“So then, if there are any among us who think they’re in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others, if we want to hear those pleasing words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, ‘Come, beloved of my Father; possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you assisted me.’ To do that is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, and that’s the most perfect way; it’s also what Our Lord did.”
Vincent de Paul, CCD XII, conference 195.
- Let’s start with the end: “That’s the most perfect;” “It is what Our Lord did.” It is possible that these affirmations are nothing more than the two faces of the same coin, and we could say “The most perfect thing is to do what Jesus of Nazareth practiced.” What did the Jewish prophet practice?… The virtue of mercy in all the situations that stumbled in its roaming. Here is the core of Mr. Vincent’s thought.
- It is a thought that, without confusing them, combines theory and practice — a question that always, but more so today, must be carried out dialectically, especially in Christian organizations and, among them, in the Vincentian ones. The fact of the “service” to the poor can not conceal nor blur the starting point and, although it may not be politically correct, we must affirm that the Christian Institutions are not NGOs but, in principle, they seek the perfection of their members and this is not achieved with only the practice.
- The reminder of Mr. Vincent is motivated precisely by this dissociation which, from what we read, he already detected: “some among us”… Something of the sort we may have heard this (wrong!) saying: we are to evangelize the spirit… the attention and temporary care of the poor is a question of others. The founder is categorical: “I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others.” Big words!
- Lastly, he finishes saying that doing so “is to preach the Gospel by words and by works.” He did nothing else during his life, initiating 400 years ago a path of merciful commitment to all those situations that generated impoverished people that, under those circumstances, was most urgent. They were the long-impoverished and impoverished by the circumstances of the moment; poor people who were unfortunately resigned to their poverty and shamefaced poor whose first concern was to hide their poverty.
Questions for dialogue:
- In our communities, are these words of Mr. Vincent present?
- Does the Vincentian Family align itself with this vision?
- Is our preparation adequate to respond fully to the present needs of the poor?
- Do we participate in any way in “caring for the poor”?
- Would Mr. Vincent reproach us in the same as he did those in his time?
Mitxel Olabuenaga, C.M.