What Paul, Vincent de Paul, and Martin Luther King Never Dreamed

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

What Paul, Vincent de Paul, and Martin Luther King Never Dreamed

I hesitate to say this given all that has gone on here and around the world. But this week also brings together four other things to reflect upon. This week celebrates the conversion of St. Paul 2000 years ago, the foundation by St. Vincent of the Vincentian community and the charism some 400 years ago, the annual celebration of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and also the celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King.

As I was thinking about all these events, I thought that each person never dreamt of how “life” surprised them.

Their surprises in life


I doubt that as St. Paul was growing up he ever dreamed that one day he would mind the cloaks of those stoning another to death. I suspect early on he dreamed of learning more about the law and the prophets. His path was clear. He never dreamed he would become so committed to his understanding of them that he would track down those who wandered away from that understanding. Much less did he dream of being struck down for this, spending a long period of time learning from them and, ultimately, becoming a key figure in the Christian movement.

St. Vincent de Paul

As Vincent grew up it seems he was just another pious boy who could serve his God and parents by becoming a priest. His path was clear. He never dreamed he would embrace the poverty he was running from and become the champion of the poor. He never dreamed that 400 years later he would have inspired a family of four million men and women serving in almost every country in the world.

He grew up in a time of fierce partisanship and religious wars. He never dreamed that one of his followers in the early 20th century, Fr. Ferdinand Portal, CM would become a leader in a pioneering group working to restore Christian unity. (A story that is all too little known.) Or that just decades later a group of celibate Anglican priests would choose to live his rule within the framework of Anglicanism.

Martin Luther King

Although he grew up in a segregated South he never dreamed he would be knifed in 1958, lead protests that would lead him to be sentenced to hard labor in a Birmingham jail. In the process, his dream crystalized and led so many others into that dream … and also to his own assassination. He never dreamed of a speech that would be quoted by Pope Francis.

The common element – being surprised by life and its ups and downs.

Another element in common is that they were forced to rethink their dreams. They discovered their mission through these ups and downs.

Our surprises in life

Personally, I can tell you I never saw myself as a priest… and in fact, resisted it at first. When I was surprised by the Vincentian vision almost 70 years ago I never dreamed I would spend the last 20 years of my life fostering the use of technology in the service of Vincent’s dream. I never thought that a near-fatal automobile accident more than 25 years ago would begin to wake me to the Vincentian dream I had lost sight of.

I suspect as you look back there are many surprises both painful and joyful that caught you unaware.

Learning from our surprises

  • What has surprised you most in your life?
  • What has God asked of you in the midst of these surprises?
  • Who do you turn to, to help you make sense of your mission in life?

1 Comment

  1. Ross

    Please allow to say here what I have expressed elsewhere and would probably express again later.

    What Vincent had never dreamt of did bring him surprises, yes. This is clear in his saying: “Who could ever have imagined that this would reach its present state? If anyone had said
    that to me then, I would have thought he was making fun of me; yet, that was the way God was pleased to give a beginning to what you now see” (SV.EN XII:8).

    But it seems that he did have a basic dream, especially after his own change of heart, mind and perspective, a basic dream that became for him the fount and summit of all the surprises that came along, and in the light of which he read such event as the Folleville mission. And he articulated that dream in his exhortation (SV.EN XII:82) that we “do the good that presents itself, that we do the things God shows us that he wants us to do.” For “we belong to him.”

    And Vincent trusted, too, that should God increase our work, God would also increase our strength.

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