St. Vincent changed not only his world. His change also changed our world today. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to realize Vincent de Paul was an amazing change agent. It is even more recent, as in the past few days, that I made the connection between Vincent and the prophet Isaiah. Vincent truly did many things new in his time… and still new today.
Can’t you see I am Doing Something New?
The prophet wrote, “Stop dwelling on past events and brooding over times gone by; I am doing something new; it’s springing up — can’t you see it? I am making a road in the desert, rivers in the wasteland. Is 43:18-19
His cry rings out across the centuries… and even millennia. It is a cry that Vincent understood in the marrow of his bones. I don’t think even he made the connection between what he did and Isaiah. The words “change agent” might have struck him as odd. After all, he was just doing the next logical thing after looking at a situation more deeply.
I finally made the connection as I thought about this weekly post on systemic change on the eve of the Feast of St. Vincent. I was amazed at how rich it was to connect these two dots. I wondered why I had not thought of this before.
St. Vincent Changed His World… and Our World
We have Vincent to thank for the following contributions:
- Rethinking possibilities for women who wanted to dedicate their lives to service Learn more
Inviting us to go beyond a monastic view of holiness to what Pope Francis refers to as “ordinary holiness” Learn more
- Energizing the potential of laity in ministry and going beyond a clerically dominated conception of the church Learn more
- Reminding us of a church that is the “People of God”, rather than merely the Roman hierarchy, called to minister to the poor and the marginalized Learn more
- Teaching us to “see” the world’s weakest and poorest Learn more
- Pointing out that Vincentians are called to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but all over the world (CCD:XII:215). Learn more
- Stressing that we are evangelized by the poor Learn more
- Asking us to “proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” Learn more
- Encouraging us to dream and remember that we are not what we once were, nor are we what we are to become Learn more
“Father Vincent Taught Us That”
Once my mind wandered in this direction I remembered the words of Mother Suzanne Guillemin, former Mother General of the Daughters of Charity. She guided the Daughters of Charity during the turbulent times of the 1960’s and the historic Second Vatican Council.
We can say with Mother Guillemin that there is nothing more timely in the world today than the spirit of Saint Vincent. For her, this was one of the great discoveries and one of the greatest marvels that occurred during the Council.
She reacted to the “new ideas” of Vatican II:
“Every time some idea was proposed which appeared new I said to myself, with a deep sense of personal, filial satisfaction: “Saint Vincent taught us that!” Not with the same words of course, but using the words and language of his epoch. His thought had that purity, that clarity, that authenticity of doctrine which has never been denied or opposed by what the church has taught … let us rejoice at being [children] of such a father (Mother Guillemin, Instructions to the Sisters Servants, Responsibility for the Local Community, 1966).
Mother Guillemin and timeliness of Vincent. The Prophetic Dimension of the Vincentian Charism in Light of the Social Doctrine of the Church
Let me conclude with a quote from Mother Guillemin’s annual retreat talk of 1966:
“We must, therefore, my dear Sisters, become souls who are in a perpetual contemplation of God. It is marvelous to see Him so near us, so attentive to our needs and to our brothers and all who live round about us. This is the MYSTICISM of a Daughter of Charity; it is nothing else than this life of Faith which opens our eyes unceasingly to the Presence of God around us, which makes us continue His life. We must learn TO SEE HIM…if we see God in all things, our life will pass in a sort of perpetual jubilation.” Who Was That Daughter of Charity at Vatican II?
Catching up to Vincent
If you have followed the links about Vincent as a change agent you know that each article gives rise to many questions. Here are just a few.
- Are there ways in which these breakthroughs are still unfolding and echoing through the Church of today?
- What are the tensions I observe in thinking about the mission of the laity in society today?
- What can I do to practice these insights from our heritage?
- What can I do to foster a greater awareness of the universal call to “proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord”?