6. The mission of the Church and those who evangelize
When Pope Francis referred to the urgency of the evangelizing mission of the church in the midst of today’s world, he exclaimed: How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction (Evangelii Gaudium, #261).
The Pope called upon the Holy Spirit to inspire that new evangelizing process: I implore the Spirit to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all people (Evangelii Gaudium, #261). He then describes evangelizers as: spirit-filled evangelizers who are fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit (Evangelii Gaudium, #259), evangelizers who work and pray (Evangelii Gaudium, #262), evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence (Evangelii Gaudium, #259).
As Vincent contemplated the situation of the Church in Europe as well as when he received news about the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity who had departed for foreign lands, he insisted on the church’s need for “workers”, for persons who would continue the mission of Jesus Christ, for true Apostles:
- Alas! the Church has enough solitaries … and too many useless ones, and even more who tear her apart. Her great need is evangelical men who work to purge, enlighten, and unite her to her Divine Spouse … to go and proclaim Jesus Christ to the poor people, and work at training priests. I beg you, Monsieur, let us labor at that with all our might, confident that Our Lord, who has called us to His manner of life, will give us a greater share in His Spirit and, in the end, in His glory (CCD:III:204-205).
- We have just sent three priests and three Daughters of Charity to Narbonne, two hundred leagues from here; we need even more of them for a few new establishments that are still to be made. Some men are preparing for the voyage to Madagascar, which will take place at the end of this month. We are being asked for workers on all sides. The harvest is abundant; we must pray that God will raise up apostolic men to gather it in (CCD:VIII:145).
With great emotion Vincent recalled the apostolic ministry of the Missionaries in Madagascar and Barbary: What have our Missioners in Barbary and Madagascar undertaken? What have they carried out? What have they accomplished? What have they suffered? … In Madagascar the Missioners preach, hear confessions, and teach catechism constantly from four in the morning until ten, and from two in the afternoon until nightfall; the rest of the time is spent praying the Office and visiting the sick. Those men are workers, they’re true Missioners! May God in His goodness be pleased to give us the spirit that animates them, a big heart, vast and ample! (CCD:XI:191-192, 192-193).
“Workers”, “apostolic men”, are the words that Vincent used when referring to those who were privileged to be called in order to cooperate in extending the Church elsewhere (CCD:III:41), in order to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but all over the world (CCD:XII:215).
When speaking to his confreres, Vincent referred to the authority of M. Duval in order to highlight the importance of priests as tireless workers: M. Duval, a great theologian of the Church, used to say that a priest must have more work than he can do; for, as soon as idleness and sloth get hold of a priest, every vice rushes in from all sides … O Savior! O my good Savior, may it please Your Divine Goodness to keep the Mission free of that spirit of laziness and of seeking its own comforts, and give it an ardent zeal for Your glory, which will make it accept everything joyfully and never refuse an opportunity to serve You (CCD:XI:191)
The greatest blessing of the Vincentian Family is to be able to minister as Jesus ministered: Oh! what a happiness for you to work at doing what He did! He came to bring the good news to the poor, and that is your lot and your occupation, too. If our perfection lies in charity, as is certain, there is none greater than to give oneself to save souls and to sacrifice oneself for them as Jesus Christ did. This is what you are called to do (CCD:VII:356).
Since the evangelization of the poor does not simply consist of proclaiming the truths of faith but rather consists of acting in the way that Jesus acted, the process of evangelization must also involve making visible the signs foretold by the prophets: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them (Luke 4:18). We can say that coming to evangelize the poor does not simply mean to teach them the mysteries necessary for their salvation, but also to do what was foretold and prefigured by the prophets to make the gospel effective (CCD:XII:75)
Louise de Marillac addressed the first Sisters and pointed out that it would be impossible to accept into the Company anyone who was unwilling to work (SWLM:241 [L.241], 508-509 [L.479], 586-587 [L.565]). Indeed, service on behalf of the poor requires good workers (SWLM:569 [L.545], 667-669 [L.647b]). The Daughters of Charity ought to earn their bread through their work (SWLM:239-239 [L.169]); they ought to seek out the sick poor in the neighboring villages and should not be satisfied with serving the infirm who come to their place of residence (SWLM:227-228 [L.126], 239-240 [L.208]).
Vincent and Louise referred to the relationship between masters and servants when describing the life of the Daughters of Charity as that of being servants of the poor, their lords and masters.
Mother Rogé summarized this contribution of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission when she stated: When one reads the instructions that Vincent and Louise gave to the first Daughters, we can see that they wanted the Sisters to take on the role of servants on behalf of the poor, our lords and masters. It has often been said that the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, in their coming and going, were viewed as revolutionary with regard to the manner in which they lived out their consecrated life in the Church. The Daughters, however, were also seen as revolutionary when viewed from the perspective of their ministry among the people1.
At the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI presented himself as a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord2. “Workers” “apostolic workers” “servants” … all of these are significant contributions of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission, contributions to their self-understanding as evangelizers.
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- Mother L. Rogé, “Attitudes of the Daughters of Charity with regard to service: total gift of self for service”, Conference given during the Meeting of the Provincial Councils in Avila (1981), Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 1982, 231-241.
- Benedict XVI, “URBI ET ORBI” APOSTOLIC BLESSING, FIRST GREETING OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI Central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica Tuesday, 19 April 2005, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050419_first-speech.html.