Naming Vincent’s Charism In Everyday Life
Let me tell you a story, a true story. It is a story connecting the dots of one person’s life with the Vincentian Charism or culture. It is the story of a married woman who was interested in learning more about a group of women who called themselves Sisters of Charity. She was considering becoming a “lay associate.”
In conversation with a Sister she respected greatly, she heard the story of Vincent instructing one of the first groups of the long line of women who became known as Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity or some variation. She heard from this Sister the words of Saint Vincent to his early followers about how they were to have
for monastery only the houses of the sick,
for cell a hired room,
for chapel the parish church,
for cloister the streets of the city…
It was a moment of awakening for her. She burst into quiet tears, tears of recognition. After a few moments, she was able to explain what had happened.
In those words of Vincent, she recognized the lives that she and her husband had lived for years serving the marginalized in the south west of the United States. And, in that moment, the Sister learned a new level of meaning to those words. She realized immediately that she was not “forming” this woman for becoming an associate but rather merely helping her to recognize or name the charism she and her husband had been living for decades.
Pope Francis has done something similar in naming the “ordinary holiness” of “the saints next door.”
Recently, I came across a beautiful biblical expression of this in an article Elijah’s Mantle in the Associate (North American Conference of Associates and Religious (NACAR)).
Elisha asks to carry on in his master’s path, which is signified by his asking to receive the spirit of his master. “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,”[2 Kings 2:9]. Elijah lays his mantle upon Elisha’s shoulders as a sign of companionship in the prophet’s school of disciples. The other companions acknowledge that Elisha has been granted the spirit of their master: The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha” [v. 15].
The article continues,
“It is Elijah’s spirit that is communicated to Elisha, not an office or an authority. This is the core of the meaning of “communicate the charism;” it means to be caught up in the divine spirit that gives life to the communion of faith. Even more, it is the communication of a non- institutional reality; it is the sharing of faith, hope, and charity which stream from God to the human family.
What does this very brief reflection on the charism of religious life say to religious and associates about the future? It says
The charism of religious life is alive and well both inside and outside of the religious institute’s vowed membership. The health of a charism is not in the number of members who profess their vows in the institute. The health of the charism is seen in its vitality wherever it is received, nurtured and made operative. For many religious institutes today, this is happening more and more among the laity who are associates.
The Long Tradition of Picking up Vincent’s Mantle
This is a tradition that dates back to the time of the death of Vincent and Louise. Vincent’s first biographer, Abelly, writes
It pleased God to shower his blessings on all these charitable activities begun by Monsieur Vincent, so much so that they have continued when other troubles arose, even after the death of this great servant of God. He seemed, like another Elijah, to have left his mantle not only to the members of his own Congregation but also to all the other virtuous people who joined him in fulfilling his mission of charity. …
In the face of the famine of 1661 Abbey continues…
The Ladies of Charity felt in their hearts the same sentiments that had moved Monsieur Vincent to undertake the relief of the poor in all sorts of circumstances with indefatigable charity. These holy women carried out these projects, especially the feeding of the hungry. God blessed their efforts so that they, together with the help of the missionaries of Monsieur Vincent, rescued from death a large number of the poor of every age, gender and condition. Without it, they otherwise would surely have been lost. The alms they distributed from 1660, the year of Monsieur Vincent’s death until now, 1664, came to more than five hundred thousand livres.
So yes, the charism is alive and well as it nurtures generation after generation of people who pick up Vincent’s mantle in the branches of the Vincentian Family or as individuals. They pick up and carry Vincent’s mantle. of care for those of our brothers and sisters on the margins. Thank you all for being Vincent today.