The Poor: the theological perspective of the Vincentian charism

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Santiago Barquín, CM

(This article first appeared in, El Carisma Vicenciano: Memoria y Profecía [XXXVI Semana de Estudios Vicencianos], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salmanca, 2001, p.127-204).


Introduction

No one can serve two masters. They will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).

Are we with God or mammon … the god of money, the god of avarice? Where do we seek security? Whom do we trust? Avarice and money are irreconcilable rivals of the true, authentic God. God is generous, self-giving, love; avarice is possessive, dominating and enslaving. Avaricious and selfish persons do not possess material goods or wealth but rather are themselves possessed by these very goods and by their own insatiable ambitions. Thus, avarice becomes an idolatry that consists of the adoration of a false god, a dazzling god but one that is unstable and devouring.

In order to speak about the poor we have to clarify our own position, that is, we have to reflect on our life, our activity, our reasoning/thinking. Are we aligned with God or money? In order to respond to this question we have to examine and analyze our life and our relationships with the rich and the poor. God does not want people to be poor. Yet there are men and women who are poor … and there are poor people because some individuals take for themselves that which was destined to be shared by all people. There are poor people because there are some individuals who exploit and enslave and are only concerned about their own selfish interests. The poor and the fact that there are poor persons should make us re-examine our own religious convictions and the manner in which we are living our lives.

Defining the boundaries

When we speak about God and the theological perspective that they provide for the Vincentian charism, it is necessary to begin by defining terminology and clarifying our vision so that we know where we are and where our feet are positioned. This enables us to know how we will approach God and know God and serve God. So this is what we will now attempt to do. Therefore we are going to take into consideration two themes that I consider basic to our understanding of this theme.

Jubilee with the poor and for the poor

We are celebrating the Jubilee Year (this presentation was given in the year 2000). The desire to obtain the Jubilee indulgence and to go on pilgrimage to certain designated places is perhaps leading us to a misunderstanding of the true significance of the meaning of the Jubilee Year. In order to under the significance of the Jubilee Year we must take up the Scriptures and it is there that we discover God’s desires in this regard (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-18; Deuteronomy 15:1-11). We find in the Scriptures a jubilee law. This law, real or ideal, expresses the conviction that the land is God’s and God shares the land with men and women and does not want a small majority of people to take unto themselves that which is destined for all (Isaiah 5:8-10). If in the biblical text we substitute the words “material goods” and “wealth” for the word “land”, we are then in a situation that will enable us to understand the problem that we are clarifying.

In January 2000, Juan Manuel Pérez Charlín, the Provincial of the White Father, spoke about the Jubilee Year in the magazine Ecclesia [1]. He began by asking a question: in order to obtain the jubilee indulgence must we travel to Rome or the Holy Land or visit the churches or shrines that each diocesan bishop has designated for this purpose? If the answer is “yes” then we would have to say that the Jubilee Year is reduced to a form of “external worship” and therefore the indulgence can only be obtained by those persons who are rich or who are able to pay for such a trip. Are there no other possibilities for obtaining the Jubilee indulgence.

The Decree of the Sacred Penitentiary on the Jubilee Year offers us an answer. The decree states: The faithful are able to obtain the jubilee indulgence in whatever place if they visit their sisters and brothers who are in need or in some difficulty (infirm, imprisoned, elderly, alone, forgotten, etc.). It is as though one is making a pilgrimage to Christ who is present in them (Matthew 25) [2].

The author adds some further interesting information but that does not concern us at the present time. According to the words of the above text, Christ is present in those who are in need and thus it is in these persons that we will encounter God and discover Christ. In reaching out to and providing for those who are poor we engage in the “true worship” that God desires, we obtain the Jubilee indulgence and at the same time we provide this same possibility to those who are poor.

It is possible that I have been deaf and blind in recent days. I have no recollection of having seen or heard a similar message about assisting the poor in the official publications and announcements concerning the Jubilee Year. Nevertheless, what we have just referred to allows us to present the Jubilee Year in a broader perspective. Thus we avoid the risk of reducing this celebration to some pilgrimage which, while good in itself, is not one of the essentials of the Christian life [3]. The author then goes on to state: I believe that it is too late for our Catholic parishes and communities and the various means of communication to make a positive and attractive presentation of the way to celebrate the Jubilee Year “in every place throughout the world.” The faithful can participate in this celebration without having to travel to some distant place. They can do this in the place where they find themselves at this present moment. All they have to do is visit their brothers/sisters, for in doing this it is as though they are making a pilgrimage to Christ who is present in those brothers and sisters. It seems to me that this is a wonderful way to offer the graces of the Jubilee Year to everyone, including those persons who are poor [4].

The most evangelical and most essential pilgrimage for Christians is the one we undertake when we go out to encounter and serve those who are poor. It is in the poor that we encounter the compassionate and merciful God and therefore the poor become the goal of this genuine pilgrimage. In them we encounter Christ. For this reason they are the theological perspective par excellence for us as Vincentians who prolong the spirit of Vincent de Paul.

If today there are still persons who are poor it is because we have forgotten them and abandoned them to their own lot

Another problem that we presently encounter as Christians and Vincentians is that of the existence of the poor. Since this is a very serious problem, we have to be aware of it, reflect on it, analyze it and find solutions. How? In order to heighten our awareness of the situation of the poor I am going to refer to certain biblical texts. Said passages (some more than others) will enable us to confront the great temptation that stalks us, namely, the temptation to forget about those who are poor and thus become deaf to their cries and demands. Some people say that this is the grave sin of omission that is committed by Christians [5]. Yet God has not forgotten those persons who are poor. God is with them and offers them liberation and salvation.

The Bible reveals God’s activity on behalf of the poor, the weak and the marginalized as acts of justice and as acts that respect the rights of the human person. Therefore, justice and divine righteousness are also shown to be acts of mercy and love. They are the fruit of compassion and of a profound interior movement of the spirit. For example, the prophet Hosea presents God to us as One who is moved to the very depths by the evils that afflict his people, the poor of the earth: My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; for I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you (Hosea 11:8-9).

God’s justice and righteousness become present through love, forgiveness, and mercy. God revels himself by his actions of forgiveness and mercy, by saving people and inspiring people to change their ways. Through the prophet Jeremiah we hear God say: With age old love I have loved you, so I have kept my mercy toward you (Jeremiah 31:3). God is always faithful to the first love that was shown to the human person.

Let us listen once again to the prophet Hosea who tells us: What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away. For this reason I smote them through the prophets, I slew them by the words of my mouth; for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts. But they, in their land, violated the covenant; there they were untrue to me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As brigands ambush a man, a band of priests slay on the way to Shechem, committing monstrous crime. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing: that harlotry is found in Ephraim. Israel is defiled, for you also, O Judah, a harvest has been appointed. When I would bring about the restoration of my people, when I would heal Israel, the guilt of Ephraim stands out, the wickedness of Samaria; they practice falsehood, thieves break in, bandits plunder abroad. Yet they do not remind themselves that I remember all their wickedness. Even now their crimes surround them, present to my sight (Hosea 6:4 – 7:2).

We deceive ourselves when we believe that we can win God’s favor by offering sacrifices and holocausts. Our worship is like the morning dew that disappears with the rising of the sun … it does not penetrate and fertilize the soil. When the human person lives in a relationship of estrangement or alienation from God, the earth becomes infected with evil and bloodshed, with exploitation and crime, with betrayal and theft. A change is needed and God will initiate said change. The history of salvation is the history of God’s activity to transform humankind, to convert men and women and to inspire them to put aside their evil ways. But it seems that humanity does not want to change. In light of humankind’s negative response, God complains and through the prophets denounces those individuals: Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and who write oppressive decrees, depriving the needy of judgment and robbing my people’s poor of their rights. Making widows their plunder, and orphans their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, when ruin comes from afar? To whom will you flee for help? Where will you leave your wealth, lest it sink beneath the captive or fall beneath the slain? For all this, his wrath is not turned back, his hand is still outstretched (Isaiah 10:1-4).

All the biblical prophets cried out against humanity’s deafness. They looked for ways to bring people to conversion and to cleanse them but they give us the impression that their ministry was not very fruitful. Let us listen to the prophet Isaiah: Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God; they ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God. “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?” Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; “repairer of the breach,” they shall call you, “restorer of ruined homesteads (Isaiah 58:1-12).

Men and women, when their prayers to God are not answered, will blame God and say that God has become deaf. They will neglect to look at their own hands and reflect on their own activity. Perhaps it is their hands and their actions that are responsible for God’s apparent silence. We know that God always points out hypocrisy. In fact, God tells us that the fasting that is most pleasing to him, the only worship that he will accept is that which is offered by compassionate and merciful hands, by men and women who assist those in need. The worship that God finds pleasing is acts of mercy. Said actions transfigure the human person … they become divinized. Men and women reveal God’s glory when they love others. God’s glory is revealed in love because this is a love that “feels” the pain of the neighbor and also “feels” the pain of those who are suffering and afflicted. Through love men and women reach out and accept the weaknesses of others in the same way that they accept their own weaknesses. If selfishness closes people in upon themselves then it is compassion that opens them to others. Shared pain and suffering establish and strengthen the bonds of solidarity. In this way we will have a new earth … indeed, the earth will be renewed.

In the gospel Jesus proposes something similar. According to Jesus the worship that should be offered to God is loving service on behalf of our brothers/sisters. Such love frees and saves our neighbor. The parable of the good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus and the judgment of the nations should be understood in light of what has just been explained with regard to worship and loving service on behalf of the neighbor, love that saves and frees (cf., Luke 10:25-37; 16:19-31; Matthew 25:31-45). There are indeed two pivotal concepts that allow us to understand these scriptural passages correctly. The first concept informs us that we ourselves must approach and become neighbor to those persons who need help. The second concept tells us that we are arrogant when we stand with our arms folded and that we are wise when we extend our arms and do good to those in need. These two concepts not only help us understand the biblical texts that we have just referenced but also we need to remember these same ideas in order to understand and interpret the scriptural texts that we previously mentioned as well as many other similar passages that we will find throughout the scriptures.

I believe that many of us have a clear conscience and can therefore state that we are not criminals who oppress and/or exploit our brothers/sisters. But have we done everything possible to eliminate those direct actions that have caused the death or are about to cause the death of those persons lying on the side of the road in so different parts of the world? Therefore the question that concerns us now is the following: are we aware of our inactivity and silence? This serious sin of omission directly affects and creates negative consequences for millions and millions of people. Today we must be aware of the fact that if there are people who are poor it is because other persons exploit their brothers and sisters, they gather unto themselves the goods of this earth that are destined to be used by everyone. Furthermore, because we are silent and do not denounce the exploitation and because we do not engage in a struggle to change those situations, we will soon hear the verdict of God’s justice, a relentless and irreversible verdict. Indeed, the verdict of God’s justice will be: I do not know you (Matthew 25:12). Saint John Chrysostom speaks about this judgment and tells us that it is more important to provide for our brothers and sisters than to build and furnish our houses of worship: Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did not do it for me. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication. Let us learn, therefore, to be men and women of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honored finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honor, quite the opposite! Give him the honor prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts. Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts, I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry, then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold, would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honor? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted? Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the road as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brothers and sisters, for they are the most precious temple of all [6].

While this was a lengthy reference, I believe it is an insightful text. Saint John Chrysostom, like the other Patristic Fathers, was very clear in his thinking. First, the poor are the temple of God and their needs must be attended to before all else. Therefore priority must be given to clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the infirm and those imprisoned. It is true that one will find Christ in a house of worship, especially when the Christian community gathers together to celebrate the Eucharist. But this same Christ is also found in the infirm, the poor, those who have been displaced, the forgotten members of society. God does not need physical, material houses of worship nor adornments for worship that are made of gold and other precious materials. The primary temple of God is the poor. What is done on behalf of the poor is also done to God. It is good to build churches but better to be concerned about those persons in need because this concern is pleasing to God. God does not reject anyone for not having constructed a church or for not having contributed precious materials to the Church. God will, however, reject those who showed no concern for their brothers/sisters who were in need and will also reject those who refuseed to stand in solidarity with the poor.

In a similar manner we find the same thought expressed by Saint Caesarius of Arles. This saint speaks to us about the existence of two types of mercy, one divine and the other human. We are exhorted to practice human mercy by caring and providing for the poor and those in need. In this way God will then show us his divine mercy: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. My brothers and sisters, sweet is the thought of mercy, but even more so is mercy itself. It is what all people hope for, but unfortunately, not what all people deserve. For while all men and women wish to receive it, only a few are willing to give it. How can people ask for themselves what they refuse to give to another? If they expect to receive any mercy in heaven, they should give mercy on earth. Do we all desire to receive mercy? Let us make mercy our patroness now, and she will free us in the world to come. Yes, there is mercy in heaven; but the road to it is paved by our merciful acts on earth. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven. There is, therefore, an earthly as well as heavenly mercy, that is to say, a human and a divine mercy. Human mercy has compassion on the miseries of the poor. Divine mercy grants forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy bestows here on earth, divine mercy will return to us in our homeland. In this life God feels cold and hunger in all who are stricken with poverty; for, remember, he once said: What you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters you have done to me. Yes, God who sees fit to give his mercy in heaven wishes it to be a reality here on earth. What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when he begs, we refuse to give. Remember, it was Christ who said: I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. When the poor are starving, Christ too hungers. Do not neglect to improve the unhappy conditions of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my brothers and sisters; it is he who deigns to hunger and thirst in the persons of the poor. And what he will return in heaven tomorrow is what he receives here on earth today. What do you wish for, what do you pray for, my dear brothers and sisters, when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else? Show mercy, then, while you are on earth, and mercy will be shown to you in heaven. A poor person asks you for something; you ask God for something. He begs for a morsel of food; you beg for eternal life. Give to the beggar so that you may merit to receive from Christ. For he it is who says: Give and it will be given to you. It baffles me that you have the impudence to ask for what you do not want to give. Give when you come to church. Give to the poor. Give them whatever your resources will allow [7].

