Each year at St. John’s University we celebrate Founder’s Week from September 20-27. To give color to the week, we select a theme that captures our imagination around the Vincentian charism. This year, we chose “Be Vincentian, Be a Listener” and matched that theme with this Scripture passage:
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear.
Vincent had a profound gift for listening. We know the way in which he heeded the question of Madame de Gondi and began to confront situations with the resolve “What must be done?” The summons of Françoise Bachet to respond to the situation of a needy family gave Vincent the insight that “the poor suffer more from lack of organization than lack of charity” and spurred his thinking. The desire of Marguerite Naseau to serve the marginalized in a humble and engaged manner enabled Vincent and Louise to find the way to the formation of the Daughters of Charity. Vincent proved himself to be a good listener, and this gift provided service and care for the poor. He did not need to discover all the answers within himself. He opened his ears and his heart to the wisdom and simplicity of his colleagues. He needed to become a good listener—and he did. After all, listening is at the heart of collaboration.
Of course, no one captured Vincent’s attention more than his great collaborator, Louise de Marillac. In the areas of health, education, and social welfare, they motivated each other with original ideas, encouragement, and dependence on divine providence. The regular correspondence between them—some of which we have preserved for our reading today—emphasized the great gift of listening and mutual regard that characterized their relationship. How else could they have advanced together so closely and in step?
One also recognizes how Vincent listened to those whom he served. He told his followers that “The poor have much to teach you. You have much to learn from them.” From this incentive, two questions arise: “What do the poor have to teach me?” and “How do I listen to the voices of the these sisters and brothers?” Our Founder responded to these questions in his own time and place. No less does the same challenge call to each of us. Remember, the poor have much to teach us. Let us be Vincentians and listen.