Mr. Bailly […] told me about all the tribulations that the Society [of Saint Vincent de Paul] had to suffer on the part of some ecclesiastics who sought to seize it, and, above all, on the part of a political party that wanted to exploit or disorganize it in its favor. […] Moreover, he added, the Society has so far faithfully maintained its dual religious and secular character, the only that can assure its usefulness and multiply its efforts. He advises us not to lose it in Lyon, despite the diversity of things and men, and about the information I gave him of your last letter, he thinks that it would be useful to make the parish priest of Saint-Pierre understand little by little the spirit that animates us, the only one that distinguishes us from other associations: we should not be neither a charity office nor a guild.
Above all, we must guard ourselves against extreme parties, and never lose the patience, the generosity, the goodwill in interpretations and the perseverance in reconciling divergent opinions, fleeing from everything that could sadden our hearts and embitter our wills.
Frederic Ozanam, letter to Amand Chaurand, November 19, 1838.
- Lay comes from the Latin word laĭcus — from the Greek root λαός, laós — meaning people. It is a term that appears very early in the history of Christianity. It is usually defined negatively (saying what it is not), that is: the Christian laity are those who do not belong to the clergy. However, thanks to the impulse of the Second Vatican Council, we know that the mission of the laity in the Church and in the world is vital and extremely important. The Second Vatican Council devoted an entire document to this subject: the decree “Apostolicam actuositatem,” which should be read from time to time, where from the beginning we are reminded that “The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it.” We are therefore a Church of “apostles,” where we all have the same mission of proclaiming — by word and deed, as St. Vincent de Paul told us — that the Kingdom of God is near and is for the poor.
- The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was born by the impulse of a group of university students who wanted to live their friendship from faith and make it effective in serving the needy. They maintained — and maintain nowadays — its secular character, although (as we see in the text of Frederic) just few years after the first meeting there were attempts to control it by some priests and even politicians. The verbs used by Ozanam explaining this situation are very strong: to “exploit” and “disorganize” it.
- The last sentence of Frederic’s text reminds us of some attitudes that are convenient for all Vincentians. He, who was considered a tolerant person and a man of dialogue, is our example in order to carry out our work with the best possible spirit, with patience, humility and perseverance..
Questions for dialogue:
- The Vincentian Family is made of consecrated and secular people. Are we, the laity, active in the work that the Family carries on? Have we assumed our apostolic role? Are we leaders in the church and in the world?
- How are our relationships with our pastors, priests and consecrated persons? And with the public figures: politicians, leaders, etc?
- Of the qualities that Frederic writes in his last sentence, of which am I — or are we — most in need?