What happens to us as human persons? Are we always selfish, thinking only about ourselves? We ask for things for ourselves and do not share with others. We prefer to receive and are slow to give to others … even slower in giving ourselves to others. Therefore it can be asked if we are willing to engage in the practice of mercy that consists of caring for our sisters and brothers who live in the midst of misery. It is not enough to offer alms. This is necessary but God expects each one of us to work on behalf of the salvation of those who poor and the liberation of those who are exploited, oppressed and in need. Indeed this is the only religion and the only worship that is pleasing to God: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27). Widows and children were the weak ones who were excluded from participation in biblical society. Therefore: It is important to realize that our relationship with God depends on our relationship with our neighbor. It is not enough to feel that we are on good terms with God because of our religious and liturgical practices. Our worship in church must be prolonged in the liturgy of solidarity, fraternity, justice, and mercy which we celebrate throughout our journey in this world. I reveal that I have truly encountered God when I have the courage to encounter my brothers and sisters. When this relationship is broken, faith also becomes disfigured, there is no intimacy and spirituality becomes disconnected from the reality that surrounds us. Our religion then becomes an alibi because it enables us to evade our responsibility toward our sisters and brothers and thus prevents us from entering into communion with God. We in fact become deaf as we listen to words yet refuse to respond to the cries for justice and peace and freedom. If God does not make us “see” the brothers/sisters who must be loved, the poor who need a helping hand, the enemy who needs to be forgiven (and these are true apparitions), then this is because God has disappeared from our horizon. Perhaps it is better to say that this occurs because we have distanced ourselves from God’s horizon [8].

We have seen that there are still poor people in our world and God wants us to provide for these people and to change their situation of misery and marginalization. We have also seen that interaction with the poor is at the same time an interaction with God and thus such interaction is true worship, authentic religion and true spirituality. What we do or do not do for one of our sisters/brothers, especially those who are poor, we do or do not do to God. Now we must ask, what poor people, what people in need are we talking about?

Who are the poor that we are going to speak about

Today, and almost always, the existence of poor people and poverty in the world has been and continues to be a concern [9]. Poverty and misery are a reality, a sad and terrible reality that destroys the life of many innocent people. Unfortunately there are poor people among us, millions of poor men and women. Therefore when we talk about the poor, what do we mean by the word “poor” [10].

Poor in spirit or materially poor

Neither evangelical poverty nor the poor in spirit are the object of our reflection. On the other hand, material poverty and the materially poor are the focus of this presentation. Therefore we will be talking about poverty as destitution, misery and marginalization [11] as well as destitute individuals who live in misery and persons who have a great need for the basic indispensable goods of human life [12]. In other words, we are talking about those individuals who lack those goods that are indispensable and essential in order to be able to live with dignity as free human beings … in order to be free human beings [13]. We are referring to those individuals who lack the most elementary and basic goods of life. We affirm that life itself is a fundamental good and so here we are drawing attention to those individuals who are unable to rejoice in the dignity of human beings, unable to rejoice in that dignity that encompasses justice, fundamental rights and freedom … all of which are an expression and an actualization of human life.

Today there are many materially poor men and women, perhaps too many. Our present economic system seems to manufacture poor people so that wherever this system functions, poor people appear [14]. We find ourselves dealing not only with those poor people whom we have traditionally labeled as such but we also must deal with the new poor. These poor men and women appear everywhere. The so called progressive economy, instead of correcting this defect in society, has made it ever more pronounced. Many of these poor people today “have missed the train of progress” and will never be able to board this train [15]. Unfortunately they have become part of the system. Here is “the cast” that play different roles in this oppressive social reality:

In the cities, where everything is bought and paid for, the unfortunate ones find themselves marginalized early in life.

• In school, children are conditioned to reproduce the system and thus enter into this cycle of “production-consumption”. Those who show signs of being able to adapt to this system have a bright future in front of them; the rest will become street cleaners, dishwashers, unemployed.

• Later in life those who work and/or provide some service, receive a salary and this income provides them with social guarantees against the misfortunes of life. Those who lose their employment also lose their salary … it is as though they have fallen off a moving train: the social guarantees will continue for some time and then, even though they have not found another employment, nothing. Now these individuals no longer have the means to subsist … many are forced to receive subsidies and most ration their food.

• At the end of their active life men and women, in theory, should receive a pension. But those who do not know how to or are unable to stand up for their rights (often the case with widows) are mercilessly cast aside … they manage as best they can and often end their days alone in nursing homes or some other institution.

This system has tentacles and extends to the whole universe. In order that the work that “no one wants to do” gets done, there is need for cheap, docile, unskilled labor. Such labor has been found as people immigrate to the cities and as the impact of the various world-wide immigration movements continues to be felt…

• Farmers, as they abandon the agrarian society where they had lived with a certain harmony, now live in overcrowded shantytowns where the marginalized world constitutes a reserve of cheap labor for people living just a few steps away in exclusive, wealthy neighborhoods.

• The system, with its worldwide outreach, is like a bomb that is about to explode. It enriches those who support and promote said system, the select few individuals who have money and power and abandons those who are unable to enter this circle to the margins of society: individuals, social classes and entire regions.

In order to overcome this economic system that is driven by profit, in order to achieve a true civilization (our present condition is only a caricature) we need to give primary importance to the words “men” and “women” and men and women as “children of God.” Pope John Paul II continually reminded us about this reality. A philosopher said: “Men and women are the measure of all things.” This is the condition that will enable us to organize a world that is more just, a world in which “the little ones” and the most poor will be taken into consideration, a world in which each and every person will have a place and will feel fulfilled, a world in which people will live in harmony with themselves, with their sisters and brothers, with nature and with the universe [16].

Poor people who live in this manner, as well as the multiple forms of poverty that continue to increase are the result of a society whose primary value is profit and not the human person. Schools marginalize people and the economy marginalizes still more people. Once people who are socially marginalized become caught up in the cycle of production-consumption, it is very difficult to escape its clutches, difficult to move out of this negative situation into a better situation. Those who are born into situations of disadvantage and misfortune, as well as the elderly, the unemployed and immigrants of every class and from every place will have great difficulty dealing with the present economic system. Now is the time to break this cycle of death and smash it into a thousand pieces.

Even though there are so many poor people, so many men and women who are marginalized economically and socially, so many people who are materially poor and even though these people can be found everywhere, we do not see them. Perhaps we should say, we do not want to see them or recognize them as such so that our conscience can remain clear and calm. But now it is necessary to open our eyes in order to contemplate them and comfort them. At the present time we can no longer fold our arms as if we are dealing with some evil that is impossible to restrain. Said evil can be eliminated and we, as Vincentians, are called together to engage in that task.

A phantom with a thousand faces

Poverty, misery or want is a phantom with a thousand faces [17] that vents its fury primarily among the majority of people who live in what is referred to as the Third World and among the pockets of poor people living on the fringes of the large industrialized cities, men and women who constitute what is known as the Fourth World [18]. Thus, the poor are those who are materially poor, that is, those who are economically and sociologically poor [19]. This economic and sociological misery is real misery and is opposed to the original plan of God with regard to creation [20]. Therefore we can affirm that God does not desire this situation but rather rejects this reality and detests it.

The poor and the causes of poverty present themselves with many and varied faces. Therefore our concept of poverty, besides referring to the economically and sociologically poor, should also include those who are exploited and oppressed and impoverished and dispossessed [21]. Thus the reality of poverty is not a natural phenomenon or a social reality [22]. To say this in another way: there are poor people because there are rich people; there are people who do not have those things that are indispensable for life, because there are others who have more than they need [23]. In this regard we are not only speaking about individuals but we also refer to groups of people and whole nations. At the present time we find individuals, groups and entire countries that are dispossessed, deprived and dying of hunger and misery, people who throughout their life drag along the chains of slavery and oppression and marginalization. José María Castillo describes this situation: The poor are those who have been deprived of that which belongs to them. The goods of this world have been created in order to satisfy all people who inhabit the earth. But a small group of people (individuals, social groups, nations …) have taken these goods as their own and as a result the rest do not have those things that are indispensable [24].

God neither desires nor is in accord with this situation

The situation that we have described is neither just nor desired by God. The God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ is the God of the poor, the God in whom the poor believe and trust [25]. This is the God who feels questioned by the cries of the poor and the oppressed. Therefore in the Book of Exodus God tells Moses: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey … So indeed the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them [26].

For this reason it has been said that the saving God received news about a labor conflict [27], the conflict of humanity being torn apart by misery, oppression, and injustice. In said conflict God opted for and took the side of those who were weak, oppressed, enslaved and those persons who were denied their rights by society … those persons who society did not allow to live full human lives and did not allow to live with dignity: His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy … (Luke 1:50-54).

God rejects the rich, the proud, those who are self-satisfied and self-confident because they have amassed goods for their own use and have exploited others. God saves the poor and, in the presence of their oppressors and exploiters, acts with justice toward them.

Jesus of Nazareth took the side of the weak and the poor. He is the Messiah who acts in solidarity with the poor [28]. Thus Jesus acts in solidarity with those who are hungry and thirsty, with those who are naked, with strangers, the infirm, the imprisoned, with those who weep and have grown weary with the heavy burdens they carry [29]. In other words Jesus acts in solidarity with the anawin, those burdened by the weight of oppression, marginalization and exploitation, those for whom living and surviving is a most difficult task [30]. Jesus acts in solidarity with those despised and exiled from society, those viewed as sinners and publicans and prostitutes [31], the simple, women and children [32]; those who labor in professions that are not held in any esteem and as a result these individuals are despised [33]. Thus God and Christ have made a preferential and exclusive option for the poor and the marginalized, not because they are better or more virtuous than the rich but because they are poor and marginalized and have been excluded from society by the rich and the powerful. Therefore in all of this it is important to understand that God prefers those who have been marginalized, not because they are more virtuous but because they have suffered more [34].

If we have news from God of his option for the poor, if Christ consumes his life and works on behalf of the liberation and the salvation of the poor, then we must also say that the poor put us in contact with the true God, they speak to us about God and reveal God to us. In their document, The Church and the poor, the Episcopal Commission on Social Ministry (Spain) expresses the same idea in the following words: As Christians we know that in each one of these children and elderly persons, young people and adults, men and women who live in misery, we can discover the face of Christ, the Son of God and brother of humankind who suffers in all these persons and who, in each one of these individuals, is asking for assistance. Therefore an analysis of the situation becomes a demand for the Church … a demand that admits no excuses and impels her to commit herself to minister in the world on behalf of those who are poor [35].

Thus the poor provide us with a theological perspective that allows us to know and understand God, a perspective from which theological reflection becomes authentic and evangelical, a perspective from which we best discover the mystery of God and the mystery of Christ, a perspective from which we find the most adequate way to live our Christian and Vincentian vocation. We will speak about this in the following section.

The poor as a theological perspective

The New Testament reminds us that God reveals himself to us through various and multiple means [36]. The most important and fundamental among those means is the person of Jesus Christ … this revelation is accomplished through Jesus’ life and words and actions, through Jesus, death and resurrection. Besides God revealing himself in the person of Jesus Christ, God is also revealed in the human person, especially those who are poor and despised by society, “those poor men and women in whom God wants to be served” [37].

The poor help us do theology and also help us to encounter the true God … they help us to love and serve God. Therefore they provide us with a theological perspective. In the Bible the poor provided this perspective to the authors of the Old Testament and the New Testament … this perspective is also provided to us in the writings of the Patristic Father. Then after that time this perspective seems to have been forgotten: from the early Middle Ages until the middle of the twentieth century theology was hardly concerned about the poor [38]. During that time theological discourse revolved around lofty concepts, concepts that were more philosophical and biblical, more abstract than practical and/or operational. Yes, there were some exceptions and one of these exceptions was Vincent de Paul … but Vincent did not minister or function as an official teacher of theology.

In Jesus’ life and in the gospels the poor occupy a central and fundamental place. They are the primary hermeneutical perspective from which Jesus’ message and action can be understood. At this time the theology of liberation has placed the poor at the center of the theological endeavor [39]. In other words, in recent years the theological concept of the poor has taken on a special relevance similar to that which we find in the preaching of the prophets, in Jesus’ process of evangelization and at the better moments of the Church’s history. There has been an on-going temptation to view wealth and power as a blessing of God and to make these realities constitutive elements of revelation. Nevertheless the reality of the poor and their evangelizing and saving potential and their importance as a strict theological concept have been given primary significance [40].

