Special note: This is our final in a series of six articles on how Vincentian characteristics (Congregation of the Mission) help to guide our mission as MISEVI. Today our focus is: Striving to live in a state of continuous conversion both on the part of each individual member and on the part of the whole Congregation, according to the mind of St. Paul, who counsels us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm. 12:2).
We are radically dependent on God, and there is no better characteristic than this one to remind us of that dependence. We all are aware of how hard change can be, and conversion is even harder. Continuous conversion implies something even more profound.
Have you seen the movie Peanut Butter Falcon? Like many of the deeper stories we encounter, Peanut Butter Falcon is one that shows the conversion of a man (Tyler) who encounters Zak (a man born with Down Syndrome). Tyler is filled with anger, so much so that he burns the equipment of fellow fishermen. Zak and Tyler encounter each other and embark on a journey together becoming friends as they travel. Tyler teaches Zak various life skills, including how to build a fire, how to use a gun, and how to creatively build a raft. All the while, Zak is teaching Tyler about life, about being vulnerable, and the value of mutual relationship. The transformation that happens over time is, I believe, reflective of the needs that each man had, but most importantly, the need Tyler had to encounter his own poverty, thus leading to his conversion.
Bob Maloney says, “Mission as a call to conversion stresses the need for personal change of heart. Each individual is called to be born again in response to a personal and moral challenge. Conversion is seen as a profound personal experience.”
Internationally, MISEVI communities offer the opportunity for individuals to continually enter into relationship with those who are living in poverty, and thus the opportunity for this kind of personal change of heart. When we truly encounter another person with receptiveness to changing our own hearts, we open ourselves to the possibility of continuous conversion. MISEVI communities not only recognize this, but also embrace an entire communal experience. The opportunities to reflect on our relationships and the presence of God in the encounters of missionary service offer us the possibility of continual change of heart, continual conversion.
St. Vincent DePaul was wise, a man ahead of his time. He saw that all of us are radically dependent on God and that we need one another. There are no levels of humanity with different importance or status for him, no hierarchy. Rather, we are dependent on each other to help us recognize our dependence on God, leading to that deeper change of heart.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. We need people to help us take the wider view; we need to believe in what our work does for us while finding ourselves responding to our God-given gifts. Thomas Merton said, “The secret of our identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God…It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives. The first step toward finding God–who is truth–is to discover the truth about myself; and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.”
How do we discover this truth? Vincent said, “Go to the poor and you will find God.”