Ordinary Time 03, Year C-2010
- Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made (Rom. 1:20)
In an article originally published in Christian Post, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, the widow of prominent philosopher and theologian, Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand, speaks of the secular war on the supernatural . According to her, her late husband alerted Pope Paul VI in 1965 on the worst crisis the Church was going through, a crisis worse than the Protestant Reformation (or Protestant Deformation, as she herself usually refers to it, she admits), namely, “that people have lost sight of the supernatural.” She points out that one way the war is waged on the supernatural is by secularizing the supernatural, which consists in praising “the supernatural very highly, but for purely secular reasons, not because it is supernatural, not because it comes from above, not because it is this holy jewel that fecundates our soul ….” As an example, she uses Voltaire’s respect for St. Vincent de Paul. She says, “Voltaire, one of the worst enemies of the Church, declared that there was only one saint to his taste, St. Vincent de Paul, because he was doing social work!”
Surely, St. Vincent would be the first to object to every attempt to remove all supernatural reference from his good works. After all, he was centered on Jesus and he considered all that he was doing simply as his following in the footsteps of Jesus, the one anointed with the Spirit and sent to bring the good news to the poor (see P. Coste, I, 295; XI, 108; XII, 80).
It was not St. Vincent’s intention to call attention to himself, anymore than it was Ezra’s. Sure, “Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform” and thus “was standing higher up than any of the people.” But it was not himself that he wanted all the people to see, but rather the scroll of the law. In like manner, St. Vincent—notwithstanding that he eventually acquired stature in France, moved among the great, and influenced honest hearts and disturbed the ambitious—made sure to refer all accomplishments to God (see ibid., I, 182; VII, 98-99, 289). He attributed the success of the “first sermon of the Congregation of the Mission” to God so blessing it that those in attendance were moved (see ibid., XI, 4). St. Vincent let his light shine before men so that they might see his good deeds and praise his heavenly Father (see Mt. 5:16). Like the evangelist Luke, St. Vincent’s intent was to strengthen the faith of those like Theophilus by referring them to the workings of God’s plan and grace through and in Jesus Christ.
Cleary and definitely, there is more to St. Vincent’s life and works than Voltaire wanted to recognize. Seeing himself as partaking simply of the “office of the Son of God”—who claimed being directed by God to proclaim the good news to the poor beyond socioeconomic terms, but not excluding these either (see the InterVarsity Press commentary at )—St. Vincent would want to have it in no other way than that his life and works be seen as all pointing to the supernatural and in the context of his being a part among many of the one body of Christ.
All this said and Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s point well taken, I would like to submit still that today’s warriors against the supernatural, real or imagined, may very well have gotten their cue if not from, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14), then most likely from Mt. 25:31-46, where we read that the Son of Man, glorious king and judge, clearly identifies himself with the least of his brothers at the same time that he clearly indicates as well that it does not matter if one recognizes him or not in the least ones or it does not matter that one sees or not the supernatural in the person one is giving or refusing assistance to.
Discerning the body of the Lord when we eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord does not only mean recognizing the Word but also the flesh of those who have nothing (see 1 Cor. 11:18-29). The recently deceased theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., insisted that “[t]he mystery of God is to be encountered in human life and creation” and that “[h]uman love is an embodiment, a sacrament, of God’s love” (see Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P., “Grace-Optimism” in the “Current Comment” column, America [January 18-25, 2010] 4). Can it then be also said that the supernatural is to be encountered in the secular and that the secular is an embodiment, a sacrament, of the supernatural?
For further reading, see: