In November 2020, I had planned to travel to Emmitsburg to present in a Vincentian Family Seminar entitled “Living the Vincentian Charism Today: 400 Years and Counting.” Many people received invitations to speak on different aspects of this theme. My particular focus involved “The Christ of Vincent de Paul.” I felt excited and blessed to receive this mandate. Covid-19 has forced a rethinking on how this seminar can continue. Now the effort will take place as a ZOOM conference. Still, I rejoice that “the show must go on!”
The pleasure of reading Vincentian authors on the meaning of Christ for Vincent, of looking at Vincent’s own writings and preaching, and of studying the events of his life has tendered me a blessing. Of course, I could not even begin to consider the volume of this material, but I felt the urge. For my lectures, I decided to organize my presentation around the four Gospels, and the Christ that Vincent discovered in each of them. This Lord was the model for his ministry.
Abelly speaks convincingly and repeatedly of the importance of Christ and the Gospel lessons for the character and development of Vincent:
[Vincent’s] conduct was founded not on simple human reasoning but on the maxims and truths of the Gospel. These were engraved on his heart, and he took them as the foundation of his life and had them ever present to his mind. He conformed himself in all things to the doctrine and example of Jesus Christ. (Abelly I:126)
What a great description! It seems so obvious, but we should allow ourselves to return repeatedly to this truth: Vincent discovered the meaning of Jesus in his reading of the Scripture.
When one seeks the guidance of biblical scholars, one can discover in each Gospel a particular image of Jesus. In John the image of “the Word made flesh,” which describes the incarnation, introduces the thinking. In Mark, the text reveals Jesus as “the suffering servant/messiah.” Thus, we might see how John and Mark direct our attention to the beginning and end of Jesus’ mission. Matthew depicts Jesus as a teacher; and Luke emphasizes him as healer. The richness of the person, ministry and relationships of Jesus emerges in the total picture.
When we look at the words and actions of Vincent, we note how he receives direction from each Gospel affirmation. Vincent learns from the life of Jesus as he comes to know him in the scriptural settings. Seeking the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we would derive wondrous instruction about Vincent as we listen to the way in which he reads our Bible.
Vincent offers his followers sound advice on how to grow in the Christian life and the ministry of our Vincentian Family:
The priests and all the students of the Congregation are to read a chapter of the NT, reverencing this book as the norm of Christian holiness. For greater benefit this reading should be done kneeling, with head uncovered, and praying, at least at the end, on these three themes: (1) reverence for the truths contained in the chapter; (2) desire to have the same spirit in which Christ or the saints taught them; (3) determination to put into practice the advice or commands contained in it, as well as the example of virtues. (CR X, 8)
Vincent would hardly offer this advice unless he was following it himself. Yes, for each of us, the best place to discover the Christ of Vincent de Paul rests in our attention to the Word of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That message will form the focus of my presentations for the community virtually gathered in Emmitsburg.