For there are two doctrines of progress: the first, nourished in the schools of sensualism, rehabilitates the passions, and, promising the nations an earthly paradise at the end of a flowery path, gives them only a premature hell at the end of a way of blood; whilst the second, born from and inspired by Christianity, points to progress in the victory of the spirit over the flesh, promises nothing but as prize of warfare, and pronounces the creed which carries war into the individual soul to be the only way of peace for the nations.

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Frederic Ozanam, “History of civilization in the fifth century,” Chapter I: Of progress in the ages of decline.

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Reflection:

  1. Frederic’s words may sound harsh, but no less than those of Jesus himself: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13-14).
  2. Although it seems that these are different topics (progress and following Jesus), the parallelism is evident. Jesus Christ tells us that the path of follow-up is not easy, that it has difficulties, that being a true follower brings efforts: “As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me,’ replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'”(Lk 9:57-62). Jesus tells us, in this text, that the most important thing is to proclaim the Kingdom of God; nothing and no one is above this.
  3. And, what is the Kingdom of God? A kingdom very different from those we know of the world, where Jesus, the servant of all, is the only King, and asks us to serve the same as Him. A kingdom where “the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Mt 11:5). What a good program this is for all Vincentians!
  4. If we think well, the words of Frederic are not far from these reflections we have done with those biblical texts. What is progress for Frederic? To build a better world for all, with effort and sacrifice. It is not a great program for a politician, but it is the only possible program for a Christian. If we want to be followers of Jesus and to walk in His steps, we have no choice but to assume that this path is not going to be easy.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. In my life, how important is to build the Kingdom of God? More important than my family, than my friends, than my position, than my own being?
  2. Do we fall easily into the “other doctrine”: in sensuality, in selfishness, in thinking only of ourselves? If so, what can we do to return to Jesus?
  3. How do the Vincentians build the Kingdom of God? Do we see around us those who are “blind” to see, those “lame” to walk, the “lepers” to be clean? Who, these days, are these blind, lame, leprous people … around us?

Javier F. Chento
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