8. Charity animates the mission and the mission is charity
Jesus, in the synagogue at Nazareth1 and as he proclaimed the text from the prophet Isaiah (The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord) … in this manner Jesus defined his mission and gave the prophet’s words a programmatic value as he initiated his public ministry. In that scene from which Vincent derived the motto of the Congregation, we should note that Jesus personalized the words of the prophet: “upon me”, “anointed me”, “sent me”. The same could be said today about the words which Jesus spoke as he concluded his reading.
The Vincentian charism has made it explicit that the Christian life prolongs the life and the mission of Christ when he was on earth. The Vincentian charism has also actualized the meaning of evangelizing the poor: to act and to teach, like Jesus, (to reveal the words and deeds foretold by the prophets) (CCD:XII:75).
In this service on behalf of the poor and every work that is undertaken for their promotion and their liberation, the prophetic and messianic signs are revelations of the merciful presence of the Father who, in the person of Jesus, walks beside the poor and saves them 2. Thus, Vincent extends the following invitation: Come, then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned (CCD:XI:349).
Love and charity are at the very origin of the Mission: Christ’s love is infinite (cf. CCD:XII:94). If we discover the love of Jesus Christ and clothe ourselves in his love, then like him, we will be able to dedicate ourselves to the salvation of our brothers and sisters: Let’s look at the Son of God; what a heart of charity He had; what a fire of love! Please tell us, Jesus, who pulled You away from heaven to come to endure the curse of earth and the many persecutions and torments You suffered? O Savior! Source of love humbled even to our level and to a vile agony, who showed, in that, greater love for the neighbor than You yourself did? You came to lay yourself open to all our misfortunes, to take the form of a sinner, to lead a life of suffering and to undergo a shameful death for us; is there any love like that? But who else could love in such an outstanding way? Only Our Lord, who was so enamored with the love of creatures as to leave the throne of His Father to come to take a body subject to weaknesses. And why? To establish among us, by His word and example, love of the neighbor. This is the love that crucified Him and brought about that admirable work of our redemption. O Messieurs, if we had only a little of that love, would we stand around with our arms folded? Would we let those we could assist perish? Oh, no! Charity can’t remain idle; it impels us to work for the salvation and consolation of others (CCD:XII:216).
Entering into this love of Jesus Christ we can serve the most wretched, the most abandoned, and the most weighed down by corporal and spiritual suffering (CCD:XI:69).
The mission becomes charity because, in following Jesus Christ, true evangelization is proclamation and service (transformative action): If priests devote themselves to the care of the poor, wasn’t that what Our Lord and many great saints did, and they not only recommended poor persons to others, but they themselves consoled, comforted, and healed them? Aren’t those who are poor the afflicted members of Our Lord? Aren’t they our brothers and sisters? And if priests abandon them, who do you think is going to help them? So then, if there are any among us who think they’re in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others, if we want to hear those pleasing words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, “Come, beloved of my Father; possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you assisted me.” To do that is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, and that’s the most perfect way; it’s also what Our Lord did, and what those should do who represent Him on earth, officially and by nature (CCD:XII:77-78).
Charity-mission, mission charity … mission flows from love and charity sets the mission in motion and constantly animates the mission. The mission becomes charity and is expressed in the signs proclaimed by the prophets, signs of love3.
It is this experience of Charity-Mission that makes spiritual and corporal service not two separate purposes of the Vincentian charism but rather two aspects of the same purpose, of the same evangelizing mission.
The Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission concretize this contribution of the Vincentian charism to the Church’s mission:
- The members of the Congregation of the Mission, as they follow Jesus Christ, work at evangelizing the poor, especially the more abandoned (Constitutions 1.2); their evangelization is the sign that the kingdom of God is present on earth (cf. Matthew 11:5) (Constitutions, 12.1); the Congregation of the Mission from the time of its Founder, and under his inspiration, sees itself called by God to carry out the work of evangelizing the poor. In its own way, it can, with the whole Church, state of itself that evangelizing is to be considered its own grace and vocation, and expresses its deepest identity (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14). Furthermore, the members, individually and collectively, can rightly make use of the words of Jesus: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God for which I have been sent”(Luke 4:43) (Constitutions, #10).
- Charity is the source of the mission: The love of Christ, who had pity on the crowd (Mark 8:2), is the source of all our apostolic activity, and urges us, in the words of St. Vincent, “to make the Gospel really effective”(SV, XII, 84). According to the varying circumstances of time and place, our work of evangelization in word and action should strive for this, that all, through a process of conversion and celebration of the sacraments, should be faithful to “the kingdom, that is to say, the new world, the new order, the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the gospel inaugurates” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 23) (Constitutions, #11).
- The mission is charity: Following St. Vincent, who, like the Good Samaritan of the gospel parable (Luke 10:30-37), gave effective help to the abandoned, provinces and members should earnestly strive to serve those rejected by society and those who are victims of disasters and injustices of every kind. We should also assist those who suffer from forms of moral poverty which are peculiar to our own times… (Constitutions, #18).
At the same time the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity also concretize this contribution of the Vincentian charism to the Church’s mission:
- The Company participates in the church’s universal mission of salvation, according to the charism of its Founders, Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac (Constitutions, #1a).
- The Sisters find Christ and contemplate Him in the heart and life of those who are poor, where His grace is ever at work to sanctify and save them. Their primary concern is to make God known to them, to proclaim the Gospel, and to make the Kingdom present (Constitutions, 10a).
- Charity is the source of the mission: At the school of the Son of God, the Daughters of Charity learn that no type of distress should be foreign to them. Christ appeals constantly to their Company through their suffering brothers and sisters, through the signs of the times, and through the Church. Multiple are the forms of poverty and multiple the forms of service, but one is the love bestowed on those whom God has “called and assembled” (Constitutions, #11a).
- Mission is charity: Faithful to this spirit, the Company makes every effort to be available and ready to respond creatively and courageously to the calls of the Church and the urgent needs of the poor, while respecting cultural differences (Constitutions, 12b).
- Mission and Charity are inseparable: With constant concern for the promotion of the whole person, the Company does not separate corporal service from spiritual service, nor the work of humanization from that of evangelization. It joins service and presence as Christ did when he revealed the love of the Father and gave as signs of His mission: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk … and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Constitutions, #14).
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- Luke 4:16-21: during my research for this presentation I have utilized Dimensión Social del Jubileo, Cáritas, Pamplona, 2000. Cf. also A. Vanhoye, L’anno giubilare nel vangelo di Luca, Tertium Millennium, (1997), p. 22-25. Cf. also C.M. Martini, El evangelizador en San Lucas, Ediciones Paulinas, Bogotá, 19854; A. George, El evangelio según san Lucas, Verbo Divino, Estella, 1976.
- P. Jaramillo Rivas, “El Año del Padre y la Pastoral de la Caridad” in Corintios XIII, (1999), p. 261.
- Paul VI linked between the proclamation of the gospel with the process of inculturation and included in that process human and social promotion as integral components of evangelization. Cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, #17-22 and #29-35. Pope Francis cites Paul VI (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #17) and affirms: To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world. Yet “any partial or fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelization in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it (Evangelii Gaudium, #176).