(This homily was preached at a recent Eucharist during which Mr. Walner Diaz, a seminarian for the Eastern Province Vincentians, made his Final Vows in the Congregation of the Mission)
As far as beginnings go, we’d have to look far and wide to find something more dramatic than the one portrayed in chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles: Paul knocked over and blinded on that Damascus road. And then that voice, “Stop persecuting Me!”
Though not blindness nor falling over, there are a few things in Paul’s episode which can speak to a young man just about to promise his future to a life of ministry in the Congregation of St. Vincent DePaul.
The first of course is this encounter with the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. What Walner Diaz is doing here is exactly that: responding to that same Lord. Walner has not only sensed Christ’s presence in his life, (as does every Christian), but he’s picked up on a certain direction set out in this relationship. He is letting himself be lead along a particular road: Paul’s missionary road, Paul’s life project to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.
If there’s an overarching backdrop for what this young Vincentian is vowing this morning, this is it. Announcing in word and action the best of all Good News: that in this person Jesus, God has come among us and continues to go on loving us. With these promises Walner is about to make, we are witnessing still another individual setting his sights on this lifelong task, taking another serious and very public step in that direction.
There’s a second thread running through Paul’s experience, and it shines a particularly Vincentian light on what Walner is about here. That is the proclamation The Risen Lord makes that He lives in His people. They are the “Me” in Jesus’ question to Paul, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts, 9:4)
We recognize that as the leitmotif for all of us in the Vincentian Family: Jesus’ unambiguous claim that he lives inside these persons who are on “The Way,” as the Acts envisions it. To interact with them, Jesus insists, is to be interacting with Him.
That realization, that I meet Christ in my neighbor, is the conviction underlying all Vincent’s service and concerns. We know how he looked into the eyes of the other, especially the poor other, and saw there the eyes of The Lord. It was on their faces that Vincent read the face of Christ.
It is to this interconnection, both a spiritual and a bodily one, that Walner is pledging himself – to walk with Vincent and all his followers in today’s world as they are led forward by Vincent’s intuition: Jesus alive in his people, especially the poor ones.
In the years after Paul’s fall on that Damascus road, many people came into his life to sustain him and work with him in proclaiming the Good News. Those of us here today who make up that circle for Walner, and the many others who will join it in the years ahead, fill this supporting role. We in this gathering, standing in for the hundreds of others down the line, promise you, Walner, our support and encouragement – together with the prayers we’re offering with and for you in this Eucharist.
We look forward to seeing you journey down that road, the one that keeps proclaiming liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and this best of all news to the poor – that in the Risen Jesus, God is here and loving us.
We congratulate you, we admire the step you’re about to take, and look forward to all the different ways you will be giving your life to put flesh on Jesus’ claim and mission — that he is God’s very own love, living among us, right here and right now.