Fr.Jaime Correra CM writes that with regard to social change “(one has) the painful impression that the Congregation, founded by Vincent de Paul, attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of the Founder through a literal repetition of his words.”
On the other hand “Frederic Ozanam was extremely sensitive to the idea of social change. Not only was he sensitive to this idea but he also saw this idea as enabling Christians to revise their manner of understanding their faith so that their faith could continue to act as a leaven in the new society
“By way of contrast note here the words that Father Etienne wrote a few months after experiencing the same event (the French Revolution): the cause of all revolutions that overthrows the powerful and destroys empires is found in the words of Scripture, words spoken by an evil individual: “I will not serve”, “I will not subject myself to all of this.” The foundation upon which the social order rests is respect for authority.
“Both men were inspired by Saint Vincent and both wanted to express a position that was rooted in their Christian faith. Yet the position of Father Etienne was quite different from Frederic’s position. Even though Father Etienne appeared to be inspired by the Scriptures, the sacred writings provided a cover for his desire to see a return of the Ancient Regime, a reality that was dead and buried.
“This nostalgia for the past not only leads one to a position in which the present is rejected but also leads one to seek refuge in the past, in a time and era that has long since passed. This was the position that was taken up by most of the members of the Church and the greater majority of the members of the Congregation, a position that continued for a hundred years and that was inspired by an individual who was viewed as the second founder of the Congregation, Father Etienne.
“Frederic wrote in 1848 “These masses of people are deeply beloved by the Church because they represent the poverty that God loves and the work that God blesses … Let us help these people not only with our alms (which often bind these men and women to us) but with our efforts to establish institutions that will enable them to be independent, that will enable them to be better. Let us go over to the Barbarians!
“These words were scandalous to conservative Catholics (what would Father Etienne have thought about these words?) and the scandal was not resolved even though Frederic felt obligated to offer an explanation to his friend: When I say “let us pass over to the Barbarians” I am asking individuals to become concerned for the people instead of becoming caught up in their selfish bourgeoisie concerns. In poor people I find the remnants of faith and morality that can save society … two realities that seen to have been lost by people of the upper classes. Recall the words of Saint Vincent: it is among them, among these poor people that true religion and a living faith are preserved (CCD:XI:190).
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Tags: CM, Congregation of the Mission, Etienne, Frederic Ozanam, social change, SVDP