We have said that the poor provide us with a theological perspective, a central and fundamental perspective from which we are able to understand the ministry of Jesus, a central perspective for the whole theological endeavor … a proper hermeneutical perspective. But what is the meaning of these expressions? Let us now enter into a deeper reflection on the significance of these words.


The problem with a theological perspective

According to G. Occhipinti and E. Haible theological perspectives are defined as sources of theological knowledge [41]. In other words, those sources enable us to formulate theological knowledge in an effective manner. The origin of the word “loci” (which here is translated by the word “perspective” rather than “place”) goes back to Aristotle. With said word we mean those fundamental principles which enable one to engage in a dialogue in order to convince someone else. In epistemology and methodology this word “loci” refers to general criteria. According to R. Agrícola [42] these “loci” are not assumptions upon which arguments are based but rather they are points of reference that enable one to observe a reality or they are categories that enable one to analyze a problem. Melanchton [43] states that “loci” or theological perspectives are the principal themes that constitute the structure of scripture and therefore the right use of these theological perspectives will help people understand the biblical testimony regarding God’s generosity toward sinful humanity. Finally, Melchor Cano [44] points out that theological perspectives are sources, places of intervention or significant categories that enable the Catholic theologian to present that material which is needed in order to sustain the doctrines that should be embraced and to refute the doctrines that should be rejected.

More specifically a theological perspective is a source for theological knowledge, a source that enables one to engage in the theological endeavor and thus come to a better understanding of the object of theology, in other words, to come to a better understanding of God. As Melanchton stated, a theological perspective enables us to better understand the biblical testimony concerning the being of God. The traditional authors, previously singled out, highlighted various theological perspectives such as the Bible, tradition, the Church and the Church’s authority, the Councils, the Patristic Fathers and they also included the writings of theologians. All of these sources are seen as sources that are proper to theology. There are other sources that in principle are foreign to theology and yet theology has recourse to them … thus history and philosophy and logic are sources. Nowhere de we find the poor mentioned as a theological perspective. This is surprising since as we have already stated the poor were a true theological perspective for the biblical authors and for the Patristic Fathers. Furthermore, the gospels cannot be understood if we neglect the central role of the poor and the marginalized with whom Jesus lived and to whom he proclaimed the good news that the Kingdom of God had arrived. Are we perhaps dealing with a possible betrayal on the part of theology with regard to the spirit of the Bible and the essence of Christianity? Yes, this is more than possible [45]! In fact if we want to be honest we would have to say without hesitation that such a betrayal has existed for centuries precisely because the poor were not taken into consideration as a theological perspective. At the present time, however, liberation theology continually speaks about the poor as a theological perspective. Said theology formulates its reflection on God with the poor as an element of discernment [46].

We can learn about the God of Jesus Christ through the pages of scripture and through the revelation that Jesus made on our behalf. This revelation was worked out and conditioned by culture, time, place and persons of long ago. The instruments that we, as human persons, use in order to communicate, to know and to gain access to any reality are conditioned by the circumstances that are proper to the persons, places and time in which these said individuals live. If this is alwlays true in every normal process of attaining knowledge, then this is even more certain when dealing with knowledge about a reality such as God. In other words this same process is valid when speaking, thinking, studying or writing about God. Therefore we can affirm “that all access to God and to God’s revelation is inevitably measured and ‘filtered’ by conditions that determine, modify and at times distort our encounter and understanding of this ultimate reality that is beyond us and about which we have no evidence [47].

Therefore all of this leads us to the following question: from what perspective do we come to know and understand the God of Jesus Christ? There are two possible paths that enable us to study and understand God. One is the path that is dominated by pride and arrogance, by structures that exploit, divide, segregate and marginalize; the other, the path of humility and simplicity that leads us to recognize our intellectual poverty when dealing with this problem. Those who begin with an awareness of the poverty of their knowledge create an environment of peace and harmony and they also give much consideration to the common good and encourage solidarity. In other words a different result is obtained in the theological endeavor when the Bible or God or Christ or the Church are understood from the perspective of the poor, from the circumstances of those who are marginalized and exploited. Therefore, what perspective do we utilize in order to know God [48]?

From what perspective do we pretend to know God

We all interpret reality. We also approach this reality from a specific perspective that is influenced by conditions and structures that are proper to each one of us [49]. These are our conditions and limitations and at the same time they are possibilities for knowledge. We do not possess any others. Therefore, as we have already said, it is indispensable to become aware of all this since this information will allow us to chose the perspective and the sources of our knowledge. This is especially true if we want to know something about God or if we want to know the very person of God. There is very little we can learn about God by ourselves and therefore we need to remember that it is Jesus who has revealed God to us (and Jesus revealed God to us by some very specific and precise means). In order to know about God we must first know where, how, and when God reveals himself to us; where and in what places does God chose to reveal himself. Only in this way are we able to acquire adequate knowledge, knowledge that is valuable and valid. Yes, this indeed our situation: The problem is to determine where (with the least possibility of disfiguration) are we able to approach God and God’s revelation. To say this in another way: how will we be able to come to an understanding of God and that which God desires to communicate to us [50].

Who can better inform us about God than Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus speaks to us through the gospel. Jesus of Nazareth is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus has known God better than anyone else and therefore reveals God with greater precision (John 1:18). Jesus stated that those who contemplate him, that is, Jesus, will discover God (John 14:9). Jesus’ personality and life reflect in a magnificent way the being and the activity of God. Jesus reveals to us a God who fulfills his mission. Said mission involves freeing the oppressed (Luke 4:17-21; Matthew 9:35; Mark 7:37; Acts 10:38), healing the infirm (Luke 5:26), forgiving sinners (Matthew 9:13). Jesus became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus always acted in the way that he had seen the Father act (John 7:16-28; 8:28-29; cf., Exodus 3:7-9). From all of this we can conclude that Jesus made a preferential option and to a certain extent a preferential, exclusive option for the poor.

What does it mean to say that Jesus made a preferential, exclusive option for the poor? Juan Sobrino responded to this question when he stated: The permanent value of Jesus’ option for the poor is clear: history has to be viewed from the perspective of the poor and even though it can sound scandalous to say this, history must also be viewed as hope for the poor. All manner of signs must be raised up on their behalf (benefits, liberators, etc. ...). The anti-kingdom has to be denounced and attacked at its roots. We must opt for the poor and enter into the historical conflict as we defend their cause, even if this should mean persecution and/or death [51].

The same question is also answered by José María Castillo: From what perspective did Jesus live his life and fulfill his mission? We know that Jesus was born in a stable among the animals and died on a cross. He died in a manner that was reserved for dangerous criminals and for individuals who rebelled against the established order. It is clear that an individual who begins and ends his life in this manner is a displaced and marginalized person, one who is not seen as accepting the values, institutions and principles that comprise “the normal” functioning of society. In other words, Jesus is situated on the margins of the system. Therefore it is from this perspective of marginalization that Jesus correctly understood God and thus correctly revealed God [52].

Jesus embraced the liberation of the poor as a priority and this resulted in creating enemies and being rejected by the religious and social leaders of his time. Thus Jesus, in his words and in his gestures, revealed the true face of God … the face of God that had been hidden by meaningless forms of worship that were practiced by so many people and further hidden by exploitation and injustice that was inflicted on the weaker members of society, “the little ones”. These gestures and words led Jesus to the cross. We can see then that Jesus identified himself with the poor and drank the bitter chalice of their existence. Therefore the situation of the poor provides us with a perspective that enables us to speak "about God" and "to God", a perspective that enables us to know and love God, a perspective from which we can reflect on God. Any other perspective simply distorts and conceals God.

From what perspective should we know and understand God today

In light of everything that we have been saying, the answer to this question is not difficult. Therefore, we ought to know and understand God from the perspective of the poor, the marginalized, the weak and the “little ones”: What I want to make very clear is that the poor do not provide us with a social perspective but rather they give us an epistemological perspective which (with a greater degree of objectivity) enables us to understand God and God’s plans and also enables us to discern and know the will of God [53].

The poor then are the perspective from which God is encountered and therefore the perspective from which God is known. The poverty and the marginalization of the men and women who are poor provide us with a perspective for encountering God because God opted for them and therefore God is with them, in them and among them. Said perspective must be used by us in order to encounter God, in order to know and understand God. It is true that even though we reach out to the poor and are with them, this is not sufficient. In other words, it is not enough to discover God, we must also know God and understand God and therefore live in accord with God’s demands. The poor are also the hermeneutical, the epistemological and the theological perspective from which God can be known and adequately understood. In the desires of those who are poor we discover God’s desires and the cries of the poor become the voice of God who speaks to us and questions us. God wants to give people salvation and liberation and wants people to be able to live with dignity. God wants people to have this salvation and liberation and human dignity because they are crying out about their lack of these realities. The desires of God that are made evident in those who are poor and made more evidentby listening to the cries of the poor through which God communicates with us and impels us to act on their behalf and comfort them … all of this enables us to know and understand God. We cannot know or understand God in any other manner.

The apostle Paul reveals with great clarity that the poor provide us with a perspective to encounter God and to discover God’s will. Writing to the Christian community at Corinth, Paul states: Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, nor many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).

God has chosen the poor and the simple in order to reveal that which is truly important, that which is God himself. Therefore one understands God and the things of God from the perspective of these people [54]. Coming to knowledge of God and an understanding of God and the will of God can only be done from the margins of the established system: therefore we are able to know God with a greater degree of objectivity from the perspective of those who are marginalized by the present system. This means that Jesus and the gospel can best be understood from the perspective of the marginalization of those who are poor [55].

Once more we repeat that God can only be known through those who are poor. This is what God expressly desires: The only revealed face of God is that of a poor God, a God who is in solidarity with those who are poor. We find ourselves in the midst of a divided world that is on the threshold of a suicidal struggle because Christians have lost sight of the most central and significant point: God has chosen the poor and is revealed in this option for the poor [56].

The same author insists: In the Bible the option for the poor is the perspective from which God is revealed in Jesus Christ who became poor among the poor. Therefore, the discovery and the encounter with the God of Jesus Christ cannot take place anywhere else but in those who are poor, God’s chosen people [57].

In order to prove with some degree of certainty these affirmations, we would have to analyze numerous biblical passages. Since this is impossible to do at this time we simply point out some of those passages: the experience of the exodus and the later exile of Israel, the unanimous outcry of the prophets, the continual witness of the neo-testament writers who present Christ acting in solidarity with the poor and who also present the following of Jesus Christ that was practiced by the early Christian communities as an act of solidarity with Christ and the poor.

Therefore we are insistent on the following point: In the poor we discover God, the Trinitarian, Christian God who walks with men and women along the path of creation-incarnation, the path of death-resurrection. The poor are the failure of God-Father and should become the triumph of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. If the poor are the perspective that allows us to know God, if the poor are “the presence” of God or “the sacrament” of God, etc. … then yes, this reality must be enlightened through theology [58].

The fact that God is revealed in those who are socially marginalized is indisputable for Christians even though they might not be able to clearly discern how God, the Christian God, is discovered and revealed in them. This is an unexpected and unusual revelation of the God of Jesus Christ, the Christian God. In light of this phenomenon our reason breaks down and we become hesitant. Therefore, faith has to come into play, faith which is always an openness to the One who is being revealed.

The poor are the fundamental perspective in which God is revealed and understood. It is a most significant perspective for theology because it breaks the bonds of slavery and mobilizes people to struggle for freedom and solidarity [59]. According to our human understanding, God is present in the poor in a “scandalous manner”: To say that the poor enjoy a special relationship with God can appear as a banal affirmation. But this is in fact a most fundamental affirmation because the God of Christian faith cannot be discovered without an intimate relationship with the poor. God is revealed in history as the God of the poor and as the only God who exists. God identifies himself with the poor and with their cause and therefore this enables us to say that the poor are the theological perspective and a theophany of God because God is “present” in them in a “scandalous” manner [60].

Therefore for Christians, for us as followers of Saint Vincent de Paul, it is impossible to have access to God, to know and understand God apart from those persons who are poor and marginalized, the “little ones” of this world. God has been revealed in these persons and therefore it is in these persons that we must seek God, serve God and adore God. Furthermore, God has committed himself to their problems and demands. We too then must engage in a struggle to eliminate the causes that provoke and produce said problems and demands. Our concern for the interests of the poor is fundamental to our vocation as Christians and evangelizers of the poor. We should also say something about the values that the poor represent because it is only in this way that we can confront the destiny and the lot of the poor in a manner that expresses our solidarity. This demands that we be courageous and bold: Let us read each page of the Bible, of the Church’s magisterium and Christian Tradition with our eyes focused on the Third World, with our eyes focused on the behavior and the interest of the rich nations with regard to poor nations, with our eyes focused on the juridical, political, and social situation of immigrants, the socially marginalized, and those individuals who make up the so called Fourth World [61].

