Five ways St. Vincent shaped the Church of today.

I wonder how many people, even those who follow the inspiration of St. Vincent, know he was not only a man of his time but a man way ahead of his time?

I considered myself fairly well knowledgeable about the impact of St. Vincent de Paul on the church and country of France in his time. Remember that the noted orator at his funeral said he just about changed the face of France.

Then I was startled by some research appearing in Spanish.

Let me share just a few of the things that I  already knew but which startled me when I put them all together and realized how far ahead of his time he was.

Then judge for yourself how Vincent has prepared the way for many of the most vital elements in the church today.

Did you know he…

Prepared for a shift from a vision of a church of priests and religious to a Church mindful of being the people of God as proclaimed in the Second Vatican Council.

Set the stage for the recovery of a vision of the Church rooted in scripture rather than the Roman model of the perfect society with authority is vested in the ruling class –clerics and church officers – whose jurisdiction is patterned after the secular state.

Promoted a concept of holiness in the midst of the world that went beyond the prevalent monastic ideal of holiness.  “Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows”.

He told his Daughters of Charity to have

“…for your monastery only the houses of the sick, for cell a hired room, for chapel the parish church, for cloister the streets of the city, for veil holy modesty…, and continual confidence in Divine Providence”

Anticipated preferential option for the poor, “seeing” the poor

His foundational text was…“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, (Luke 4:18-21)

Anticipated the missionary vision of Popes Paul VI  and Francis by including mission as a way of personal sanctification.

Remember he founded the “Congregation of the Mission”. In every parish, he opened up ministry to women and founded the oldest still-functioning organization of laywomen serving the poor. Today the Ladies of Charity with its 6,400 members in the U.S. and 200,000 members worldwide in 54 countries minister to the needs of the poor.

These are just some of the ways he prefigured the church of today. And all this in face of an ill-equipped clergy and in a society of rampant inequality!

“Father Vincent taught us that!”

No wonder Mother Guillemin,  Mother General of the Daughters of Charity and one of the few women invited to the Second Vatican Council, could say 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.

“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.”

What a 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”?
  • How often do I go out of my comfort zone to encounter and learn from those who are beloved by our God… those who are poor

For a quick elaboration of these five and other basic insights, visit an 8 part series The Prophetic Dimension of the Vincentian Charism.

Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6 · Part 7 · Part 8


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