This homily was given at a recent Eucharistic liturgy during which one of our Vincentian seminarians, Eric Sanchez, pronounced his final vows in the Congregation. It uses the account of St. Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-22) as context for the occasion.
With today’s event on the Damascus road with St. Paul, and today’s event here in Philadelphia with Eric Sanchez, we meet two people setting out on a journey, both with God in mind. Of the two, Paul can claim seniority, so we look to him first for some windows onto “what can happen on a journey.”
One window looks onto the reality of direction. Someone is standing at a crossroads, at a place of multiple converging avenues which then span out. Which to take?
Paul had already gone in one direction, persecuting those Christians and sure it was the road Yahweh had laid out for him. But his God had another path in mind, the one following behind that person who comes to Paul in so startling a way today, the Lord Jesus. It cost Paul to change that direction, certainly his previous pathway. By the blinding way it came, it cost him his balance and equanimity, not to mention the predictability that comes with a life that is mostly self-directed. But also, it filled him with a new energy and purpose.
And then there’s Eric Sanchez, coming to a crossroad in his life and having to decide which road to take, this Vincentian path or some other? Today we celebrate the direction he is taking, the road St. Vincent de Paul and so many of his followers have walked through the centuries. And as with Paul, Eric’s setting out comes with a cost, leaving behind not only other promising and possible directions, but now publicly taking on the challenges of evangelizing God’s poor ones and following the rich and exacting tradition we know as the Vincentian way. However, as with Paul, this beginning also is filled with energy, energy to proclaim the Good News to the poor. We see Eric moving past those intersecting crossroads and stepping off onto a well-trod, grace-giving path.
Back to Paul. As we follow him through the drama of his conversion, we notice in him a certain trusting quality, a fundamental openness. He was locked onto his crusade against the Christians, but when that divine light breaks through and that voice speaks, he surrenders himself to what — better, Who — is in front of him. He allows himself to be led.
And is not that the stance of anyone making a vow? Today Eric is saying, “I come before You, Lord, not only choosing to step out in Your direction, but to be open to Your future, ready to move and act in the ways You will put before me.” Here we have confident openness to the unpredictability of God’s future, a welcome given to the Mystery and pull of God’s Kingdom that is always just arriving.
Lastly, we notice in St. Paul that feel of being accompanied, the comforting awareness that he’s not out there on the new road by himself but rather that the Lord Jesus is walking with him – and soon enough, Jesus’ followers also. And that is what we wish for Eric too and what we pray for. The opposite of setting out on a solitary journey, his will be an accompanied one, certainly by his family and loved ones, certainly by his Vincentian companions through the years, but most of all by The Lord Jesus as He draws ever nearer in the life of His Spirit.
So, two journeyers, both given a direction and energy, both pliable and open to further directions, and both trusting in the sustaining and loving presence of our all gracious Lord, Jesus Christ – and all of us along the way too.
We give our attention and hearts to Eric, as he pledges to set out for a lifetime on this holy, Gospel-fed, and Vincentian journey.