All of this will be impossible for us to do unless we first opt in a preferential, exclusive manner on behalf of the poor, unless we incarnate ourselves into the world in which the poor live. Therefore, following Jesus from the perspective of the Kingdom enables us to be with the marginalized members of society. The radical nature of the option for the poor is not sociological, political, economical or cultural … rather it is theological, religious and mystical … in order to follow the path of Jesus, to follow the path of the Kingdom and to practice the Beatitudes, we must embrace the cross and descend into hell … we must do this in order to bring new life to those places where people are not living human lives. Therefore, for religious and for the whole Church, following the path of Jesus and following God’s trajectory in the Old and New testament and the Tradition of the Church means that we draw near to those who are poor for it is in this way that we become a gospel Church. Whenever the Church separates herself from the poor, she loses her charism, her prophetic dimension, her spirit and her evangelical dimension [62].

There is an individual who knew how to see God in the poor and who knew how to understand God from the perspective of the poor … that individual was Vincent de Paul. Therefore his life and his teachings reinforce the affirmation that the poor are the theological perspective that enables us to know God. Now at this present time we have to learn from Vincent and, like him, we should be bold and decisive in our ministry and service of God in the person of the poor. At one time L. González-Carvajal said that the words and institutions and the followers of Vincent de Paul are confronted with a great challenge: how to continue to be revolutionaries once the revolution has passed [63]. To discover God in the poor and to serve God in the poor will make us revolutionaries of love and justice, defenders of the rights of the poor and spokespeople for their demands. Thus the revolution of the poor continues in some way and has not come to an end. The new social and economic tendencies of our society do not take into consideration those who are poor. We ought to make sure that the poor do not get left behind by progress. In his activity and in his writings, Vincent de Paul reveals to us the importance of not defrauding the expectations of the marginalized and excluded, the poor of present era.

The poor: the theological perspective of the Vincentian Charism

Every charism is a gift of the Spirit that is given to a person or a community as a visible witness to the presence of the Spirit and also given for the edification of said person or community [64]. The charisms are revealed in order to be able to resolve some existing problem in the Christian community whose faith has not yet transformed the various forms of idolatry [65].

Vincent de Paul received a charism that he developed for the good of the Church of Christ. Vincent lived in the midst of a believing and Christian society, but faith had not transformed people’s attitude with regard to wealth and poverty, with regard to material goods and their function. The charism that was revealed in Vincent de Paul was one of commitment and service and evangelization on behalf of the poor. He encountered God and Christ in the poor … and in God and Christ he discovered the human dignity of the poor: Christ and the poor were very close to Saint Vincent’s heart. He never turned his eyes from them, neither in his spiritual life nor in his apostolic activity. The contemplation of Jesus led Saint Vincent to the poor, and in the poor he saw Jesus. Indeed, Jesus and the poor were Saint Vincent’s reason for existence. He wished to continue Jesus’ work of preaching the Good News to the poor [66].

For Vincent de Paul, Christ and the poor are the reason for his being and existence. In the same way Christ and the poor have to be the reason for the being and existence of all the followers of Vincent, for all the members of the Vincentian Family. In other words, for Vincentians their reason for being is the poor in as much as they are the image of Christ, the living image of the Son of God who opted for them, who became one of them, and who has acted in solidarity with their cause. Vincent de Paul found God and Christ in the poor and in them he adored and served God: Those who read the writings of Vincent de Paul will immediately discover that in the 8,000 pages of the Conferences, Correspondence and Documents, it is difficult to find any mention of flowers or the waves breaking against the cliffs. The theological perspective for Vincent was not nature but history … more specifically, the passionate history of humanity: the world of the poor [67].

The Vincentian charism and the poor

After a lengthy process of searching and discernment Vincent de Paul came to an understanding of the tragedy that was being endured by humanity … he understood this tragedy through the life of the poor in Paris and the peasants who lived in the countryside of France. These poor people and peasants gave a direction to Vincent de Paul’s life and ultimately gave meaning to his life. God spoke to Vincent through the poor. Through the poor God asked for Vincent’s heart and life and ministry. When Vincent was clear about God’s request he committed himself whole-heartedly to the poor and never separated himself from them.

The Confraternities of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission, and the Company of the Daughters of Charity, institutions established by Vincent de Paul to provide for the poor and offer them the justice which they demanded at that time … the members of these institutions have to serve the poor and give themselves completely to these men and women. Their lifestyle and their commitment is a response to the call that Christ himself has made through the cries of the poor. It is also the most genuine manner of being a disciple of the One who said that he had come to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).

Step by step Vincent de Paul entered more fully into the mystery of God as he committed himself to the poor. Some important events in this process of conversion took place in Folleville and Gannes (CCD:XII:7-8) [68], Châtillon-les-Dombes (CCD:IX:192-193), and Montmirail (CCD:XI:28-30). Certainly there were other moments but the ones mentioned above were the most significant events for Vincent de Paul. Here we are only going to focus on the events that took place at Montmirail because of their relationship with the theme that we have been discussing. The event, as told by Vincent, is the following (CCD:XI:28-30). It was 1620 and Vincent was accompanied by another priest as they both were giving a mission to the people living in Montmirail. One day a Huguenot approached Vincent, one who would not be convinced by words alone. This individual told Vincent that the Church of Rome was no longer the church of the poor and therefore was also not inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was not the church of the poor because it had abandoned the peasants and left them to fend for themselves. His argument was simple and perhaps no exaggeration at all. He simply wanted to state the facts: You see Catholics in the countryside abandoned by their evil and ignorant shepherds. They are not taught their duty and for the most part scarcely know what Christianity is all about. If, on the other hand, you look at the cities, you see them filled with do-nothing priests and monks. In Paris alone there are perhaps ten thousand who leave the peasants in lamentable ignorance, leading to their damnation. And yet you would have me persuaded that the Holy Spirit is behind all of this? That I will never believe (Abelly I:81) [69].

This attack was frontal and direct. Vincent was aware of the truth of the words that were spoken to him. He had experienced this reality in the priest who did not know the formula for absolution and for a time he was one of those “do-nothing” priests who was looking for an “honest retirement”. Even though Vincent was aware of this reality from his own experience, he was, nevertheless, impressed by the words of this man. He was shaken and profoundly moved because the Huguenot’s argument confirmed the failure to proclaim the essential message. The original concept of the church as the church of the poor seemed to have been forgotten and lost. Thus the priesthood was no longer a concrete expression of the Church because the priests no longer reached out to the poor as the image of Christ [70].

From that time forward Vincent no longer wasted time on discussion. He spoke through his efforts and his ministry, he evangelized and comforted the poor in the countryside and involved all his followers in the same mission. In reaching out to the poor Vincent de Paul found the gospel of Jesus who was sent to the poor [71]. Therefore the poor Christ (represented by the poor) reaches out to the poor and affirms himself as their evangelizer and in this way points out to Vincentians their privileged ministry [72].

In the poor and with the poor Vincent discovered the gospel of Jesus and also discovered the meaning and the mission of the Church. He made this discovery only when he committed himself to them, evangelizing and serving them, bearing their poverty and misery [73]. This total commitment enabled the poor to become a sign of Christ, a presence of Christ, and above all else, a call of Christ, which in turn heightened Vincent’s awareness, gave meaning to his vocation and led him to a deeper understanding of his vocation: God used the poor in order to evangelize and recreate Vincent. Aware of this instrumentality of the poor who were used by God, Vincent did not forget to inform us about the role of these initially insignificant individuals … their presence was the communication of God’s demand and their misery marked out the stages of his journey toward God and toward his brothers and sisters [74].

God established a relationship with Vincent de Paul through the poor and it was these poor men and women who inspired Vincent’s activity, his words and his ministry that was directed toward removing them from the situation of misery and marginalization in which they found themselves. Thus Vincent embarked upon a new path and was concerned about the poor, individuals who were abandoned and forsaken. As Vincent engaged in charitable activity, the most abandoned always had a privileged place [75].

The mystery of Christ in the poor inspired the Vincentian charism and gave it meaning. The poor gave a certain focus to Vincent de Paul and to his followers, a focus that no other perspective could have provided. The poor and service and evangelization (which in justice is owed to the poor) were the only reason for Vincent’s being and existence … in the poor Vincent found God and Christ.

The poor, the theological perspective of the Vincentian charism

On February 13, 1646, Vincent de Paul spoke to the Daughters of Charity about the love of their vocation and assisting the poor. Among other things he told them: In serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ … You are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor … A Sister will go ten times a day to visit the sick, and ten times a day she will find God there … God to visit a chain gang, you will find God there. Look after those little children, you will find God there … You go into poor homes, but you find God there. God accepts the services you do for those sick persons and, as you have said, considers them as done to himself (CCD:IX:199).

In this text we can clearly see how the poor became for Vincent a theological perspective and a theophany and we can also see how Vincentians are able to encounter God in the person of the poor. Indeed not only are Vincentians able to come to know God in the person of the poor but they are also able to serve God. Vincentians serve God in the poor by acting with justice toward them. In other words acting with righteousness and justice is the same as defending people who are oppressed (Psalm 72:4).

When people act with justice and righteousness they come to an authentic knowledge of God [76]. Thus the prophet Jeremiah said: Did not your father eat and drink? He did what was right and just, and it went well with him. Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, it went well with him. Is this not true knowledge of me, say the Lord [77].

Therefore the knowledge of God which we have spoken about and which results from utilizing the theological perspective of the poor, such knowledge is not theoretical or some form of wisdom, something that we as westerners might be inclined to think. Rather this knowledge is an activity and a commitment. In the words of Vincent de Paul, which we have previously referenced, we do not capture all these nuances because at that time biblical exegesis was quite elementary and much simpler. Today this is not the case. Therefore we have to be very clear about the fact that discovering God in the poor supposes a willingness to engage in a struggle to defend the rights of the helpless, in other words, to defend those who cannot defend their own rights [78]. Only when we act in this way, when we act with justice toward the poor in the presence of those who want to exploit and crush them, only then do we come to a true knowledge of God. From all of this we can conclude that Vincentians, if they want to be faithful to their proper charism, must see God in the poor and commit themselves to the struggle of liberation for the poor: God is known when one defends the poor and the helpless; when one defends these individuals, one acts with justice [79].

Vincentian spirituality is a spirituality of incarnation and liberation. For Vincentians, the poor are the hidden yet clear presence of God. It is true that we need the perspective of faith in order to understand this. Through faith we experience the challenging image of Christ in the poor as individuals and as a collective whole [80]. Saying this in another way, God is either loved or betrayed in the person of the poor [81]. This challenge of Christ is the cry of the disinherited who demand justice. If we do not respond with urgency to these cries, we defraud and betray Christ; we cease to be followers of this Christ who came to earth to take up the cause of the poor and to free them from misery and oppression. Thus this must also be the commitment of Vincentians and the commitment of their ministry and institutions and must also be their identifying characteristic: The poor are at the root of the various Vincentian ministries and institutions. These poor men and women constitute Vincentians reason to be and they also decide and configure the origins, the present and the future of these ministries and institutions. At the same time the poor continually rectify the direction in which Vincentians move, provide a dynamism to their commitment, adjust their mission and guarantee their fidelity to their proper and specific mission [82].

The same author states: The significance of a Vincentian minister cannot be understood correctly and fully without penetrating a triple discovery: (a) the impoverished margins of society (those of yesterday as well as those of today) generate poor and impoverished men and women; these poor men and women are the sacrament of Christ and therefore the passion of Christ is revealed in the poor and through the poor; (b) as a result of this very real situation of poverty, Vincentians must engage in a determined effort to raise the awareness of society so that people organize on behalf of the poor and mobilize to free the poor from their poverty; (c) with regard to the very existence of Vincentians, the poor constitute one of their basic and indispensible existential dimensions. Nothing has meaning without the poor and yet everything becomes credible and certain from the perspective of the poor, with the poor, for the poor and by the poor [83].

These referenced texts focus on the core of the Vincentian challenge today. They also point out the reason for the existence of Vincentians today. Therefore, is it the poor who lead us to knowledge of God? Is it the poor who animate us to put in motion a process of incarnation in their midst? Is it the poor who encourage us to engage in liberating activity on their behalf? The poor should definitely by the ones who continually rectify the Vincentian commitment and should give direction to the commitments and options of Vincentians. Without a doubt the poor should also help the Vincentian Family adjust their mission and should point out the degree to which Vincentians have or have not been faithful to their charism. The poor have to become the point of reference and the crucible for the judgment and the critique of the neo-liberal society in which we live. The marginalized constitute the fire of the present passion that destroys and crucifies Christ one again. Therefore Vincentians need to act with urgency in order to extinguish this fire. In other words, if Vincentians want to be credible, they have to opt for the poor in a radical manner and take up the struggle for their cause and their just demands. Otherwise Vincentians will become traitors of Christ and the gospel and at the same time they will become assassins of the defenseless and marginalized. God’s preference for those who are mistreated by society demands that the friends of God act with justice toward those who have been disinherited and exploited and return to them what others have robbed from them. The poor must not only be the reason for which the followers of Vincent de Paul live and act but the poor must also be the perspective from which they think and speak, the perspective for their lectures and writings and their struggles for justice and the common good, especially as these realities apply to the poor themselves.

