St. John Paul II – Lenten Challenge to Me Personally… and beyond

by | Feb 7, 2018 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

I never thought of connecting this saint’s words to my Lenten practice. Perhaps it was because he spoke them in another context over 30 years ago. Here is what Saint John Paul II said to Vincentians in 1986:

“ …search out more than ever, with boldness, humility, and skill, the causes of poverty and encourage short and long-term solutions; adaptable and effective concrete solutions. By doing so, you will work for the credibility of the Gospel and of the Church.

I have quoted the first words often… but for some reason the second sentence eluded me. More about that at the end.

Let me start with the words I most often quote.

I reread St. John Paul’s words in the context of thinking about Lent as a time for personal systemic change. His focus on seeking underlying causes and long-term solutions gave me a new way of looking at the challenges for me this Lent.

I see Lent as a time to look at the underlying causes of my lack of awareness of and response to God’s call in my own life. In moments of honesty, I can recognize when I am not open with myself and God. It is so easy to get caught up in my own world. Then there are the times when I vacillate between a lack of discipline and unrealistic expectations of myself.

Vincent’s Five Virtues as Long-term Solutions

As I reflected on this I realized these are the very realities that Vincent addressed when he described the five virtues he recommended to his followers.

Vincent’s five virtues might be translated as being the long-term solutions to things that get in the way of our relationship to our God and our sisters and brothers.

* Honest (Simplicity)
* Approachable (Meekness)
* Self-disciplined (Mortification)
* Realistic (Humility)
* Hard working (Zeal for souls)

Fr. Ed Udovic sees these virtues as expressions of the profoundly Christo-centric values of Vincent. Long-term solutions?

He says that to serve as Christ the Evangelizer of the poor requires:

  • a simplicity that seeks the truth wherever it is to be found, recognizes the truth when found, witnesses to the truth in word, and lives the truth by actions as they relate to oneself, one’s neighbor, one’s world and one’s God.
  • a meekness which is a personal availability in relationships that are authentic, and thus inviting, inclusive, accepting, understanding, equal and loving.
  • a mortification which is self-disciplined and absolutely clear about what one believes, what one values and what are the priorities in one’s life. It must then impose upon one’s self a self-discipline that will enable one to live these values in a consistent, integrated and effective manner.
  • a humility that is realistic which means I must always creatively balance the inherent tensions between pessimism and optimism knowing full well what I and other human beings are capable of and not capable of and gratefully relying on God’s grace and providence as the sustaining force of our lives and indeed all salvation history.
  • a zeal for souls that is hard working. There is always much to be done in the kingdom of God and what remains to be done both personally and corporately is not easily accomplished without laboring with the “strength of our arms and sweat of our brows.”

But there is even more. Here I come to the often glossed over words of St. John Paul. By working on these long-term solutions we work for the credibility of the Church and the gospel.

Personal and societal systemic change come together!


  • Is it time for me to look at the underlying causes of my lack of awareness to and response to God’s call?
  • Have I ever thought that working for my personal and societal systemic change is working for the credibility of the Church and the Gospel?



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