My Friend Vincent

Today I join with my friends of the Congregation of the Mission and the entire worldwide Vincentian family in celebration of the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a saint who occupies a special place in my heart. While my spirituality is thoroughly Ignatian, the Vincent charism is one that has always spoken to me.

My shorthand description for people who know nothing about Vincent is that he really got what Jesus was saying in the judgment passage in Matthew 25. He took to heart Jesus’ message that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Vincent looked at the faces of the poor and the marginalized and what he saw was the face of 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 continued in his work preaching missions and providing relief to the poor until his death at the age of 80 in 1660.

During his lifetime, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission in 1625, an order of priests who take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. Today the Vincentian family includes not only priests of the Congregation of the Mission (about 300 Vincentian priests and brothers in the US and about 4000 throughout the world last I checked the numbers), but other religious and lay groups.

Happy Feast Day to all of the members of the Vincentian family.

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!

To Live in the Light of the Cross

The cross has been an object of veneration in the Christian faith from the time of St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, early in the fourth century. Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

Today’s second Mass reading, from the Letter to the Philippians, reminds us that we are called to have the same mindset of Jesus Christ, who

though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Veneration of the cross is more than simply gazing on what God has done for us through Jesus. It means more than merely reciting our prayers of adoration before the cross. Truly exalting the cross means putting on the mind of Jesus. It means taking up our own crosses and living lives in imitation of Christ. It means being Christ in the world.

Kneeling in front of the cross or processing with the cross singing praise is the easy part. Living in the light of the cross is the challenge.

Touch the Earth Lightly

Our closing song at Mass today was a fitting one for Environmental Awareness Month, in which environmental organizations come together with a goal to raise awareness about environmental issues that need our attention. The song, not one I was familiar with is titled Touch the Earth Lightly.

The first verse invites us to “touch the earth lightly, [to] use the earth gently, [and to] nourish the life of the world in our care.”

The image of touching the earth lightly was powerful to me, as we do anything but. The second verse of the song is a direct punch:

We who endanger, Who create hunger, Agents of death for all creatures that live, We who would foster clouds of disaster — God of our planet, forestall and forgive!

The climate effects we are experiencing – fires, flooding, drought, and so forth – are not accidental occurrences. They are not just happening. WE are creating them. WE have been ignoring the warnings of scientists about human-induced climate change for almost a quarter of a century. WE are destroying the planet that is our home.

Everything in this world – the planet on which we live, the sun, the rain, the trees, water – everything, is gift from God. We are running out of time to stop misusing those gifts. We must learn to touch the earth lightly…to use the earth gently. And we need to do it now.