We conclude this section by pointing out that Vincentians ought to be aware that when Saint Vincent, inspired by the gospel, tells us …in serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ … you are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor (CCD:IX:199) … [84] he is teaching us that we cannot understand Christ or relate with Christ if we want to have nothing to do with the poor. And we cannot understand the poor and relate with them unless we are also aware that when we interact with the poor we are also establishing a definitive bond with Christ. It is therefore in this sense that Matthew 25:31-46 takes on very important significance for theology and for the community of faith [85].

Therefore those who are close to the poor are close to God; those who want nothing to do with the poor, want nothing to do with God. Thus our service on behalf of the poor or our lack of service is a judgment, a life and death judgment, for ourselves and for the poor. Therefore in this sense we can affirm that the true salvific sacrament is the sacrament of the poor. When we express our concern and enter into “communion” with the poor through acts of solidarity and love, we also enter into “communion” with Christ who is hidden in the poor and who identifies himself with the poor [86].

Some typical expressions of the vincentian charism and the poor as a theological perspective

After all we have said, I believe there can be no doubt (especially if at various times we have had some hesitations) with regard to the poor being the theological perspective and, if you will, a theophany for Vincent de Paul and Vincentians. In these men and women living on the margins of society the God of the poor becomes visible and at the same time is hidden. Mindful of this reality and hoping to be more precise, I will now refer to some Vincentian theological themes that I hope will reinforce what has already been stated. This will not be an exhaustive and complete list but I have selected some more common and better known themes, themes that also seem to be in accord with liberation theology … a theology that has given great importance to the poor as a perspective for the theological endeavor. Despite the differences in time, place, and language I believe that Vincent de Paul and the liberation theologians have much in common. The bond that most unities them is the fact that the poor have guided their reading, study and reflection on the scriptures.

The poor were for Saint Vincent his work and his sorrow [87]. They were a sorrow that Vincent decided to bear thus easing the pain that the poor had to bear. They were his work because their situation moved him to the depths of his being and led him to act. The action that he engaged in was one of liberation and service and evangelization. Therefore in order to reflect the theological perspective that the poor occupy in the Vincentian charism I have selected the following Vincentian themes: leave God for God, turn over the medal, the poor are our lords and masters, affective and effective love, the poor evangelize us, and the poor are our judges. I know this is not a complete list but it is sufficient. Let us then enter into these themes.


Leave God for God

This is one of the most recurring expressions in Vincent’s spirituality. There is a close relationship between the theological writers and the biblical message. All of us have an appointment with God, an appointment for a direct encounter with God. With regard to this encounter with God, men and women will never arrive late as long as they are serving their brothers/sisters. God is present in the person(s) whom we serve … is present in the poor persons whom we assist because God shares in the life of every human person, but especially in the life of the poor. When people extend a helping hand to those brothers/sisters who have fallen under the weight of misery, it is God who is caring for those individuals [88].

Therefore Vincent, aware of the fact that the most suitable place to encounter God is the brother/sister who is found in the midst of various burdensome situations throughout the world, told the Daughters of Charity: Remember that when you leave meditation and Holy Mass to serve poor persons, you lose nothing, Sisters, because to serve those who are poor is to go to God, and you should see God in them (CCD:IX:5).

The year was 1634 when Vincent spoke those words during the first conference that has been preserved for us in which he addressed the Daughters of Charity (Vincent had given at least two other conferences to the Daughters … conferences which we do not possess). But this particular conference focused on a study of the rule. The text that we have cited is found in Vincent’s explanation on the importance and the necessity of Mass. As a sacrifice and as a devotion, the Eucharist, in the eyes of Vincent, is a daily demand. When a poor person, however, needs a Daughter of Charity, needs a Vincentian, then their most urgent and necessary duty is to attend to the needs of said poor person. God is awaiting them in the poor and it is there, with said poor person, that God wants them to engage in their prayer and celebrate the Eucharist. Vincent restated this idea in 1658 when he addressed the Daughters of Charity who were being sent to Calais: If you have to leave prayer to go to a patient, go ahead, and in that way you will leave God in prayer and find Him in that sick person (CCD:X:445).

The same idea was emphasized in 1655 during a conference on the observation of the rule. Vincent spoke to the Daughters of Charity and said: if the good pleasure of God were that you should go on a Sunday to nurse a sick person instead of going to Mass, even though that is a matter of obligation, you should do it. That is called leaving God for God (CCD:X:76).

For Vincent de Paul there are values and then there are values. Some are more important than others. The Rules, including the disciplinary demands of the Church, are subordinate to the aims of one’s vocation and mission to which God has called each person. This should not surprise us because this is the very will of God, this is what God wants and desires.

One does not, however, act in this way for just any motive. There must be a real need. The service that is requested must be urgent in the sense that if said service is not provided irreparable harm and/or consequences will befall said poor or infirm person. Thus when there is no such urgency, one should participate in prayer and the Mass because true Vincentian service requires that we become filled with God through prayer and the Eucharist, filled with God’s word and with what God desires. In this way we are able to give back to God and represent God in the service that we provide to others (cf., CCD:IX:314; 339-340). In other words, leaving prayer and putting aside the celebration of the Eucharist should not become something that is part of our regular routine. Prayer and/or the Eucharist should only be put aside when God is waiting for us in the bed of an infirm person or in the shack of a beggar.

Once again we find ourselves in the year 1658 and Vincent is giving another conference on rising, prayer, examination of conscience, etc. He tells the Daughters of Charity: Someone will come to your door at prayer time to ask a Sister to go to see a poor, sick person who needs her; what will she do? It will be all right for her to go and to leave her prayer --- or rather to continue it, because that is what God is ordering. For you see, charity is above all Rules, and everything comes down to that. If it is a woman of rank, you have to do what she tells you. In that case, it is leaving God for God. God calls you to make your prayer, and at the same time He calls you to that poor, sick person. That is called leaving God for God (CCD:X:478).

Christians and Vincentians give priority to the voice of charity and the voice of justice. That which is beneficial and saves other persons is more important and urgent than those things that interest and/or are pleasing to oneself. To fulfill the will of God is to engage in “rituals” that are most pleasing to God (cf., Isaiah 58). Said ritual is love that takes on the form of effective service. In conclusion, God is loved or betrayed in the poor [89].

Turn the medal

Vincent de Paul was a man of faith, a man of profound faith. At the same time his feet were firmly planted on this earth. He was aware of the harsh realities of the world, especially the reality of the poor. He felt himself questioned by the social and religious situation of the poor, especially the rural poor. In response to those questions, he made a decision to live his life for the poor and with the poor. Indeed, Vincent saw the poor, with all their needs, as God’s chosen ones, as the sacrament of Christ. It was for this reason that he continually exhorted the Missionaries to contemplate Christ and God in the person of the poor. They were to contemplate Christ and God in the light of faith and therefore they had to move beyond appearance and superficial realities. The disfigured and distorted face of the poor is the face of God: I must not judge a poor peasant man or woman by their appearance or their apparent intelligence, especially since very often they scarcely have the expression or the mind of rational persons, so crude and vulgar they are. But turn the medal, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, who willed to be poor, is represented to us by these poor people; that He scarcely had a human face in His Passion, and passed for a madman in the mind of the Gentiles and a stumbling block in the mind of the Jews. With all that, He describes himself as the Evangelizer of the poor: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me. O Dieu! How beautiful it is to see poor people if we consider them in God and with the esteem in which Jesus Christ held them! If, however, we look on them according to the sentiments of the flesh and a worldly spirit, they will seem contemptible (CCD:XI:26).

Vincent was instructing his Missionaries. The above referenced text is an extract from a conference on the spirit of faith. Vincent was realistic and accurate in judging human instincts. He spoke about the manner in which we often view our sisters and brothers, that is, the way in which we judge them by their physical appearance and/or intellectual ability. At the same time he embraced a profound theology, one that is rooted in the heart of the biblical message. Vincent seems to be reiterating the same message that the prophets proclaimed to the people of Israel, a message that anticipated the passion of Christ, a message that was later accepted and affirmed by the Church. Therefore, here and now, among the poor country people, one discovers Jesus Christ as he endures his passion and death [90]. The disfigured face of the poor is the face of Christ at the time of his passion. Therefore a vision of faith is necessary when we encounter the poor. Without faith we are unable to see Christ on the face of the poor and it is also impossible to love the poor as Christ loved them. Vincent de Paul, a man of great experience, is telling the Missionaries that their hands and their hearts must work together as they extend their love to those persons who are poor (CCD:XI:69-70). In other words, our love must be effective in order for our faith in Christ to be authentic. Our love must also be liberating and saving in order for our faith to be like that of Christ, a true man of sorrows.

Every human person is an image of God (Genesis 1:26-31). If this image at times betrays God or masks and disguises God it is because the human being can only contemplate reality with human eyes, with self-centered eyes. We remain on the level of appearances. With the help of faith, however, we can see better. As A. Dodin says, with the eyes of faith and utilizing the vision of Christ as we behold earthly realities, believing Christians have access to an invisible reality. As Christians confront the reality and the different events of life, they can turn over the medal and then place themselves in a situation in which both charity and Jesus become visible, a situation in which the heart begins to understand that which is true [91].

The poor are our Lords and masters

With some frequency Vincent de Paul used the phrase, the poor are our lords and masters. He admitted that he did not invent this phrase (cf., CCD:IX:21-22), but this fact is not important. What is important is that with this phrase the whole Vincentian tradition is revealed as encompassing a central Christological understanding that is expressed in its mission and vocation. The phrase lords and masters applied to the poor is a logical consequence of viewing the poor as the perspective from which to do theology, a logical consequence of viewing them as the suffering image of Christ. Christ, the disfigured servant, is the Lord whom Vincentians have to love and serve. Therefore Vincentians ought to love and serve the poor in the same way that they would love and serve Christ himself [92].

In 1643, in a conference on the explanation of the regulations, Vincent spoke to the Daughters of Charity and said: You must always remember that your principal concern, which God asks especially of you, is to be very attentive in serving the poor, who are our lords. Oh yes, sisters! They are our masters. That is why you must treat them gently and kindly … You must see that, as far as in you lies, they want for nothing,, both with regard to their physical health and for the salvation of their souls (CCD:IX:97).

The primary mission of Vincentians is service on behalf of the poor, a total integral service that is done with kindness and gentleness, with humility and simplicity. Vincent saw the service that servants rendered to their masters as a model for Vincentian service. From experience he knew that those masters were frequently demanding, capricious, unpleasant and unjust. At the same time many servants tended their masters with kindness and love, remaining faithful to them throughout their life. This kindness and love that servants showed to their masters should also be expressed with sincerity by Vincentians to their lords and masters, the poor. The foundation for this Vincentian service must always be Christian love. Therefore the love that Jesus of Nazareth practiced during his early life should inspire Vincentians to love and serve in the same manner. Vincent spoke this to the Daughters of Charity: Your chief concern, after the love of God and the desire to make yourselves pleasing to His Divine Majesty, must be to serve the sick poor with great gentleness and cordiality, sympathizing with them in their sufferings and listening to their little complaints, as a good mother should because they look upon you as their nursing mothers and as persons sent by God to assist them. So, you’re destined to represent the Goodness of God to those poor people. Now, since the Divine Goodness deals with the afflicted in a gentle, charitable manner, so the sick poor should be treated as this same Goodness teaches you, that is, with gentleness, compassion, and love; for they are your masters, and mine as well. There’s a certain Company, whose name I don’t recall, that calls those who are poor our lords and masters, and they’re right. What great lords they are in heaven! It’s their prerogative to open its gates, as the Gospel tells us. "That, then, is what obliges you to serve them with respect as your masters, and with devotion because they represent for you the person of Our Lord who said, “What you do to the least of mine I will consider as done to myself." So, Sisters, Our Lord is, in fact, with that patient who is the recipient of the service you render Him. In line with that, you must be careful not only to distance yourselves from harshness and impatience, but also to strive to serve them with cordiality and great gentleness, even the most troublesome and difficult, not forgetting to say a few good words to them … (CCD:X:267-268).

Christ is in the poor and the poor have to be contemplated and provided for in the same way that one would contemplate and provide for Christ. Therefore, the poor are our lords, great lords. They are our lords and masters. The poor are the great lords of heaven, those who will either facilitate or prevent our entrance into heaven. As lords they have a right to our service but such service must be offered to them with kindness and tenderness. In fact the poor should be served with even greater kindness and tenderness than is shown to lords and masters throughout the world. The kindness and tenderness that God shows toward all people should serve as a model for our interaction with the poor.

In this text from a conference in which Vincent explained the Common Rules to the Sisters and in which he spoke to them about how they were to serve the infirm and provide for their health, he stated unambiguously that those whom they were to serve were their lords and masters, the persons in whom God reveals his presence. Therefore, the servants of these poor and infirm lords and masters must be like mothers to them and must reflect in their actions and attitudes the goodness of God. Vincent pointed out that God becomes present in this world through the poor and through those persons who serve the poor. The servants have to love and give themselves to their masters with love and gentleness and cordiality … the poor have to be cared for in the same way that the Sisters would want God to care for them. These poor men and women, very often stubborn, rude, vulgar and demanding … these people represent God. For Vincentians, the poor are the face of God, the image of God and thus Vincentians serve the poor even though they do not consider themselves worthy of serving in this manner (CCD:IX:491-492).

