Noted Catholic commentator and media personality Father Robert Barron picks up a theme familiar to Vincentians   and applies it very effectively to Catholic social teaching  which is coming to the forefront of political discourse today.

Fr. Barron speaks of Catholic Social Teaching

“In its social teaching, this same sort of “bi-polar extremism” is on display. Solidarity? The Church is all for it. Subsidiarity? The Church couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it.

Not one or the other, nor some bland compromise between the two, but both, advocated with equal vigor. I think it would be wise for everyone to keep this peculiarly Catholic balance in mind as the debate over Paul Ryan’s policies unfolds.”

“The great both/and of Catholic social teaching – By Father Robert Barron

Vincentians heard Sr. Regina Bechtle describe the Vincentian “And” in 2006 as part of the Vincentian genius.

Regina Bechtle, SC writes,


As Vincent, Louise, Elizabeth, Catherine, Rosalie, Frederic, and Thomas listened to the Word of God and pondered God’s ways with humans, something happened, something clicked. As they contemplated Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor, source and model of all charity, they had the intuition that the WAY TO GOD IS THE WAY OF BOTH/AND, not either/or. As they faced the tensions and conflicts of their times, as the Spirit opened their eyes wider and wider to see the face of Christ everywhere, they planted themselves firmly in the “AND.” Not with their heads in the sand, but with their heads and hearts and bodies in the “AND.”

AND is a key Vincentian word. [1]Our founders were people who lived at the extremes and chose to hold them together:

  • Love God AND love the neighbor
  • Rich AND poor
  • Action AND prayer
  • Solitude AND community
  • Head AND heart
  • Now AND not-yet
  • Charity AND justice
  • Service that is material AND spiritual

All of our ancestors to whom we look for guidance on this Vincentian way found energy there, in the AND. At times when we touch our truest self we know that too. Real life happens in the in-between, in the connections, in the struggle to live connected, to live an integrated, whole, holy life, not simply on either end. We get off balance, sidetracked, when we resist the work of integration and opt for one side or the other. It’s a place outside of the COMFORT ZONE for most of us, isn’t it, a place where we often meet our own resistance.

In my own life, I know that most often I get stuck right there in the AND. Often I gravitate to the place of either/or, one or the other. My head says, “I can’t manage to hold both ends, to pay attention to local AND global needs, to the person right next to me AND the neighbor half a world away.” My heart says “There’s not enough room to love all. Pick and choose. It’s easier to point to one group as bad guys and the other as good: politicians are bad, poor are good.”

AND is a place of grace for us in the Vincentian family. It’s a place of BELONGING, of INCLUSION, of COMMUNION. We speak of our vocation to live on the margins. I’m suggesting that one way to understand this today is to live with the extremes, holding them in creative tension, resisting the pull to stay on one end or the other, choosing to live in the in-between.

The word AND pushes us, prods us, propels us into one house, one room, one table. AND is all about BELONGING. Our Vincentian call is to create places of BELONGING. The founder of the JustFaith program has said that, “When love gets big”, when it reaches out far and wide, it leans toward those on the margins, on the edges, those who are invisible and hurting. And as it does this, it reflects God. [2]

Our founders Vincent and Louise gave us a revolutionary, radical insight. They took a daring step; they paid very close attention to their world, to the way things were, to the categories people used to describe and regulate how things were, in society, in church. As they paid attention, they kept saying, “There is MORE – there is another way to name reality, there is more to see, more to do.” They placed what they saw and heard against the bigger horizon of the Gospel, the life of Jesus who gave a new name, a new definition to their reality. They were forever stretching us beyond the place where we would settle into comfort. It’s always biggerthan we think.

That’s true even in our respective organizations within the Vincentian family, isn’t it?

I’m a Sister of Charity of New York; you’re a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, or a Vincentian lay volunteer, or a Daughter of Charity or a C.M. from a particular province. Most days, it’s enough for me to pay attention to my own circle of belonging, my family or local community and its daily demands; my own congregation or province or conference or chapter of Ladies of Charity. Don’t ask me to think beyond.

Yet our call always nudges us to do precisely that. Enlarge the circle, make room for more at the table, think outside the box, dream bigger, color outside the lines, scan the horizon and look always beyond ourselves. Ask questions like: Who else needs to be part of this conversation, this planning? Whose wisdom are we missing? What if we invited XXXXXX to join us?

And the reason for doing this – for heeding the call to conversion that translates into being servants of hospitality and communion and belonging? It’s not just because it’s a nice thing to do – it’s part and parcel of the Gospel challenge. It’s the way we must act if God’s dream is ever to be realized – the reign of God, the Kingdom that Jesus never tired talking about, and showing us what it might look like.

Jesus’ vision: Good news to those on the margins – sick, prisoners, poor, immigrants, forgotten, powerless – THEY BELONG.

Vincent & Louise’s vision: Christ meets us in the poor who have a claim on us. WE NEED ONE ANOTHER –WE  BELONG to one another.

Ozanam’s vision: Our world isn’t meant to be cold and heartless, but a place where all BELONG.

Elizabeth Seton’s vision: We must live, pray, work together in deep, caring relationships lived in lives of service.

Our call is to develop our capacity for hospitality, for communion. And isn’t this countercultural? Doesn’t this put us at one extreme of our U.S. society? Look at our immigration policy that fits a land of exclusion more than a land of opportunity, a policy that focuses on keeping out people who seek merely a better life for their families in a place that won’t oppress them because of their politics or religion – people like your great-grandparents and mine – and punishing them for trying to fulfill that dream.

Doesn’t this put us on the margins of our church, at least in some settings?  We sing “All Are Welcome,” and then start to limit the list. We sing, “Gather us in, the lost and forsaken,” and then hear ourselves saying, “Sorry, that doesn’t mean you, or you.”

The Vincentian AND places us right in the face of structures that seek to minimize, even to blaspheme, Jesus’ message of belonging, hospitality, inclusion, communion. As Pope Benedict XVI has written: “Communion draws me out of myself toward [Christ] and thus also toward unity with all Christians.” [3]

[1] Cf. Hugh O’Donnell, C.M., “Vincentian Discernment,” Vincentian Heritage 15, 1

[2] “Undoing the heavy burden of scandal,” editorial, National Catholic Reporter, 2/10/06

[3] “Deus Est Caritas”

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