The “Virtue of Mortification”

I’ve referred any number of times to my deep commitment to the Vincentian charism and my ties to members of the Vincentian family. So it was with enthusiasm that I read last night the Lenten letter written by the Vincentian Superior General, Gregory Gay, C.M.

In a time of economic crisis that has affected the world, Fr. Gay asks if we should consider whether we tend to “act too quickly to protect ourselves and our own interests” and with insufficient concerns for the needs of others. He invites us to practice this Lent what he terms the “virtue of mortification.” After reminding us that the root of the word “mortification” is to sacrifice, putting others before oneself, he writes that the virtue of mortification

is an opportunity for us, as we say, to tighten our belts, to live more simply in order that those who are usually on the lower side of the scale will feel less the effects of the crisis than usual. We are asked to reverse the scenario, so that it be us and not them who feel the suffering. Saint Vincent practiced this continually when he referred to the poor as our lords and masters. He did not speak of a relationship of equals, but he went to the other extreme in order to help create a more balanced relationship….Rather than drawing in on ourselves in these times of crisis, enveloped in our own selfish attitudes, let this time of Lent be a time of solidarity.

Although written to the Vincentian family, the suggestions in Fr. Gay’s letter are ones worthy of being followed by all of us. All of us, as he suggests, “are part of the whole and are invited to live in harmony one with another…. [Lent] is a time of abandonment, a time of mortification, a time of reconciliation, a time of collaboration and solidarity. Lent is a time of harmony and peace. It is a time of new life. It is a time of movement from death to life, a time of moving out of oneself and moving towards the other, and the Other.”

You can read Fr. Gay’s Lenten message in its entirety on the famvin website here.


Blessed Rosalie Rendu

Today is the fifth anniversary of the beatification of Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, and so I thought I’d take an opportunity to say a few words about her for the benefit of those not part of the Vincentian family, who may not have great familiarity with this extraordinary woman.

Rosalie Rendu, nee Jeanne Marie Rendu, was born in France in the latter part of the 18th Century, meaning she lived through the terror of the French Revolution. She decided at an early age to join the work of the Daughters of Charity, and in 1807 she made her vows, receiving the name Sr. Rosalie.

Rosalie burned with devotion to serve the poor, who she called “her poor.” She did everything she could to aid them, opening a free clinic, a school, an orphanage, a child-care center, a home for the old, a club for the young. She could not do enough for the poor, telling her sisters to “be a milestone where all those who are tired have the right to lay down their load.”

Like St. Vincent, who founded her order, she saw Christ in the poor. “Remember,” she said, “Our Lord hides behind those rags.” It is said that she experienced daily Vincent’s conviction, “You will go and visit the poor ten times a day, and ten times a day you will find God there … you go into their poor homes, but you find God there.” And she understood Vincent’s notion that we are often called to “leave God for God,” remarking on occasion, “Never have I prayed so well as in the streets.”

Rendu died in 1856. Forty to fifty thousand people came to her funeral and to this day people continue to bring flowers to the gravesite of this tireless worker and friend to the poor.

This is an inspiring woman worth learning more about. For a fuller account of the life and work of Rosalie Rendu see this piece called The Five Faces of Rosalie Rendu and this excerpt from the Vatican hagiography.

St. Vincent and the Vincentian Mission

I have shared before that I have a deep commitment to the Vincentian charism, nurtured by many years of friendship and association with some extraordinary people who are part of the Vincentian family.

St. Vincent encouraged his followers to be contemplatives in action and left us with a spirituality based on seeing and serving Christ in the poor. Lamentably, there are many Catholics who have very little knowledge of St. Vincent or the work of the various branches of the Vincentian family and there are many places in the U.S. (including my current location in the Minneaplis/St. Paul area) where there is little or no Vincentian presence that might serve an educative function. This is particularly unfortunate because when people do learn about Vincent, they become excited about the idea of living the Gospel message through service to the poor and seek to follow his example.

Fortunately, there are now some wonderful internet-based resources to learn more about St. Vincent and the work of the Vincentian family. In addition to the famvin website and the Vincentian Wikipedia (to which new material is being added almost daily), there is a new website, VinFormation, that provides various resources, including podcasts, timelines of Vincentian Saints and Blesseds, testimonials, games and other interactive learning tools. Although it is still a work-in-progress and still undergoing extensive development (some of the features are not yet fully operational), it is already a wonderful site, one you will enjoy as well as learn from.

In May 2002, Pope John Paul II titled his World Communication Day message, Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel. Recognizing the power of the internet to provide a new avenue for evangelization and catechesis, he “summon[ed] the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net.” These resourses on St. Vincent and the Vincentians represent a response to Pope John Paul’s challenge that will benefit all of us. If you aren’t already a friend of this wonderful Saint who so took the Gospel to heart (and even if you already are), take a look at VinFormation and the other sites I’ve linked.

Blessed Frederic Ozanam

Today the Vincentian Family celebrates the feast of Blessed Frederis Ozanam, who founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Ozanam understood the dual virtues of justice and charity, once observing that “[c]harity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveler who has been attacked. It is justice’s role to prevent the attack.” He was a passionate supporter of workers and his ideas ultimately helped shape the first labor encyclical on the rights of workers, Rerum Novarum. At the same time, he put tremendous energy in to directly and personally serving the needs of the poor.

Fundamental to the Vincentian charism is seeing Christ in the face of the poor. Ozanam gives us some words to ponder on this subject. He wrote:

It we do not know how to love God as the saints did, it is because we see God with the eyes of faith alone, and faith is so weak. But the poor we see with the eyes of flesh. They are present. We can put our fingers and our hands into their wounds, the marks of the crown of thorns are plainly visible on their heads. There is no place for unbelief here … You poor are the visible image of the God whom we do not see, but whom we love in loving you.

John Freund has posted a wealth of resources for the feast of Blessed Frederic Ozanam on the famvin website here.