It was 1657 when Vincent addressed the Daughters of Charity with the words that I have just cited. One year before, 1656, Vincent spoke to the Missionaries and explained his maxims with regard to love toward those persons who are poor. On that occasion Vincent said: Come then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned; let us acknowledge before God that they are our lords and masters and that we are unworthy of rendering them our little services (CCD:XI:349).

The newness of this love which Vincent de Paul speaks about in the above cited text is the newness of God’s love in us, a love that ought to act in us and through us. Such a love should be radical as it searches out those who are most abandoned and forgotten. Such love must be expressed in gestures and attitudes, with the same kindness and affect that God showed toward men and women through the person of Jesus Christ. Thus for Vincentians, the poor are their lords and masters. They are our lords because they demand a service that is owed them in justice and because they have the authority to open or close the gates to the definitive Kingdom. They are our masters with regard to life and a way of thinking, that is, they teach us how to practice Christian virtue. Together with them we can understand the meaning of the scriptures and as a result we are able to live according to the teachings and the demands of Christ, the poor man [93]. This manner of living and serving can only be accomplished by loving God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows (CCD:XI:32).

Affective and effective love

From the earliest of time Vincent de Paul distinguished between two different way of loving the poor. In 1649 he spoke about God’s love to the Daughters of Charity and told them: To understand this clearly, Sisters, you should know that there are two kinds of love: one is called affective, and the other, effective (CCD:IX:373).

These two types of love are like two different dimensions of the same love. They are like two sides of a coin, both of which are necessary. Affective love should lead to service, and this service should be performed in a friendly and kind manner. Affective and effective love are inter-connected and constitute the Vincentian spirit. In 1653, when Vincent spoke to the Daughters of Charity about the spirit of the Company, he said: So then what is the spirit of the Daughters of Charity? It is the love of Our Lord, sisters … and in order for you to understand what this love is, you should know that it operates in two different ways, one affective; the other effective. Affective love is the tender element of love … which produces effective love. For the first does not suffice, Sisters; you must have both. Affective love must pass to effective love, which is to be engaged in the works of the Charity and the service of poor persons, undertaken with joy, courage, fidelity, and love. These two kinds of love are like the life of a Sister who belongs to the Charity, for to be a Daughter of Charity is to love Our Lord tenderly and steadfastly; tenderly, being pleased to speak of him, think about him, and filled with consolation when you reflect, “Quoi! My Lord has called me to serve him in the person of the poor; what a happiness! The love of the Daughters of Charity is not simply tender; it is effective, because they actually serve persons who are poor, corporally and spiritually. It is your duty to teach them how to lead good lives --- I repeat, Sisters, to lead good lives … (CCD:IX:466).

What then is this love of God that to be is expressed affectively and effectively? Vincent spoke about this to the Missionaries when he said: To love someone, strictly speaking, is to wish him well. In line with that, to love Our Lord means that he wants his name to be made known and revealed to everyone, that he may reign over the earth, and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Now, it must be noted that love is divided into affective and effective love. Affective love is a certain outpouring from the one who loves to the loved one, or a pleasure and tender feeling one has for the things loved, as father has for his child, etc. Effective love consists in doing the things the loved person commands or desires; it is this sort of love of which I am speaking and of which Our Lord spoke:”If anyone love me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). The sign of this love, the effect or sign of this love, Messieurs, is the one Our Lord mentions, namely, those who love him keep his word. Now, the word of God consists in teaching and counsels (CCD:XI:35).

Affect and tenderness, sweat and effort … Love cannot remain on the level of expressions of kindness. If love is to be authentic then it must be transformed into a ministry of service and a ministry of liberation. The poor ought to be loved affectively and effectively and this therefore means that they should receive justice. But this ministry of justice must also be wrapped in kindness and affect. In addition to the kindness and affect which is to be shown those who are poor, Vincentians must also make every effort to remedy and eliminate, as far as possible, the evils and the causes of those evils that enslave so many people. If this does not happen, then we are not really talking about God’s love nor are we are revealing God’s love or loving God. God loves with an infinite love and is compassionate toward the poor and those who are enslaved. In fact, God offers these people liberation. Thus, the love that God showed to those individuals is the same love that we must practice.

Affective love becomes suspicious if it does not become effective love. To possess only affective love would mean that a Vincentian was living in a world of illusions or, what would be worse, it would mean that one was living in a world of evasion. Only a ministry of love and service has meaning and provides a foundation for our love. Therefore Vincent spoke to the Missionaries about the need to practice effective love: Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows; for very often many acts of love of God, of devotion, and of other similar affections and interior practices of a tender heart, although very good and desirable, are, nevertheless, very suspect if they do not translate into the practice of effective love. “By this,” say Our Lord, “is my Father glorified, that you may bear much fruit” (John 15:8) … (CCD:XI:32).

The practice of effective love --- the Vincentian praxis of serving the poor [94] --- involves looking at the poor with compassion and mercy. It also means that we engage in a critical analysis of the causes of marginalization and thus enter into solidarity with those who are poor and also that we free the poor (in every sense of the word) in all the different dimensions of their life. As Vincent taught us, we cannot be content with being moved emotionally to give alms to those who are poor. We must also provide for their needs, denounce the injustices which the poor confront day after day, engage in a struggle to transform the structures of the present society (structures that are oppressive and that exclude the poor from full participation in society). Every Vincentian ought to be respectful toward those who are poor. At the same time, as Vincentians, we need to be converted and we also need to cultivate attitudes that reflect the ways in which God loves and the ways in which God should be loved. It is also important that we encourage “communion” with the poor, that we enter into their life and their reality, that we insert ourselves into their midst. Finally, effective love of the poor demands that we be bold and creative, that we engage in a process of on-going formation in order to be better prepared and more willing to serve them. In this way we will not defraud the poor with our service and even more importantly, we will not abandon them.

The poor evangelize us

This is one of the most significant teachings that Vincent learned from being at the side of the poor. It seems, however, that this phrase, as we have expressed it here, was never uttered as such by Vincent. Nevertheless, he affirmed that the poor are our teachers and that true religion is lived and practiced especially by the poor, the humble and the peasants. Thus the poor and the peasants are teachers of the faith because they have cultivated a series of fundamental Christian virtues and attitudes. Therefore, as Vincentians we should learn from them and live and practice our faith in the same way that they do. So Vincent invites us to have recourse to the school of the poor in order to learn from them true religion and the true form of worship that God desires from us: It is among them, among those poor people that true religion and a living faith are preserved; they believe simply, without dissecting everything; they submit to order and are patient amid the abject poverty they have to suffer as long as it pleases God, some from the wars, others from working all day long in the great heat of the sun; poor vine dressers, who give us their labor, who expect us to pray for them while they wear themselves out to feed us! … We live on the patrimony of Jesus Christ, on the sweat of poor people … poor people feed us (CCD:XI:190-191

Saint Vincent expressed these ideas in a conference he gave to the Missionaries. It was 1655 and the religious wars and political confrontations for the hegemony in Europe resulted in misery for France. Hunger and the lack of food were a reality in every part of the country. Nevertheless, among the peasants, impoverished by these confrontations and wars, one was able to see a lively and simple faith, an exemplary obedience, a patient hope (not resignation), constant hard work to feed themselves and to feed the Missionaries. As a result of having learned all of this from the poor Vincent wanted to find these same virtues and attitudes deeply rooted in the Missionaries. Therefore, the poor are our evangelizers and teach us the meaning of true religion.

Vincent used the same words when he spoke with the Daughters of Charity. He spoke about true village girls who would teach them how to serve the poor and also teach them the meaning of true faith and virtue. In 1643 he exhorted them to imitate these young peasant women: So I can tell you, dear Sisters, that the spirit of true village girls is extremely simple --- no slyness, nor words of double meaning; they are not opinionated nor obstinate because in their simplicity they believe quite simply what they are told (CCD:XI:68) … True country women are noted for their great humility; they do not boast of what they have, do not talk about their relatives, and do not think they are clever, but act in a straightforward manner. And even though some have more than others, they do not put on airs but live just like everyone else (CCD:XI:68) … The humility of good country women keeps them from being ambitious … they are the ones, dear Sisters, who want only what God has given them; they do not aspire after more greatness or riches than they have, and are satisfied with their food and clothing. Still less do they consider using fine words but are humble in their speech. If they are praised, they do not know what is meant, so they do not listen to it. Their language is truly simple and sincere (CCD:XI:68-69) … Country women, my very dear Sisters, are very abstemious in what they eat. Most of them often make do with bread and soup, although they are constantly engaged in hard work (CCD:XI:69).

Vincent concluded that the Daughters of Charity should live in like manner. They should imitate the virtues of the good village women, the young peasant women. In Vincent’s mind, when he spoke about these things, he was using the example of Christ: For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Practicing the virtues of the village people, Vincentians will follow more closely Jesus Christ and they will be enriched and sanctified by the virtues that are pleasing to God. That is what Saint Genevieve did, a saint whom Vincent placed before the Daughters of Charity as a prototype. Among the virtues that this Saint practiced and that are found in the life of the peasants, one could list simplicity, humility, modesty, and poverty. These are also evangelical virtues. As the people in the countryside practice these virtues, they also teach us how to live in like manner and therefore they evangelize us.

In 1659 Vincent spoke to the Missionaries about the virtue of simplicity. Among other things he told them: We run after knowledge as if our entire happiness depended on it. Woe to us if we do not have it! We do have to have enough of it; we have to study, but in moderation. Others seek an understanding of business matters, of passing for clever persons, skilled in engaging in business in the world. They are the ones from whom God keeps the insight into Christian truths: from the wise and learned of the world. To whom, then, does he give it? To simple people, to good people. We see that verified in the difference we remark in the faith of peasants and our own. What I retain from my experience of this is the discernment I have always made that true religion --- true religion, Messieurs, true religion --- is found among the poor. God enriches them with a lively faith; they believe, they touch, they taste the words of life. You never see them in their illnesses, troubles, and food shortages get carried away with impatience, or murmur and complain; not at all --- or rarely. They usually remain at peace enduring trials and tribulations. What is the reason for that? It is faith. And why? Because they are simple, God gives them in abundance the graces he refuses the rich and wise of this world. But to thank let us add that everyone loves simple, candid people, who do not use subtleties or tricks, who are straightforward and speak sincerely, with the result that whatever they say comes from their heart (CCD:XII:142).

Vincent was a direct witness of the hypocrisy that ruled the world of the powerful, the rich and intellectuals. Duplicity and lies were most prominent in that environment. Therefore, Christians and Vincentians have to be witnesses to the truth and simplicity. These gospel virtues are best learned in the school of the poor, in the classrooms of the country people and the humble and simple people. They are the true teachers of the gospel: I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike (Luke 10:21).

At the present time we find this idea of the poor as evangelizers in the theological reflections of liberation theologians. Nevertheless, this same idea is being expressed in other forms of theology. I. Ellacuría, a martyr of the poor and liberation theology, reminds us: There are signs that the poor are evangelizers and saviors. The incredible experience of the base communities as ferment of the Church’s renewal and as an important force in the political transformation are also examples of how the poor are organizing in order to struggle in solidarity on behalf of their brother and sisters, the most humble and weak members of society. They are also proof of the salvific and liberating potential of the poor [95].

Analyzing religious life in Latin America, V. Cordina expresses a similar idea: The poor, he says, have opened the eyes of religious and as a result men and women religious have discovered another vision of God, another spiritual experience and another way of understanding life, the Church, and religious life itself [96]. J. Lois echoes the same idea when he states: Religious are evangelized by the poor because to live with men and women who are marginalized, to live as these people live and to come to know their reality is to discover their richness and their values. When such an insertion puts people in contact with ancient historical cultures and their profound understanding of the spiritual dimension of life, then these individuals discover many great values: hospitality and a spirit of welcoming, a community sensitivity, friendship, participative democracy, cosmic and historical harmony (harmony with the earth and with ancestors), an integral vision of the human person, profound religious sensitivity, an ability to celebrate, an unyielding hope even in the midst of incredible oppression and misery … Even when said insertion takes places in “popular barrios” of our secularized cities, one will often discover other values, such as, a great awareness of injustice, and an ability to organize and struggle [97].

The words of J. Lois and Vincent de Paul are very similar. Yes, they lived in the midst of distinct historical eras, but their experience was the same and so their ideas are similar. The gospel is revealed in the person of those who are poor and it is the poor who transmit and communicate the gospel message. Those who want to deepen their understanding of the gospel in order to conform their life more closely to the scriptures, have to go out and live with the poor, live among the poor and for the poor. We must not, however, be naïve. We must recognize the fact that in the world of the poor there are contra-values and deficiencies and forms of poverty that we should not learn or practice [98]. Yet even in this, those same negative realities also evangelize us [99].

