5. The world, as seen and desired by God, is the environment in which the mission of the Church is accomplished
In order to describe the Vincentian vision of the world and history, Father Morin has utilized the comparison of a person who beholds some aspect of reality. Thus, he describes the spiritual journey of Vincent de Paul as a history of beholding the poor: beholding the poor in a manner that expanded as he encountered the poor, beholding the poor in a manner that took in all those who were poor, beholding the poor in such a manner that from the little parish in Châtillon his vision became universal (eventually extending to Madagascar), beholding the poor in a manner that was deepened with the passing of time (from beholding the poor to beholding Jesus Christ, from beholding Jesus Christ to beholding the poor)1.
Wanting to see the world as Jesus saw it and as Jesus desired it, Vincent came to understand that his works and establishments were not of his doing but rather, were founded and established by God: The good which God desires is accomplished almost by itself, without our even thinking of it. That is how our Congregation came into being, that missions and retreats for the ordinands began, that the Company of the Daughters of Charity was formed, that the Ladies of Charity for the assistance of the poor at the Hotel Dieu of Paris and the sick in the parishes were established. That is also how the care of the foundlings began and, in a word, how all the works for which we are now responsible came into existence. None of the above was deliberately undertaken by us, but God Himself, who wanted to be served in such circumstances, brought them imperceptibly into being. If He made use of us, we had no idea, however, where that was leading (CCD:IV:128-129).
In the prophetic writings we frequently find the expression: what do you see? (Amos 8:1; Jeremiah 1:11), following by the words: then the Lord showed me or then the Lord said to me (thus, the clay in the hands of the potter, the vineyard with sour grapes, the fig tree). Reality is transformed by the glance of the prophet, that is, God allows the prophet to see the world and history not in the manner that their contemporaries viewed those realities, but as God saw them, as God desired them. Father Renouard states that in the eyes of Vincent de Paul events are a sign from God and, in the case of the poor, such signs are privileged. Vincent viewed events as revealing God, as revealing the will of God2.
The ability to see the world as God sees it and desires it led Vincent de Paul to state: the poor, who do not know where to go and what to do, who are suffering already and who increase daily, are my burden and my sorrow (CCD:III:492). At the same time Vincent denounced the reality that the great ones of this world think only of honors and wealth (CCD:XI:20). He made every effort to advance the liberation and the salvation of the poor because the Son of God became man like us in order that we might not only be saved, but, like him, saviors, which means cooperating with him in the salvation of souls (CCD:XII:97). Vincent was so convinced of this fact that he was able to say: It is not enough for me to love God, if my neighbor does not love him (CCD:XII:215).
Again we find Vincent encouraging people to see things as God sees them: I ask Our Lord to grant us the grace of considering those matters as they are in God and not as they appear apart from him; otherwise we might deceive ourselves and act other than he wishes (CCD:VII:403).
- …Conforming ourselves to God’s judgment of things … so then, like Our Lord, let us bring our judgment into harmony with God’s judgment, made known to us through Holy Scripture … So then in nomine Domini, we can form our reasoning on what is most conformable to the spirit of the gospel (CCD:XII:175, 176).
During the April 27th, 1657 conference Vincent stated: 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 … 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).
Viewing the world as God sees it and desires it explains the Vincentian commitment to the cause of the poor because seeing things with God’s eyes allows the members of the Vincentian Family to see the poor as representatives of Jesus Christ (the poor are the suffering members of Christ’s body).
In the writings of Louise de Marillac we find many different expressions that describe the poor as viewed and desired by God: members of Jesus (SWLM:6 [L.1]), our masters (SWLM:12 [L.43]), poor creatures that [God] in his goodness wills to look upon as his members (SWLM:18 [L.9]), our dear masters (SWLM:36 [L.426]), souls redeemed by the blood of the Son of God (SWLM:50 [L.41]), our masters, the dear members of Christ (SWLM:81 [L.547]), members of Jesus Christ (SWLM:113 [L.104b]), 409 [L.389]), creatures redeemed by the blood of the Son of God (SWLM:421 [L.367]), members of Jesus Christ and our masters (SWLM:468 [L.424]).
The world, as God sees it and desires it, is the place where the mission of the Church is carried out, and this is done in such a way that when service on behalf of the poor requires it, one is willing to put aside prayer and even the Eucharist … ministering in such a way one does not neglect the duties of religion but rather one is leaving God for God. Vincent stated: 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).
In this same regard, Louise de Marillac states: Do not scruple to omit one or other of your exercises either to assist your Sisters or for the service of the poor. You do this for the love of God and this is what he asks of you (SWLM:526 [L.547b).
To go out in order to serve the poor is to go out to encounter God: Go to visit a chain gang, you will find God there. Look after those little children, you will find God there, How delightful Sisters! You go into poor homes, but you find God there (CCD:IX:199).
The Vincentian charism has contributed to the Church’s mission in the sense that the followers of Jesus Christ are attentive to the world that surrounds them, especially the world of the poor … they see the world as God sees it and as God desires it and thus, they commit themselves to the transformation of the world.