The works of mercy lie at the heart of our Family’s spirituality. The prophet Isaiah cries out to us (Is. 58:6-7): “Is this not the kind of fasting that I choose … Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the afflicted and the homeless in your house, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?” Notice the subtle nuance: the homeless and the naked are our own flesh! The New Testament scriptures tell us that they are Jesus’ flesh too.
How often St. Vincent cited Matthew’s 25th chapter in listing the criteria by which we will be judged: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me… As long as you did it for one of these, the least of your brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”
The beautiful sculpture created by Timothy Schmalz, blessed by Pope Francis and then given to our Vincentian Family, symbolizes our commitment to shelter the homeless through the international FamVin Homeless Alliance. It concretizes our commitment as a Family to do the works of mercy.
Timothy Schmalz composed a poem to accompany his work of art:
I saw a stranger or a brother
sleeping on the cement of a city.
I saw a pigeon or a dove
sheltering the man from the cold night air.
No one stopped to stare
at this strange site
of a human cast out from
compassion and care.
Let this little dove turn our darkness into light
so we can see our sister and brother
and learn to take care of one another.
In a moving talk given on August 6, 1656, Vincent called mercy “the distinctive feature of God.” He expressed the hope that anyone who saw a member of his Family would say: “There’s someone full of mercy.” Expanding on the theme, he added: “We must practice it … all our lives: corporal mercy, spiritual mercy, …hastening to meet the needs of our neighbor …” (CCD:XI:308-309).
Pope Francis repeats the same theme continually. The first word of the motto he chose as Pope are: “Having Mercy.” In an early public audience, he recommended Cardinal Walter Kasper’s detailed study, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. He then published a book of his own entitled The Name of God is Mercy.
In Timothy Schmalz’ sculpture, the dove, or the Spirit of the Lord, covers a naked homeless person. Do we see similar persons – women, men, children – sitting or lying on the street, and then search for ways to shelter them? Does God’s Spirit move us to accompany them in finding a home? As members of the international Vincentian Family, are we creative in launching 13 Houses programs locally and throughout the world as part of the FamVin Homeless Alliance?
In her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asked:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
St. Vincent’s response to this challenging vocational question is this: In this vocation of ours, we are very much in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ … If we ask Our Lord, “What did you come to do on earth?” (Jesus would respond): “To assist the poor.” “Anything else?” “To assist the poor” (CCD:XI:98).
Since 2017, the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism, our Family has chosen “Sheltering the Homeless” as our worldwide focus. Jesus encourages us in this commitment, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Fr. Robert Maloney, CM