The poor are our judges

The presence of Christ in the poor makes them the judges of humankind. Because the preferential manner to encounter God who is compassionate and merciful is through establishing relationships with the poor who also reveal the crucified and dying Christ, Vincent de Paul and his followers discover in those who are marginalized the judgment of the poor [100]. This judgment does not deal with those things that are done to the poor but rather is a judgment concerning those things that are not done (Matthews 25:31-46). Therefore the Episcopal Commission on Social Ministry (Spain), in their document, The Church and the Poor, reminds us of the following: It should be pointed out that Jesus’ words of condemnation in the gospels are not directed toward those who cause the evils that afflict the poor. What Jesus condemns is the sin of omission, the lack of concern for those who need help … this is clear in the prophetic allegory of the Final Judgment and in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf., Matthew 25:42-45; Luke 16:19-31). Ignoring the poor who are hungry, those men and women who are naked, oppressed, exploited and despised is the same as abandoning and forgetting Christ himself. Therefore the encounter with the poor cannot be viewed as some insignificant anecdote for the Church and Christians. Indeed, their reaction and their attitude toward these realities defines their being and also defines their future (Jesus warns us about this reality). Therefore in all of this, we, individuals and institutions, are implicated and committed in a decisive manner. The Church knows that this encounter with the poor has the value of justification or condemnation … depending on our commitment or lack of commitment with regard to the poor. The poor are the sacrament of Christ. Furthermore, this judgment and justification should not be seen as some event that will occur at some later time before the throne of God, but should also be seen as an event that occurs now, in the presence of the men and women of this era. Only a Church that approaches the poor and the oppressed, that stands with them and struggles on behalf of their liberation and dignity and well-being, only such a Church can give coherent and convincing witness to the gospel message. Therefore we can affirm that the being and the activity of the Church is judged in the world of poverty and sorrow, the world of marginalization and oppression, the world of weakness and suffering [101]

To ignore the poor is to turn one’s back on Christ. Through a committed encounter with the poor, Vincentians are accepted by Christ. If such an encounter does not take place then they will be rejected by Christ. It will not be necessary to wait until the final hour in order to know if we have been accepted or rejected by Christ … each day and at every moment we are receiving the verdict of justification or condemnation, depending on the strength of our commitment or our inactivity.

Does Saint Vincent say something in this regard? In 1646, when Vincent spoke to the Daughters of Charity about loving their vocation and serving the poor, he told them: Poor persons assisted by her will be her intercessors before God; they will come in a crowd ahead of her and say to God, “My God, this is the Sister who helped us for love of You; my God, this is the Sister who taught us to know You.” For you see, Sisters, you said the most important thing of all when you stated that they had to be helped spiritually. “My God,” they will say, “this is the Sister who taught me to hope that there was one God in three Persons; I did not know that. My God, this is the Sister who taught me to hope in You; this is the Sister who taught me Your goodness through her own.” In short, Sisters, that is what the service of the poor will earn for you (CCD:IX:200).

In 1657 Vincent reminded the Daughter that the poor are great lords in heaven! It is their prerogative to open its gates, as the gospel tells us (CCD:X:268). On another occasion Vincent spoke similar words to the Missionaries: God loves the poor, consequently, He loves those who love the poor; for, when we truly love someone, we have an affection for his friends and for his servants. Now, the Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope that, for love of them, God will love us. Come then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned; let us acknowledge before God that they are our lords and masters and that we are unworthy of rendering them our little services (CCD:XI:349).

Those persons, who during their life served the poor, will, in turn, have the poor as their defenders before God. At the same time the poor will become the prosecutors of those who did not serve the marginalized and the oppressed, those who did not provide for these men and women, those who did not attempt to break the chains of misery and injustice. The sin of omission which Jesus frequently denounces in the gospel has certainly inflicted great harm on the poor [102]. Thus the judgment of the poor will be severe and just. Why? … from a Vincentian perspective the poor see us and judge us because they are irrefutable witnesses of God’s justice, witnesses of the love that was humiliated and suffered so much in the incarnation, witnesses of the love that was showered upon humankind in redemption [103].

The poor are witnesses of God’s justice because they themselves have been treated justly by their brothers and sisters. God’s justice and the judgment of the poor do not allow us to deaden our conscience nor lead unproductive lives. In other words the poor motivate us to make our love real through effective service. The poor judge our whole life, all our words and our times of silence, all our actions and our times of standing still with folded arms and, for good or bad, their judgment will be placed before the tribunal of God and society: The poor, those whom Vincent referred to as our intercessors and those who will judge our life … these poor men and women prevent people of good will from becoming insensitive. As witnesses and images of Jesus they become prosecutors and defenders of their own cause. Throughout this process the poor rise up and call us to stand before the tribunal of God and society. They will compare our refined tastes with their misery, our extravagance and waste with their deprivations, our power with their servitude, our indifference with their abandonment. These men and women, often despised in society, are in reality great lords and ladies and we are their servants. To approach the poor demands self-renunciation and this is the only way in which we are able to speak on their behalf, to help them and understand them (CCD:XI:378-382). The poor, as bearers (at times, unconscious bearers) of the demands of God justice, provide us with the opportunity to give a different direction to our life, to live in relationship with God and with others, but to do this in a new way [104].

The same author states in another place: Jesus Christ is present in the poor and considers everything that is done to the poor as being done to him (cf., Matthew 25:40; CCD:VI:555; IX:210-211, 276, 283-284; XII:108-109; XIIIa:123-124; XIIIb:29ff., 108). God distributes his grace and joy and happiness in and through the poor. They can condemn us before the tribunal of God and society. But they can also save us and free us (CCD:210-211, XIIIa:104-109). All who care for the poor receive more than an eternal reward (CCD:IX:210) because in this world they receive a special joy (CCD:IX:63-64; XIIIb:108-112). Those who serve the poor do not fear death (Abelly:I:134-134). The power of the poor is immeasurable, they can expand and clarify our myopic vision; they invite us to view reality from God’s perspective, that is, according to the order of Providence [105].

As we can appreciate from the document of our bishops and the writings of Saint Vincent and other Vincentian scholars, people will be confronted with the judgment of the poor … a judgment that encompasses our present and our future. They will judge us here and now, each day and every moment and they will also judge us at the end of our life. Their sentence cannot be appealed. They will either condemn us or absolve us. We will receive a sentence of salvation if during our days on earth we lived in solidarity with the poor and listened to their cries and shared their burdens. On the other hand, we will be condemned if we forgot them and abandoned them to their own lot, if we did not provide for them or comfort them or free them.

Conclusions

It is time to conclude. In order to do this after all that has been said during this presentation allow me to speak some final concluding words. These comments should be seen seen as a brief summary of what has previously been stated.

Even if millions of poor people exist...

We find ourselves at the dawning of the twenty-first century and yet there are hundreds of millions of poor people. The negative aspect of this reality is that the number of poor people is not decreasing but just the opposite, it is increasing. If there are poor people it is because there are rich people who have become more and more wealthy while leaving others in misery.

In light of this phenomena some people do not want to know anything and remain deaf to this problem. They want to live in a situation that we might call a sea of tranquility. In said situation those who want to know nothing will do everything possible, and even impossible, to deaden their senses to the harsh, shrill cries of those who are poor. At the same time there are others --- not many --- who listen to these cries and do nothing. Then there are the rest who are seriously concerned about the life and the situation of the poor. As a result they have made a decision to commit themselves to the cause of the poor.

When a great tragedy occurs in some country, very often it is the most poor who are seriously affected. At such times, other people’s consciences are awakened and they are quick to participate in relief efforts. But this does not resolve the serious problem that afflicts the poor and even though such gestures of assistance are necessary and wonderful, they are not sufficient. Greater solidarity on the part of more people is necessary. Such solidarity must involve, immediate and prompt assistance, prophetic denunciation of the injustices, structural change and finally society and public authorities must be made aware of the real problems that exists and also made aware of their obligation to remove and save people who are poor from the situation of misery and death in which they find themselves.

The poor are those individuals who in every era find themselves marginalized from society and marginalized by society. In the present society, a neo-liberal, free-market society, there are many such marginalized individuals. Nevertheless, these same poor men and women enable us to encounter God, enable us to hear God and God speaks to us and exhorts us and warns us. As we encounter the poor in the very midst of this system of marginalization, our eyes are opened and we come to a clearer understanding of the meaning of God, Christ, the Church and the demands of scripture. The poor give us God and in the person of the poor we serve God.

Let us practice the justice that God desires

The inequality between rich and poor people and between rich and poor nations is constantly increasing. This inequality is a flagrant injustice. Yet this problem can only be resolved if we change the concept of justice that now predominates the thinking in our western industrialized countries. The concept of justice that guides our thinking is one that has been passed on to us from Roman law. We must, however, begin to take more seriously the concept of Biblical justice. Both of these concepts of justice, that is, biblical justice and justice according to Roman law, are substantially different. God’s justice does not coincide with the justice of the human person.

In Roman law justice consists of giving to each one according to their rights. Since the Roman society was one of classes and castes, each one of these groups had certain rights. Thus there were laws for the patricians, other laws for the plebes and still others for those who were salves. These laws, however, were always enacted by the patricians, the wealthiest members of society. In what direction then were the scales of justice inclined? The laws always favor those who enact them.

God, however, has revealed that his justice is salvation for those who are weak and poor and oppressed. These situations of weakness, and poverty and oppression are not right for any human person and therefore those who live in the midst of such situations must be removed from such an evil. This is what God has done throughout the history of salvation and this is how God continues to act today. The love that God has for humankind, especially God’s preferential love for those who are poor, had led God to opt on behalf of the poor and therefore, God is committed to the cause of the poor. Today, we as Christians and Vincentians, must commit ourselves in the same way as God.

At the same time we have to be aware of a serious problem that exists in our society. This is the problem of a lack of solidarity with those who are poor and with their cause … a reality that we call the sin of omission. In fact, this is the sin that is most prevalent with regard to those who are poor and yet it is also the sin that people are least aware of. It must be said, however, that this sin determines the ill-treatment and marginalization of the poor because it gives free reign to the exploiters and plunders of society, in general and of the poor, in particular. If public opinion were more sensitive to what causes this sin and more sensitive to what this sin signifies, government officials and those who make decisions in the various financial institutions would be more apt to change their financial policies in order to obtain a more just distribution of wealth.

Let us judge the being or non-being of our existence

Finally, as followers of Christ and his gospel, and as women and men who prolong the ministry of Vincent de Paul, we have to heighten our awareness. If the poor are the reason for the Church’s existence and if the poor make the church, the church of the poor, if the poor are the lot and the heritage of the Vincentian Family, then, yes, the poor are our lords and masters and teachers. Vincentians must commit themselves to the poor and serve on behalf of the poor … Vincentians live in order to serve these lords and masters knowing that to live in this manner is to do God’s will which is clearly and directly revealed in the cries of those who are poor, in the cries of those men and women who are most abandoned and exploited.

Here and now the existence or non-existence of the Church and Christians and Vincentians will be determined. Indeed, our existence will be determined according to the ways in which we make Christ and the gospel visible. Through their life and their marginalization those who are poor reveal to us the reality of Christ’s incarnation and the reality of God’s commitment to the disinherited of the earth. God wants everyone to live and, as Saint Vincent liked to say, God wants everyone to live well. With our vision of faith we have to alleviate the evil that oppresses the poor and furthermore, with our love for justice we have to engage in the struggle to eradicate the causes and the roots of said evil. If we received news from God that God had been involved in a labor conflict that pitted the poor against the rich and powerful, then we would have to serve and adore this true God in his most real and genuine images, on his most preferred altar, in the image and on the altar of the poor. What God do we adore and serve … the God of the poor or the god of the rich and powerful, the god of money? Those who adore and serve the God of the poor are justified because they are doing what God desires, namely, that no one die of hunger or thirst, that no one finds themselves alone or imprisoned, that all are able to be happy because they live full lives, because they live the fullness of affective and effective love.

This service can only be accomplished if Vincentians, as individuals and as a community, insert themselves into those places where the poor and the most abandoned and marginalized members of society are found. Today, in the Church, after the Second Vatican Council, many consecrated individuals and many religious institutions that at one time seemed to have nothing to do with the world of the poor and poverty … these individuals and institutions have become the defenders of the poor and are struggling with the poor and on behalf of their cause (to the point that some have lost their life in this struggle). Because the cause of poor is our reason for existence, we, as the sons and daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul, have to be pioneers in this commitment and even radical in our struggle to defend their rights and dignity. We can no longer live as mediocre individuals. Today the followers of Vincent de Paul have to become prophets of the poor and prophets for the poor. Only in this way will the poor become the defenders of the Vincentian Family and invite them to rejoice in the blessedness and the glory of the Kingdom.

Footnotes:

[01]. J.M. Pérez Charlín, El jubileo de los pobres, Ecclesia, 2980 (15 enero 2000), p. 59.

[02]. Ibid.

[03]. Ibid.

[04]. Ibid.

[05]. Cf., José María Castillo, Los pobres y la teologia. Qué queda de la teología de la liberación? Descleé de Brouwer, Bilbao, 1997, pp. 56-63.

