A Vincentian View: Reconciliation and Renewal

by | Jan 31, 2024 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

When I celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with people, my emphasis does not solely embrace God’s forgiveness of our sins of the past, but promotes God’s grace to live a better future. That second focus is important.  It moves the energy of the sacrament from yesterday into tomorrow.  That truth emerged for me again as I recently celebrated the Foundation Day of the Congregation of the Mission—January 25th.  This day, as we know, is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  Accenting the importance of the event, we hear it recounted three times in the Acts of the Apostle.  The first rendering is in Acts 9:3-6:

On Paul’s journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”

Vincent tells us that it was on this Feast day in 1617 that he preached the first sermon of the Mission:

“In the month of January 1617, on the twenty-fifth, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, that lady [Madame de Gondi] asked me to preach a sermon in the church of Folleville to urge the people to make a general confession, which I did, pointing out to them its importance and usefulness.  Then I taught them how to make it properly . . .” (CCD 11, pp. 3-4)

However, Vincent does not tell us more about the specific content of that sermon other than it was a great success.  Have you ever wondered what he preached?  I imagine that he spoke about the conversion of St. Paul that took place after the apostle recognized the sinfulness of his past life.  He hits the ground as a sinner and persecutor, and he rises as the great preacher and missionary of the Church.  The encounter with the risen Lord changes his life.  It confronts him with his own weakness and wrongdoing.  The resurrected Lord tells Paul clearly that he, the Lord, has suffered from Paul’s actions against the Christian community.  Now, Paul needs to recognize that reality and change his ways.  And, he does.

I wonder if Vincent used Paul’s experience as a driving reason for inviting participation in the sacrament of reconciliation.  It changes our lives!  More than the avoidance of being mired in the past, it sponsors a bright and life-filled future. Vincent’s experience with this sacrament involving the serf of Gannes and the community at Folleville deepens his reverence for the journey that reconciliation initiates.  It becomes an essential part of the Mission.  Vincentian also invited his non-clerical followers to promote this value of penance as they ministered to the sick.  He said that they can say things like:

“‘Eh bien, brother! How do you think you’re going to make the journey to the next world?’  Then to another, ‘Eh bien, my child!  Don’t you want to be united with God?  Don’t you want to make a good general confession so as to prepare yourself to die well?  Don’t you want to go and see our Lord?’  In this way, always say something to them that will raise their hearts to God.” (Vincent de Paul,  85.  “Service of the Sick and Care of One’s Own Health.” November 11, 1657.  CCD 10, p. 268)

Perhaps not too subtle, but we get the point.  Vincent believed in this sacrament.  He trusted in its  transformative power.  And he wanted to offer it to all whom he served.

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