An English translation of a piece which appeared originally in the Boletín Informativo, PP. Paúles Prov. Madrid, nº 264, julio-septiembre 2002, I, Vincent Depaul, unworthy priest of the Mission, dare address you, Christian men and women of a very advanced and highly technical century. Please allow me, then, to add one more letter to the 30,000 that I wrote during my lifetime on earth. This letter may seem apocryphal to many or, a least, somewhat strange.
It is not my intention, by any means, to tire you with an account of my life. My life, God‚s knows quite well, was not of exceptional importance; it has also been told and analyzed so very kindly by some of you.
Nor do I want to sing the praises of what some good-hearted researchers have called “my spirituality.” I did not have any “spirituality” but Christ and his Gospel, and you will agree that such a way is within the reach of anyone who exerts the least of efforts to take seriously his or her baptism. No, I am not at all going to torment you with my many and repeated omissions and follies in the service of God our Savior. That would be hidden vanity and disguised pride, for which I asked forgiveness from Our Savior many times.
I have many times heard some of your raise the question: “What would Monsieur Vincent say and do today?” And the answers that have been jotted down through the years do not seem to me to have been misguided altogether.
But I declare to you that my heart is not pleased when it finds itself locked up within the narrow confines of a “domestic and religious” exclusiveness. And, certainly, I find my work, my thought, and my being to be a bit out place when I see them situated in a placid atmosphere that is at once non-incarnational and spiritualistic. I am afraid that some people, perhaps without them intending it, are falling into the temptation of taking lightly the only thing that always got and kept me going: the wide and cruel world of slavery, exploitation, misery, neglect, pain–the “passion of humanity” in which I saw, invariably and clearly, the humiliated face of Christ.
There is, therefore, nothing original or new in this letter. It reiterates what I have always wanted to tell you. It is all about your continually making the effort to refresh your mind and your whole being with the only thing that is worth it: to carry on with the life and mission of Jesus Christ, to be and to act like Jesus Christ, to love, in a concrete and effective manner, the poor, the beloved of God. But, alas, how we filled, very beautifully and profoundly, pages and pages of the theology of the poor! Oh Savior, how much we have abused the word “poor” and forgotten the poor of flesh and bones! We should be uttering this word with fear and trembling.
Christians, and my brothers and sisters, of the twenty-first century, what great and profound joy came over me when in that “moment of God,” the Second Vatican Council, the embers of the “Church of the Poor” were set aflame. At that time I relived my struggles, my ideas and ways of thinking, my faith, my experience, my whole life. I even felt rejuvenated–blessed be God–in my innermost roots. But I tell you with equal sincerity that my spirit is vexed when I discover that such expression, “Church of the Poor,” is often no more than an elegant literary phrase or simply a statement of good intention. I cannot understand how is it that there are still Christians who spend countless hours wondering who the poor are and where to find the marginalized and the excluded. There Christians, moreover, who attach strange labels of suspicion on many followers of Christ who spend and expend their strength to bring the Good News to the most disinherited upon earth.
I was never one to give high-sounding counsels. “All that we have to do is to work,” I wrote on one occasion. But you will please forgive me for my audacity to bare my soul to you in the manner of one leaving behind an eternal and lasting testament. I would like to be quite clear on what I would like to leave you: do not forget ever two rights granted to the Church by the foundational Bill of Gospel Rights: the right to be persecuted and the right to be with the poor. Never renounce the right to be always, happen what may, on the side of those who have become the tragic byproduct of today‚s world.
From up here, it is easy to see which things are important. Do not, for example, fall into the temptation of looking so much inward that you lose sensitivity toward those who are at the margins. “Intra-ecclesial and juridical” problems have their importance, but it would be sad should they stop us from addressing something unquestionably urgent: the agony that God himself goes through in those who are oppressed. This, yes, is a problem of vital importance.
I always rejected Manichaeism. And today it scares me that there are still, strangely enough, two kinds of Christians: those of the “first commandment” and those of the “second commandment.” The former break their Christianity apart by „”oving God without loving their neighbor.” The latter profess that “they love the neighbor outside of God.” But I myself do not find any correct attitude other than the one I tried to live and teach: to give ourselves totally to God in total service of the poor.
Christians, and my brothers and sisters, of the twenty-first century, what would Monsieur Vincent do today? What I always did. To discover the will of God in a sign that is as simple as it is risky: in the events in the lives of the abandoned and in their needs. There is no other indisputable option for us but this: to take part in the integral liberation of the poor. This is the gospel way that I want to remind you of. In comparison to this, everything else is relative. For, as one of your writers today has said, „one who refuses to give a hand to the wounded is not a Christian, and it matters little what one does later on with this hand.
Translation offered by Ross Dizon.
The original Spanish is available at http://www.famvin.org/es/article.php?sid=461