As I’ve said before, my Ignatian spirituality is informed by a deep commitment to the Vincentian charism. And so it is with special joy that I join with my Vincentian brothers and sisters in today’s celebration of the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.
Vincent looked at the faces of the poor and the marginalized and what he saw was the face of Christ. He completely took to heart Jesus’ teaching that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Christ (and the corollary that when we ignore their needs, we ignore Christ). He once observed, “We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ.”
Vincent’s heritage is a spirituality committed to uniting contemplation with action. The words of Robert Maloney, C.M., former Superior General of the Vincentians, on the relationship between prayer and action are a good reminder to all of us on this feast day of Vincent. He writes:
Divorced from action, prayer can turn escapist. It can lose itself in fantasy. It can create illusions of holiness. Conversely, service divorced from prayer can become shallow. It can have a “driven” quality to it. It can become an addiction, an intoxicating lure. It can so dominate a person’s psychology that his or her sense of worth depends on being busy.
An apostolic spirituality is at its best when it holds prayer and action in tension with one another. The person who loves God “with the sweat of his brow and the strength of his arms” knows how to distinguish between beautiful theoretical thoughts about an abstract God and real personal contact with the living Lord contemplated and served in his suffering people.
My friend John Freund has collected a number of resources for the feast of St. Vincent on his famvin website here and the Vincentian Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information relating to Vincent and the work of those who follow him.
Update: My friend Gerry just sent me the following message, which it seemed fitting to share:
Happy feast day.
In reading Mark & Louise Zwick, THE CATHOLIC WORKER MOVEMENT: INTELLECTUAL AND SPIRITUAL ORIGINS (NY: Paulist Press, 2005) this week, I was reminded of Dorothy Day’s great love for Monsieur Vincent as reflected in her writings (April 1964 CW):
“The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them, you do for Him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing it, making ourselves poor by giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love” (p. 41).
She (along with Peter Maurin, her co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement) understood well the Vincentian concept and charism that one must be prepared to receive the gift of forgiveness from the poor before offering them the gift of bread.