We celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Louise de Marillac on May 9th. This feast invites us to think of Louise, her gifts, and her ministry. Sometimes, I get caught up in a sidebar reflection.
Do you think that Louise would ever have referred to Vincent as a “good friend?” Or, that he would describe her in that same way? Colleagues, yes. Collaborators, yes. Even confidantes, yes. But friends? I do not know. The word seems too popular, too informal. I imagine them as being very polite and cordial with one another. We know that they sought the advice and guidance of the other. And, we know that they attended to this direction. But, I find it hard to imagine an offhand conversation between them. You know, “brainstorming” or “throwing out ideas” or “testing the waters.” Can you see them as discussing politics or the teachings of the Pope or the stories of the Ladies of Charity? All this is not to say that they did not have a wonderful and fruitful relationship, but were they friends?
I confess to a certain tongue-in-cheek in my writing of that last paragraph. I suspect that many people have written openly and convincingly of the friendship of Vincent and Louise. What about their love for one another, has that also been treated with simplicity and energy? Am I revealing my ignorance regarding the writings and actions of our Founders?
Let me take a step away from this couple and ask similar questions of another couple—Mary and Joseph. How regularly do we speak of their friendship or love for one another? I do not mean in general, but in interpersonal terms. No one would deny either relationship, but how do we call it to mind or to lips?
In a wonderful article on “Friendship and Evangelization in the Vincentian Tradition” (Vincentiana 42-1, 1998), Patrick Collins C.M. writes of the connection of these elements in the thinking of St. Vincent. The Common Rules teaches (8:2): “We should get along as good friends.”
I feel no need to defend the mutual friendship or love of Vincent and Louise. But, I do want to allow that conversation to open up the discussion about close relationships and cooperation in the Vincentian Family. There really needs to be a friendship among us because that opens up the possibility for the service of those who are poor. Different branches as well as different members of our organizations bring special gifts, knowledge, and ability to the ministries that we share. The power to seek the help and guidance of one another becomes essential for the effective service of those given into our care.
This collaboration should be personal and mutually supportive. To know the names and stories of members of other branches of the Family allows for teaching and learning from one another. It opens up the possibility for a more complete response to our “lords and masters.” As Vincent and Louise demonstrated to one another, no one can do everything. Humility as well as simplicity point to a more effective service.
The need for friendship with those who seek our care points to another important and Vincentian value. The blessing of such a relationship points to the fulfillment of the Great Commandment.
Good friends? Yes, I know that Vincent and Louise were good friends. May we learn from their example and allow this insight to benefit our relationships and service.