In order to be a Vincentian, it is necessary to clothe oneself in some specific attitudes: making oneself available, service on behalf of those in need, etc. This commitment is fundamental in order to maintain the Vincentian torch burning and to strengthen our socio-spiritual ministry.
Our society is quite complex, self-centered, materialistic and so many people feel alienated. As a result, it has become more and more difficult to attract people to join together with us in our common mission as members of the worldwide Vincentian Family. Being Vincentian means being intensely committed to others.
The Polish sociologist, Zugmunt Bauman has stated that we live in a time of liquid modernity. According to Zugmunt, society is fluid and, so to speak, liquid: it moves from one side to another and has no defined formation. This society is composed of people who will participate in a street demonstration while others are involved in sofa activism on the Internet and still others, become very active, even combative, during some election campaign. In so many cases, however, these same individuals do not have an on-going serenity that allows them to participate effectively in those various events … in general, they are dissatisfied with everything and with everyone.
This liquid society clashes head-on with the dedication, commitment and fidelity of Vincentians who engage in the struggle against poverty and misery and inequality and injustice … and in fact, this same liquid society can even take a position that is opposed to some of the principles of the Church and/or the legal framework of a country.
At the same time, the people who form this liquid modernity are very critical and can provide much help in evaluating the activities undertaken by the Vincentian Family. For example, many members of the liquid society focus on the virtual, digital, transparent and efficient which might make them view our activity as excessively conservative, closed, opposed to dialogue … activity that produces little, if any results.
We know that our Family is not like that … but we cannot deny that, depending on the place, culture and composition of the membership, we often find it difficult to attract members of the liquid society. I am not advocating that we change the way we act … but at the same time, it would take little effort to adapt ourselves or at least take the time to listen to the hopes of those young people who occupy the streets and the social networks and make lots of noise (I said it would take little effort … perhaps it will take great effort for us to act in this way).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the members of this liquid society “made noise” within our Family as they defended the least and the little ones. Imagine what might happen if we allowed the members of this liquid society to find a place within our Family, to critically analyze our activity, to point out our deficiencies and to offer suggestions that would make our ministry more affective and effective.
In the case of young men and women who by nature are prone to ask many difficult questions about everything and everybody, it is very common for older people to speak negatively about this very natural element that is found in most young people. Yet in reality, is asking questions something negative? Was it not precisely at times when people began to question their leaders that nations evolved and developed? Were we never young?
Therefore, we should not view negatively those multiple individuals who make up Bauman’s liquid modernity … they are present in the midst of our society and we need to be attentive to this anthropological phenomenon and, perhaps, in our own way (even though some friction could occur), to welcome representatives of that current into our Family.
We cannot transform our Family into a closed club, in which only a select group enjoy the spiritual and material benefits that we have received from God. We have to open ourselves to that which is new, to those people who might ask difficult questions, to those individuals who think and act in a “different” manner … we should not fear criticism! Rather, we must come to terms with the trends of modern society without, however, abandoning the primitive spirit that we have inherited from our Founders. May this liquid modernity, with all its imperfections, renew the Vincentian Family!
Written by: Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM
Eastern Province, USA