The first task of the missionary is to read the signs of the time. Indeed, the whole church is called to engage in that task because from that process flow the evangelizing commitments that are most necessary for each historical moment.
Therefore, it would be a contradiction and a scandal if those who have been called to live a missionary vocation, such as the members of the Congregation of the Mission (a congregation in which I am a member) or the members of many other institutes of religious life, were to remain indifferent to the present situation in which 2.5 million persons have been infected with the Covid-19 virus and more than 170,000 people have died … in addition we must also include here those who have become unemployed and who are experiencing different levels of poverty that have not been seen for several decades.
In light of this situation and from the perspective of the life and ministry of Vincent de Paul, the binomial of silence/action is a missionary proposal that should be taken into consideration.
One of the well-known sayings of Saint Vincent states: noise makes no good and good makes no noise. Indeed, Vincent de Paul valued silence in service on behalf of the poor and viewed this as a way to avoid protagonism on the part of his followers. Today, in the era of social networks, this is perhaps a principle that is often forgotten. Above all else, however, Vincent’s regard for silence is about an attitude that should precede action. Here we are speaking about the need to take time to contemplate the mystery of God in the midst of suffering … thus creating a sensitivity to the reality should make us pause and question ourselves before making any pastoral decision.
The current coronavirus pandemic, which surprised us during our celebration of the Lenten season and made us live a “silent” Easter, provides us with an opportunity to pause and contemplate, to listen to what God is saying to us as Church. At times there is a tendency to provide pre-packaged answers and ready-made solutions (Christus vivit [Christ is Alive], #65) without allowing time for silence and listening and contemplation.
Therefore, now when the churches are empty and all the congregational activities that had been so carefully scheduled and placed on our calendars have to be canceled … now is the time to enter into an attitude of silence, because it is at that moment that the human heart can turn our gaze to that which is essential. That is how we can discover the manner in which we have confused the means with the ends. That is how we can discover the true face of God in a pilgrim Church that seems now to be living more as a “family” and is gathered around the Master who is teaching his apprentices. Yes, we are living in a very fruitful time of missionary conversion!
The fruit of authentic silence is action. When the situation makes it difficult to act … when social distancing and public health measure restrict our charitable activity, then another conviction of Saint Vincent de Paul takes hold: love is inventive to infinity. And I must say that, with all my formation as a Vincentian missionary, I have come to understand the meaning of this principle in the mountains of Talamanca with my brother-confreres and with Bishop Javier Román … it is here in these mountains, where mothers have very little but are very inventive and creative in providing resources so that their children can have a better life.
Today, when it seems that the pastoral wings with which we are accustomed “to fly” have been cut and trimmed … today is the time for that “inventive love” to rise to the surface. In addition to the images and live broadcasts, which are an extremely valuable resource, it is up to us as missionaries to insert ourselves in the midst of this reality as leaven in the dough (Matthew 13:33) and during this pandemic to offer prophetic signs of the Kingdom of God.
The words that are transmitted by the different media (in our situation that is our radio station, the Voice of Talamanca which was founded by our Congregation several decades ago), as well as our gestures of love during this urgent time … all of this allows us experience ourselves as church, as a field hospital where wounded people arrive seeking the goodness and closeness of God (Pope Francis, September 19, 1914).
Silence and missionary action seem to be a good combination in the midst of the pandemic.
A reflection by Father Rolando Gutiérrez Zúñiga CM.