The “spes gregis” was one of the earliest terms that I heard applied to my classmates and me when we entered the high school seminary. The older priests would sometimes call us the“spes gregis,” the “hope of the flock.” In its origin, the phrase referred to the young animals who needed to be cared for so that they would grow to become the mature members of the herd—so, for example, a lamb for a flock of sheep. In the seminary, the words emphasized the importance of the young men into whose care some aspects of the Church would be entrusted when they were older and properly trained. Today, when I see the seminarians who prepare for their role in the Vincentian community and the service of the poor, I must think of them as those who will lead us into that future.
In these days, at Saint John’s University, I can look out my window on campus and see the new students—the first year class—arriving as they move into the dorms. This Sunday, we will celebrate the University mass which will be populated by these young women and men. I can think of them as the “spes gregis.” They are the hope for this University, for the Church, and for our American society. On my best days, I recognize my responsibility to and for them. I pray that I may faithfully carry out my role of pastor, teacher, and mentor.
At the beginning of this month (August 1-6), World Youth Day took place in Lisbon, Portugal. A gathering of our Vincentian youth preceded those days. The news was filled with pictures and stories of the events of this week. Seeing the Christian young people from around the world gathered to enjoy each other’s company, to share experiences, to attend talks, and to worship would uplift any Catholic heart. On their return, the men and women who attended have told wonderful stories of faith, unity and hope for the future. I look forward to speaking with these St. John’s students as they arrive back on campus. They give me confidence and deepen my commitment to them and to our common project on behalf of the Church and those who are poor and marginalized. They are the “spes gregis.”
At the center of World Youth Day was, of course, Pope Francis. As we have seen, the logo for the gathering depicted a cross, a rosary, and a profile of the Blessed Mother. One easily imagines how each of these elements characterizes our faith profile. Francis set the theme for the time together around the scripture quote “Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39). And he spoke of Mary in his opening and closing preaching.
We have a great help: Mary, our Mother who, especially in these days, takes us by the hand and shows us the way. . . . She teaches us how to journey in life . . . So let us do two things: first, let us call each other by name and remind each other of the beauty of being loved and treasured! Second, let us ask questions of Jesus, who is expecting us to speak frequently with him in these days. Let us stay connected to him and to his love. (August 3)
In his preaching on the next day, the Holy Father spoke about the implications of the Visitation contained in the theme. He said:
Mary’s joy is twofold: she had just received the angel’s message that she would welcome the Redeemer of the world, and she was also given the news that her cousin was pregnant. This is interesting: instead of thinking about herself, she thinks of the other. Why? Because joy is missionary, joy is not just for one person, it is for sharing something with others. (August 4)
Lots of lessons and much encouragement can be gathered from these days in Lisbon. Vincent would have found the World Youth Day attractive in various ways including its emphasis on the young, the catechesis offered on so many themes, its focus on the lessons of the Blessed Mother, and its missionary emphasis. As Vincentians, we can share in Vincent’s joy and recognize our need to care and provide for the spes gregis. They truly embody the hope for our future.