10. The Vincentian circular movement: from Christ to the poor and from the poor to Christ
In concluding this reflection about the contributions of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the Church, it seems appropriate to refer to the circular movement of the Vincentian charism, that is, from Christ to the poor; from the poor to Christ1.
As Louise contemplated Christ hanging on the cross, she wrote, let us love Love. Thus she viewed service on behalf of the poor as response of love to Love (cf. SWLM:827-829 [A.27]): Let us apply ourselves diligently to the corporal and spiritual service of the sick poor for the love of Jesus Crucified (SWLM:515 [L.531b]).
All acts of service should be filled with that love: …to serve your sick poor in a spirit of gentleness and great compassion, in imitation of Our Lord who acted this way with the most unfortunate (SWLM:434 [L.383]).
I have always been impressed with the close relationship that Louise established between union with God, service on behalf of the poor, between union and cordiality in living together in community. In Louise’s view those realities are not distinct: prayer, service on behalf of the poor, concern for the salvation of the poor, fraternity … all of these flow from the same experience and are concretized in the following of Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord. In October 1646 Louise wrote to the Sisters in Nantes and stated: Do you read your Rule and the obligations of your duties? Do you say your evening and morning prayers for the sick as well as the Benedicite and Grace at meals? Do you provide towels at the beds of the sick? Do you maintain their cleanliness? Especially, my dear Sisters, do you have a great love for their salvation. It is this in particular that our good God expects of you (SWLM:182 [L.160)
On numerous occasions Vincent formulated the circular movement of the Vincentian charism. Let us recall some of his words. First, on March 16th, 1642, Vincent spoke with the Daughters of Charity and stated: poor persons have the honor of representing the members of Jesus Christ, who considers the services rendered to them as done to himself (CCD:IX:51). Then, on February 13, 1646, Vincent stated: in serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ. How true, Sisters! You are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor. And that is as true as that we are here. A Sister will go ten times a day to visit the sick, and ten times a day she’ll fmd God there … if God confers a blessed eternity on those who have given them only a cup ofwater, what will He not give to a Danghter of Charity who has left everything and makes the gift of herself to serve them all the days of her life? … She has reason to hope that she’ll be among those to whom He’ll say, “Come, blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you.” … the poor persons assisted by her will be her intercessors before God; they’ll 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 (CCD:IX:199-200).
This naturalness in moving from Christ to the poor and from the poor to Christ has been and continues to be a significant contribution of the Vincentian charism to the Church’s mission.
In pointing out the contributions of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission, we do not want the members of the Vincentian Family to feel self-satisfied. Pope Francis has suggested the true meaning of the grateful looking back on the past: So I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create “alternate spaces”, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive (Apostolic letter to all Consecrated People, November 21, 2014, II:2).
It seems to me that we are at a time when there are large structures at the service of the Church’s mission. Therefore, the contribution of the Vincentian charism does not consist of encouraging people to live in some utopia2 but rather to create alternate spaces, spaces in which the poor can experience the joy of the gospel, spaces in which their wounds can be healed and spaces in which all people can live in accord with the Good News.
We are those alternate spaces where the Vincentian charism continues to contribute to the church’s mission.
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- CPAG-80, “Lineas de fuerza de la experiencia espiritual del señor Vicente: La experiencia spiritual del señor Vicente y la nuestra” in Anales (1977), p. 278-283; C. Fernández, “El pobre en el corazón de San Vicente de Paúl” in La experiencia espiritual de San Vicente de Paúl, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 2011, p. 507-529; J. M. Ibáñez, “Opción Vicenciana por los pobres” in Respuesta vicenciana a las nuevas formas de pobreza, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 1988, p. 115-157; S. Barquín, “El pobre, lugar teológico en el carisma vicenciano” in Carisma, vicenciano, memoría y profecía, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 2001, p. 127-204; J. Corera, “El pobre según san Vicente” in Vincentiana, (1984), p. 578-586.
- Etymologically the word “utopia” refers to no-place.