systemic change 2This four-week series by Fr Robert P. Maloney, C.M. aims at helping members of the Vincentian Family find more ways of talking and reflecting about concept systemic change and its implications. This week, Fr. Maloney shows how modern concepts of systemic change fit into the context of the Vincentian Family. –.ed

The concept of “systemic change” is a contemporary one. It was unknown in St. Vincent’s time, though Vincent himself expressed many related ideas.

When he gathered the first group of women to form a “Confraternity of Charity” at Chatillon-les-Dombes in November 1617, in the Rule he composed for them he stated that the poor sometimes suffer more from a lack of “order” in the help offered them rather than from a lack of charitable persons who want to help. Thus, he encouraged his followers to examine various elements in the lives of the poor to see what their most urgent needs were: nourishment, health care, education, job opportunities, spiritual care. He wrote precise rules for all the groups he founded so that their service to others would he well organized.

There are three key phrases in Vincent’s writings that today that relate to the the various branches of the Vincentian Family.

The first phrase is that our love is to be both “affective and effective.” Vincent repeated this theme over and over again. He says, for example, “The love of a Daughter of Charity is not only tender; it is effective, because they serve the poor concretely.”

The second phrase is that we minister to the poor “spiritually and corporally.” Vincent uses this phrase in speaking to all the groups he founded: the Confraternities of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission, and the Daughters of Charity. He tells the Daughters of Charity that they should tend not only to bodily needs, hut also share their faith with the poor by their witness and heir words. And he warns the members of the Congregation of the Mission that they should not think of their mission in exclusively spiritual terms. Rather, they too should care for the sick, the foundlings, the insane, even the most abandoned.’

The third phrases that we are to proclaim the good news “by word and work”. Vincent was deeply convinced that what we say and what we do must reinforce one another. First, do. Then, teach. That is St. Vincent’s rule for “effective” evangelization. In other words, Vincent sees preaching, teaching and human promotion as complementary to one another, and as integral to the evangelization process.

Today, the unity between evangelization and human promotion, so much a part of Vincent’s spirit, is one of the main emphases in the Church’s social teaching.

In light of these three phrases, so fundamental in our Vincentian Family’s spirituality, we have often reflected over the last two decades on the appeal that Pope John Paul 11 addressed to the General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission in 1 986:

Search out more than, with boldness, humility and skill, the causes of poverty and encourage short and long-term solutions — adaptable and effective concrete solutions. By doing so you will work for the credibility of the gospel and of the Church.

In our efforts toward systemic change, we seek not only to assist the poor in their immediate needs by providing food, clothing and shelter. but to help them change the social system within which they live, so that they might emerge from poverty. That work carries forward the heart of Vincent’s direction for the Vincentian Family.

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