the iceberg. It is like associating St. Francis with birdbaths and Mother Teresa with doubt. We do ourselves and their memory a disservice by reducing the scope of the Vincentian mission to thrift stores.
Like all religious orders, the Vincentians have characteristics, laid out by their founder which they try and live by. These are their guideposts, hallmarks and most-honored qualities. The Vincentian community refers to these as the ’virtues.’ They are:
simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification and zeal
When I look at these, there is a certain order of preference that I notice myself leaning toward. However, when I consider the number of lives St. Vincent impacted by leaning hard into these values, it’s tough to argue that I would not also benefit from embracing and exploring these lesser-known virtues. He is, after all, the patron saint of charity.
When Vincent refers to ‘simplicity’ he is focused less on possessions and more on the way we carry ourselves: Specifically in our speech with others. He suggests that what we say ought to be precisely what we mean, not any sort of speech that is convoluted, sarcastic or manipulative. How important is simplicity of speech, in my healthy relationships with my children, my spouse, and my friends?
As a mom, humility isn’t one that I gravitate toward, either. Although many days when I breeze by a mirror, I realize I have great cause for humility in that I have toothpaste on my shirt and hairclips from dress up still in my hair. This, however, is not the type of humility Vincent is describing. His is more of a posturing humility: how do I stand before my children, the lady in line at the grocery store, the person holding a sign at the stop light, the Lord in the Eucharist? Is there a reverence in my heart specific to each of these that suspects I will learn from all of them?
Does anyone else associate meekness with doormats? That is my pavlovian response to this word for better or for worse and it is completely cultural. Is Vincent suggesting that following Jesus is best accomplished by being walked on by those around us? He’s not. His wish for himself and his brother Vincentians was a spirit that was meek enough to ‘win the hearts of the poor.’ Pope Francis demonstrates this beautifully. He embraces his faith and love of Jesus in a way that cannot be off-putting to anyone, regardless of their station in life. Imagine what moms groups (insert your own setting) would look like if we showed up in such an unassuming way as to win the hearts of those in our company.
Who’s ready to embrace mortification (and what does Vincent mean by this!)? Vincent recognized that Jesus asked him to die to self, daily; to choose the good, even when a better offer came along. We may not like it but moms have a lot of these experiences and a tremendous influence on our children’s abilities to choose the greater good. In a recent homily our pastor shared that there is no inherent value in suffering unless we can make meaning from it. Vincent understood this and in turn attempted to ‘offer it up.’
…there is no inherent value in suffering unless we can make meaning from it.
Zeal. Here’s a virtue I can get behind. Vincent encourages the community to ask for a heart that burns to serve the other. By remembering that the work is not ours, but God’s, we can nourish ourselves in a way that keeps us balanced so that we can live out of the place of zeal of one who loves God, fed by that which brings us joy. This is both permission to do the thing(s) that recharge us, and an invitation to have our hearts ignited within us.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!
Lord Jesus Christ help me to show compassion so that there can be no on in need whom I meet without helping. – Adapted from St. Vincent de Paul
(ed.: Katie’s reflection was featured in Catholic Mommy Blogs on the September 27, 2017, the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, and republished recently on the alumni blog of the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers -CVV)