We have just asked the Lord to give us a heart like that of Vincent de Paul. It is said that we are able to love more that which we know better and so this morning we are going to try to know a little more about the heart of Monsieur Vincent.
Some time ago José Vicente asked me to share with you during this time when the members of the Province gather together. He asked me to take on the responsibility for the formation element of the program, but I was very resistant to this idea. Earlier this year, however, when I was formally requested to make this presentation, I passed on this request to Father Gregory, who wrote under my words: you can count on my support as you undertake this work. At that moment I was unable to refuse … and so here we are.
José Vicente told me that he would like me to deal with the social doctrine of the Church and he knew that this was a theme that I was very interested in … this is a vast field for study and we only have about two hours … so what should I do?
Last May, at the request of the Formation Councilors, I gave a mini-course to the young Sisters in Spain. This course lasted two and a half days and should have had a duration of at least four days. In the final evaluation, under the heading of negative aspects, the participants said that the material was very dense and that they did not have sufficient time for reflection … they had every reason to make that criticism. The evaluation was done on the final morning and they had to classify the different statements from 0-5 … the lowest mark that was given was a 4. The theme that was developed during that gathering was: the prophetic dimension of the Vincentian charism in light of the Church’s social doctrine.
We began the morning by reflecting on the evangelical counsels as described in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. We then related this material to the statements in our Constitutions where this same matter is discussed. Then instead of reflecting on our vow of service to the poor, we studied Saint Vincent, Saint Louise, the first Daughters of Charity, Sister Rosalie Rendu, Mother Guillermin … again this study was done in light of the Church’s social doctrine.
Reading between the lines of the evaluation, one of the things that I was able to deduce was that while the Sisters were very interested in the social doctrine, they also hoped, desired and had a need for points of reference within their own Congregation.
Today we do not have the time to embark on a reflection on the material that I have just mentioned. What I proposed to José Vicente was to focus on Vincent de Paul, synthesizing and adapting material so that we might be able to have a rich sharing during this day when the Province gathers together to celebrate the birth of the Congregation of the Mission. Since we are unable to examine in detail the sources and roots and processes that led to the formation of the social doctrine of the Church, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that the first “official document”, the first social encyclical, was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, that is, two hundred and thirty years after the death of Saint Vincent.