“Saint Vincent received the vocation to go forth as a gift.” This sentence from Fr. Luigi Mezzadri’s article has echoed in my mind from the moment I read it. The vocation to go forth is a sign left by Saint Vincent de Paul, both in the sense of always advancing from virtue to virtue, working constantly toward our perfection without ever-growing weary (see SVP IX, 844), and in the willingness to go all over the world, as shown by the example of the first missionaries of the Congregation (cf. C 12, 5).
We are called to be filled with the sentiments and affections of the spirit of Christ. When we look at the Holy Scriptures, we see a Jesus who came to go forth, and who does not stop. We see a Jesus unafraid of getting his feet dirty in order to go out to meet his neighbor. We see meetings that change lives and always imply a response: to go forth!
“And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ Then some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’— he then said to the paralytic— ‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’ And he stood up and went to his home.” (Mt 9: 1-7)
Jesus “is always inviting us to want to be healed, to allow that to happen, to get up again, to embrace our cross, to leave everything, to go forth again and again to proclaim the Gospel.” (EG 172) Faith makes great demands and poses many challenges and trials; it presupposes the discomfort of walking and continuous journeys. Today it is easier to go forth! We have shortened distances by improving transport, improving access, increasing the quality of life. But even though we have everything so easy, with no need to strain our arms or make our face sweat, we choose so many times not to take a single step. We live in a period of sedentism that affects all of society. There’s a sedentariness that atrophies our body, but also a spiritual sedentariness that atrophies the Church. We need a church that feels the sand in its feet. Going forth (walking) should not be some symbolic expression; it must be a reality, essential to understanding how the Church itself should walk: God “always invites us to take one more step” (EG 153).
We live in a world that needs to take shape by walking, but walking where? What path does the Lord ask of us? “The whole journey of our redemption is marked by the poor [who cry out]” (EG 197). The cry of one person must be everyone’s cry; it must be my cry! A cry that opens my heart and moves me to walk, bringing the love of Jesus to others. We cannot remain still, because, as Saint Bernard tells us, “in the ways of God, to not go forward, to remain always in the same state, is always to go backward.” (Cf. SVP IX, 844). Let’s fall in love with our encounters! The life of the Christian must be like this, being in love with the Lord. How beautiful it is to be in love. The heart beats faster, what we see touches us, our thoughts do not escape us, every second counts, dreaming, dreaming a lot … We need to dream more. As Pope Francis said during his visit to Mexico “Dare to dream. Do not resign yourself to without hope!”
“If you want to build a ship, your first task is not to gather people to collect wood and prepare tools; not to distribute the tasks, not to organize the work. Instead, first you awaken in men the desire for the distant and boundless sea. As soon as this thirst is awakened in them, they will immediately go to work to build the ship.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). To walk first we need horizons that feed us, that feed our past. We must dare to ask: when I entered the congregation, what did I dream of? What were my horizons? And today, do I still dream? About what?
“I entered the Congregation with the intention of being able to work in the missions ad gentes (…) Listening to the superiors I discovered that the church needed the missionaries in other places too … (…) Today I am ready to respond to any need of the Congregation (…) to contribute in this way to the renewal of the Congregation in today’s world (…) “.
“(…) I dream that I can make a contribution to the ‘little flock’ and in the ‘little company’ since it’s there where I trust in honesty and loyalty (…)”.
“(…) I dreamed of being in a community where love is lived out (…) announcing Christ (…)”.
“(…) Today I continue to dream of being a simple missionary Christian, one who knows how to make people fall in love with a beautiful, wonderful, creative, joyful God who gives such flavor to life. And then to stay in touch with the poor, because they help me first to develop the human in me and then to meet God in simplicity. I would like a Congregation that listens more to the signs of the times, one that grows more creative and inventive in evangelization (…) “.
“Today seems to live my dream. But when you become more aware of needs (…) other dreams are born. Being aware of having received so much from the Congregation, one feels challenged to do more (…) “. “(…) I can not stop dreaming with optimism!” “I realized that I have to broaden my horizons to be more accountable for being a Vincentian missionary.”
We do not walk alone nor do we dream alone … Living with others is part of our DNA and for this I thank the Chieri community’s members who helped me to reflect on this issue. Truthfully, these reflections are synthesized out of their good contributions, with which many will surely identify.
During this powerful missionary time it is good to realize that, regardless of each confrere’s age and experience, the missionary dream has been and continues to live in the heart of each of these priests. Their example helps us to understand what Pope Francis means by “leaving everything, always going out again to proclaim the Gospel” or when he wants “a poor Church for the poor” because “they have much to teach us” (EG 198).
At the same time, the awareness that territories are no longer what they were, and that for this reason we too cannot continue to be what we once were. The Church needs to rediscover itself, the Congregation needs to rediscover itself, and this can only happen in each of us, one by one. In one of his reflections in the Lenten retreat prepared for the Holy Father, Monsignor José Tolentino Mendonça said that “Christianity is now establishing itself among the poor and out on the margins of society, while it atrophies in traditional centers (…) these are God’s new addresses.”
Dreams unbind us and get us up walking on solid ground, leaving footprints and stirring up dust, responding with a convinced “yes” to the missionary call to carry God everywhere. We do not fear! It is the Lord who guides our steps!
“There’s a dream in you and you do not want to run away from it. You fall in love with it. You get lost with it when it promises you that if you follow that dream, your life will never be the same. Pack the suitcases of the future, strap your life on your shoulders and take the dream under your arm and leave. Like someone who knows there’s a reason for being born.” (Marta Arrais)
Student – Province of Portugal
English Translation by Dan Paul Borlik
Western Province, USA