“Seeing” is the necessary beginning of systemic change.
We take seeing for granted. That is until we develop some eye problem and are in danger of not being able to see. Seeing is not to be taken for granted when facing persistent pastoral problems.
There is “seeing” and there is “seeing”! Systemic change requires looking anew at something we see… but do not see. This kind of seeing is really more like reading; reading the “signs of the times.”
St. Vincent was a man who learned to see in the sense of understanding. His starting point is direct knowledge of events about which he reflects before acting. We often find in his letters and conferences the verbs “see” or “look.”
He not only began to see reality as it was but “envision” or see possibilities.
Vincent did not always see with such clarity of vision.
What changed Vincent?
A combination of influences of his mentors and his reading of scripture combined with his peasant practicality led him to see beyond the obvious.
- In the encounter with the dying peasant in Folleville he “saw” spiritual poverty… and this seeing led to the missions that followed.
- In the encounter with the poor sick family in Châtillon he “saw” physical poverty… and this seeing led to the formation of the first Confraternity of Charity.
Once he began to see, Vincent asked questions. Could the things that led to such poverty of body and spirit be changed? He then judged that it could and should be changed. “What needs to be done?”, he judged!
Seeing, Judging led to Action
Having seen and judged he then acted. He put all his energy and talent into changing what he could… step by step.
Vincent’s first thought centered on the possibilities of going from parish to parish to help others see the spiritual and physical problems. Then he realized that reforming the clergy was necessary. Who else would continue the work after he left? He began with what we would today call continuing education. But he realized that initial formation would be a more effective solution.
There you have it! His pastoral insight was “See, Judge and Act.”
I doubt whether Vincent saw that this way of thinking would take root in Frederick Ozanam and later follower Giuseppe Toniolo. It was Toniolo who influenced Leo XIII’s pioneering social teaching in the face of “New Things” (Rerum Novarum). Seeing, judging and acting in the face of the social inequities of his day.
I doubt whether Vincent saw that a man we now know as Francis would use the methodology in drafting a ground-breaking document that emerged from a meeting of bishops in Latin America in 2007. Nor that this man as Pope would shape his pastoral vision of the church, Evangelium Gaudium, drawing on this same pattern of problem-solving– “See, Judge and Act.”
So much was set in motion by the simple process of “seeing”!
And now what for us?
- What are the experiences that have made me see physical poverty?
- What might be the Châtillon moments in my life?
- What might be the Folleville moments in my life?