[06]. Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 50, 3-4; PG 58, 508-509. The text is taken from the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings for Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Volume IV, p. 182-183.

[07]. Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 25, 1:CCL 103, 111-112. The text is taken from the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings for Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Volume III, p. 547-548.

[08]. A. Pronzato, Palabra de Dios. Comentario a las tres lecturas del domingo, Ciclo B., Sígueme, Salamanca, 1990, pp. 220-221.

[09]. Cf., J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 21.

[10]. Cf., ibid., p. 36

[11]. Comisión Episcopal de Pastoral Social, La Iglesia y los pobres, 2, EDICE, Madrid, 1994. Future references to this document will be indicated with the letters CEPS followed by the paragraph number.

[12]. R. Fabris, La opción por los pobres en la Biblia, Verbo Divino, Estella (Navarra), 1992, p. 92.

[13]. Ibid., p. 21.

[14]. Cf., Cuadernos Vicencianos, En teimpos de san Vicente de Paúl … y hoy, II, CEME, Salamanca, 1999, p. 10.

[15]. Ibid.

[16]. Ibid., pp. 10-11.

[17]. CEPS #3: Cf., John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, #15; Centesimus Annus, 1991, #33.

[18]. CEPS #5 and #6; J. Sobrino, “Opción por los pobres”, in C. Floristán and J.J. Tamayo (editors), Conceptos Fundamentales del Cristianismo, Trotta, Madrid, 1993, p. 883; J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 37.

[19]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 37.

[20]. Cf., J. Sobrino, Opción por los pobres … op.cit., p. 883.

[21]. Cf., J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 37

[22]. Ibid.

[23]. Ibid.

[24]. Ibid.

[25]. P. Richard, “Pobreza” in C. Floristán and J.J. Tamayo (editors), Conceptos Fundamentales del Cristianismo. Trotta, Madrid, 1993, p. 883; J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 1042.

[26]. Exodus 3:7-9; cf., Psalm 9:13; Isaiah 61:1; CEPS #9, #42; R. Fabris, op.cit., pp. 79-123.

[27]. Cf. J. I. González Faus, La humanidad nueva, Ensayo de Cristologia, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1984, p. 603; L. González-Carvajal, Con los pobres contra la pobreza, Paulinas, Madrid, 1992, pp. 79-82.

[28]. Luke 4:16-21; Matthew 25:31-46; cf., CEPS #9; R. Fabris, op.cit., p. 60.

[29]. Luke 6:20-21; Matthew 25:35ff; cf. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 36.

[30]. Cf. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 36; J. Sobrino, Jesucristo Liberador, Madrid, 1991, p. 112.

[31]. Mark 2:16; Matthew 11:19, 21:32; Luke 12:1ff; cf., J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 36.

[32]. Matthew 10:42, 11:25, 18:10, 14; 25:40, 45; Mark 9:36; cf. J.M. Castillo, op.cit. p. 36.

[33]. Matthew 21:31; Luke 18:11; cf. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 36.

[34]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 39.

[35]. CEPS #8.

[36]. The following scriptural passages become reference points: first, the dialogue which, according to the evangelist John, took place between Jesus and the disciples Thomas and Philip during the last supper (John 14:6-9); second, the judgment of nations which is found in the gospel of Matthew (35:31-46); finally, the development of the central theme of God's love being revealed in the love of neighbor (1 John1:5 - 4:21).

[37]. M.F. Lacan, Presencia de Dios, in X. Leon-Dufour, Vocabulario de Teología Bíblica, Herder, Barcelona, 1972, p. 716.

[38]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 22.

[39]. Ibid., p. 24; the author states that there is much material available on this theme. He refers to certain significant articles that have been published in Spanish: V. Codina, La irrupción de los pobres en la teología contemporánea, Misión Abierta 75 (1981), pp. 203ff; I. Ellacuría, Pobres, in C. Floristán and J.J. Tamayo (editors), Conceptos Fundamentales del Pastoral, Trotta, Madrid, 1993, p. 801-802; P. Richard and E. Ellacuria, Pobreza-Pobres, in C. Floristán and J.J. Tamayo (editors), Conceptos Fundamentales del Cristianismo, Trotta, Madrid, 1993, p. 1057.

[40]. I. Ellacuría, Pobres” in C. Floristán and J.J. Tamayo (editors), Conceptos Fundamentales del Cristianismo, Trotta, Madrid, 1993, p. 1043.

[41]. I am going to present a summary of what these authors present in their articles and at the same time I will present a summary of their ideas and also unify their ideas. I also refer you to the following: G. Occhipinti, Loci Thelogici” in L. Pacomio and V. Mancuso (dir.) Diccionario Teológico Enciclopédico, Verbo Divino, Estella (Navarra), 1995, p. 577; E. Haibles, “Lugares teológicos”, in K. Rahner (dir.), Sacramentus Mundi. Enciclopedia teológica, Vol. IV, Herder, Barcelona, 1973, pp. 369-374.

[42]. R. Agrícola died in 1485. He was a humanist and in 1479 wrote de invention dialectica in which he pointed out some thirty theological places. This work was influential in opening the path for this concept in theology. Be mindful of the works cited in footnote #41.

[43]. F. Melanchton died in 1560 and was an important Protestant theologian. He was one of the first theologians to become involved with this question and addressed this problem in his work, Loci communes rerum theologicarum (1521). This work was later revised and published with the title, Loci praecipui theologici (1559). Be mindful of the work cited in footnote #41.

[44]. M. Cano (1509-1560), a Dominican, Catholic theologian noted for his work dealing with the problem of demonstration. It seems that in this matter he followed more closely the thinking of Cicero utilized as outlined in his Treatise on Topics. M. Cano is the author of a fundamental treatise on theological method, De locis theologicis, which was published in 163, three years after his death. Up until 1890 this treatise had been reprinted some thirty times. Be mindful of the works cited in footnote #41.

[45]. Cf. L. González-Carvajal, La causa de los pobres, causa de la Iglesia, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1982, pp. 51-55 and Con los pobres contra la pobreza, Paulinas, Madrid, 1992, pp. 69-72.

[46]. Cf. I. Ellacuria, “Pobres”, op.cit., p. 1044; L. Boff, Teología desde el lugar del pobre, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1986; R. Fabris, La opción por los pobres en la Biblia, Verbo Divino, Estella (Navarra), 1992; J.M. Vigil (editor), La opción por los pobres, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1991.

[47]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 28.

[48]. Cf., ibid., p. 28ff.

[49]. Modern psychology and the theories of communication and knowledge speak about this matter. I invite the reader to explore this matter in different books and periodicals that are at your disposal.

[50]. Ibid., p. 29.

[51]. J. Sobrino, Opción por los pobres …p. 892; cf., I. Ellacuría, “Pobres”, op.cit., p. 1049.

[52]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 30.

[53]. Ibid.

[54]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 31.

[55]. Ibid., p. 32.

[56]. R. Fabris, op.cit., p. 23.

[57]. Ibid., p. 9.

[58]. I. Ellacuría, ”Pobres”, op.cit., p. 1046-1047

[59]. Cf., G. Girardi, Opción por los pobres y geopolítica, in J.M. Vigil (ed.), La opción por los pobres, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1991, p. 74.

[60]. C. Fernández, “Pobres-Servicio”, in Diccionario de Espiritualidad Vicenciana, CEME, Santa Marta de Tromes (Salamanca), 1995, p. 482. The author is supported in affirming what the other authors state here: J. Lois, Teología de la Liberación. Opción por los pobres, EIPALA Fundamentos, Madrid, 1986, pp. 149-157; I. Ellacuria, Pobres in C. Floristán and J.J. Tamayo (editors), Conceptos Fundamentales del Pastoral, Trotta, Madrid, 1993, p. 791-792.

[61]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 40-41.

[62]. V. Codina, Opción por los pobres y vida religiosa, in J.M. Vigil (ed.), La opción por los pobres, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1991, p. 103.

[63] L. González-Carvajal, Con los pobres contra la pobreza, Paulinas, Madrid, 1992, p. 171.

[64]. Exegetical note to the 12th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians in Biblia de Jerusalén. Nueva edeición totalmente revisada y aumentada, Descleé de Brouwer, Bilbao, 1975, p. 1645; cf., A. George and P. Grelot, Carisma, in X. Leon-Dufour, Vocabulario de Telogía Bíblica, Herder, Barcelona, 1975, p. 143.

[65]. Ibid.

[66]. Miguel Peréz Flores and Antonio Orcajo, The Way of Saint Vincent is Our Way, [trans., Charles T. Plock, CM], Concord Publishing House, Inc., Cape Girardeau, Mo., 1995, p. 18-19.

[67]. L. González-Carvajal, Con los pobres contra la pobreza, Paulinas, Madrid, 1992, p. 158.

[68]. Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, New City Press, New York, 1985-2012, Volume XII, pp. 4-6. Future reference to this thirteen volume work will be noted with the letters CCD, followed by the volume number, and then the page number, for example, CCD:XII:4-6.

[69]. Cf., L. Abelly, I;54-55; CCD:XI:28-30; cited by J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 221.

[70]. J.M. Ibáñez. op.cit., p. 221.

[71]. Ibid., p. 213.

[72]. Ibid., p. 232.

[73]. Ibid., p. 273.

[74]. Ibid., p. 271-272.

[75]. Ibid., p. 280; cf. CCD:XI:69, XII:80-81.

[76]. Cf., J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 51.

[77]. Jeremiah 22:15-16. Citied by J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p.51.

[78]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 51; cf., L. Alonso Schokel, C. Carniti, Salmos, I, Estella, 1992, p. 293; La justice selon le Coeur de Dieu: Ps 72, Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 41 (1961), pp. 44-51.

[79]. Ibid., p. 52; cf., L. Alonso Schokel and J.L. Sicre, Profetas, Madrid, 1980, p. 516.

[80]. C. Fernandez, “Pobres-Servicio”, op.cit., p. 486; cf., J.M. Ibnez, Opción vicenciana por los pobres, in XV Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, Respuesta vicenciana a las nuevas formas de pobreza, CEME, Salamanca, 1988, p. 151-155.

[81]. Ibid., p. 487; CCD:IX:199-200, 251-252; X:76-78.

[82]. Ibid., p. 488.

[83]. Ibid., p. 495.

[84]. Cf., CCD:IX:199-200. This same idea is expressed in the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity: Through faith they see Christ in the poor and the poor in Christ. They endeavor to serve him in his suffering members “with compassion, mildness, cordiality, respect and devotion” (Constitutions of 1983 I.7). The text is inspired by CCD:X:267-268 which text Vincent based on Matthew 25:31-46.

[85]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 61.

[86]. L. Boff, Textos selectos, Santafé de Bogotá, D.C., 1992, p. 115. Cited by J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 61.

[87]. Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, [translated by Willaim Wuinn, FSC], New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993: I worry about our Company, but to tell you the truth, not so much as I do about the poor. If we need to, we could ask for help from our other houses or appeal to the vicars in the parishes. But where can the poor turn? Where can they go? This is my work and my sorrow! (Volume III:117).

[88]. Cf., A. Camus, Los Justos, in Obras Completas, Vol. I (Narrations and Theatre) Aguilar, Madrid, 1979, p.1056. Cited by C. Fernández, l. c., p. 486. Camus tells the story of Dimitri who helped a peasant whose wagon had gotten stuck in the mud and as a result arrived late for an agreed upon appointment with God. When the saint arrived God was no longer at the appointed place. God had grown weary of waiting. Said author concluded: there will always be people who arrive late for their appointment with God because there will always be many peasants, many brothers/sisters in need of help.

[89] Cf., C. Fernández, “Pobres-Servicio”, op.cit., p. 487.

[90]. Cf., Isaiah 50:4-9, 52:13:53:12; Matthew 27:29-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-7.

[91]. A. Dodin, Lecciones sobre vicencianismo, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, (Salmanca), 1978, p. 97.

[92]. Cf., Fernández, “Pobres-Servicio”, op.cit., p. 487.

[93]. Cf., J.M. Ibáñez, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 334.

[94]. Cf., C. Fernández, “Pobres-Servicio”, op.cit., p. 488-495.

[95]. I. Ellacuría, “Pobres”, op.cit., p. 1052.

[96]. V. Codina, Al encuentro de los pobres. La opción por los pobres en el caminar de la vida religiosa latinoamericana, ESEY, Victoria-Gasteiz, 1996, pp. 41-42.

[97]. J. Lois, Los pobres: un desafío para la vida Religiosa, ESET, Victoria-Gasteiz, 1997, p. 96.

[98]. Ibid.

[99]. Ibid.

[100]. Cf., C. Fernández, “Pobres-Servicio”, op.cit., p. 486.

[101]. CEPS # 9-10.

[102]. J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 61. Here we should be mindful of the scriptural passages concerning the Final Judgment, the parable of the Good Samaritan and the rich man and Lazarus.

[103]. J.M. Ibáñez., op.cit., p. 281. The same author studies the theme of the judgment of the poor in another work titled, Vicente de Paúl, realismo y encarnación, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1982, pp. 243-292.

[104]. Ibid., p. 289-290.

[105] Ibid., p. 278



Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM