A Vincentian View: “Speaking the Same Language”
For the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of preaching retreats in Ireland and England. I also had the opportunity to give some conferences in Paris. All these talks were for our Sisters, the Daughters of Charity.
From the beginning, I knew that with all these groups, we would be speaking the same language: English. My American accent did not notably hinder the Sisters from understanding me. And I heard the particular flavor which some of them offered to our common tongue with the brogues of Southern as well as Northern Ireland and with the sounds of Great Britain as captured in the Daughters from England, Scotland and Wales. It was a pleasure to hear the different flavor which people brought to our English. In Paris, many of my Sisters were from Africa, and thus they brought their soundings of a common tongue from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Eritrea. In other contexts, India and the Philippines were heard from.
With little extra attention, we grasped each other’s points readily as well as willingly. The “little extra attention” provided more of a blessing than a challenge. It uplifts each of us when another gives us his/her focused heed. The beauty of each language lifted the heart as well as the ear.
What also became clear quickly is that we shared another common language: that of the Vincentian Family. Many, many times I sat with a Sister and we spoke about her ministry with those who were poor. The blind, deaf, elderly, homeless, hungry, orphans, refugees, immigrants, and those with special needs—as well as many other of the marginalized—repeatedly held pride of place in our conversations. These good women spoke of their desire to live with the poor and to serve them in the most basic of matters. They wanted to do so in institutions and in their homes, and they wanted to do it together as a community of faith.
With these Sisters, I discussed bible passages which spoke to all of us regarding the particular focus of the Gospel upon the least of God’s children. Matthew 25 came up repeatedly as did the Good Samaritan and many other passages. Time and again, the Spirit led us to the same stories and symbols, the same parables and preaching, the same examples and experiences. Pope Francis often received frequent attention.
Conversations around our founders were no different. The words of Vincent and Louise to those first members of the Vincentian Family still speak truly to the heirs of their spirit and charism. The encouragement and guidance for serving the needs of the 17th Century poor of France find easy application across our world of the 21st Century.
Hopes and plans for lifting up our “lords and masters” came to rest on sympathetic and optimistic ears.
Yes, we spoke the same language, but it was not just English. The words and actions which characterize our ministries find easy translation across all languages and countries within the Vincentian Family. Our common language reaches beyond the ones which we learned from our parents, and it unites us in service and support. We understand each other.