Part I: Our vocation
…according to the ordinary plans of providence, God wishes to save all people, using other persons as his instruments. Indeed, the Lord took on a human form to save us. What joy to be able to work in the same way as Jesus. He came to proclaim good news to the poor and this is also our principal work. If our perfection is found in the practice of charity, then there is no greater charity than to dedicate oneself to the salvation of others and to be totally consumed, as was Jesus, in the accomplishment of this work. For this purpose, we have been called and have responded to God’s call. With this vision we entered the Little Company which is totally consecrated to the imitation of our Lord.
Letter to Monsieur A. Fleury
November 6, 1658
1. The Congregation of the Mission — God’s gift to the Church
The de Gondi family … believing it to be of great benefit for the salvation of souls and, at the same time, believing it to be a work pleasing to God, established a Congregation of pious and suitable men to care for the instruction of poor country people. Once this holy resolution was taken, St. Vincent, with just a few men, and inspired by God who is the author of all good things, began this work so useful to Christianity. Thus began the Congregation.
Urban VIII, Salvatoris Nostri
Understanding the spiritual dimension of the Congregation of the Mission is the starting point for understanding and evaluating its other aspects. The Congregation of the Mission is, above all, a gift of God to the Church.
1. God Has Done This
St. Vincent was fully convinced that God was the founder of the Company:
I never even thought of our rules, nor of the Company, nor even of the word ‘mission’. It is God who has done all of this; men have had no share in it. As for myself, when I think of the way that God has given birth to the Company in the Church, I confess I do not know what role I have had; and it seems to me that all that I see is a dream. Oh! it is not man-made; it is from God. Would you call ‘human’ something which human understanding had not foreseen, something which the human will had not sought or desired in any way?… It has all come about contrary to my hopes and without my ever having thought of it in any way. When I consider this and see what the Company is doing, it seems to me, in truth, to be a dream, and I think I am dreaming; I cannot explain it to you. It is like the poor prophet Habakkuk, whom an angel seized by the hair and carried off to a far-distant place to console Daniel in the lion’s den; then the angels brought him back to the place where he had been and he thought everything had been a dream.1
2. We Ought to Value the Few Talents God Has Placed in Our Hands
Today, we, as members of the Congregation of the Mission are responsible for deciding our activities. If the Company is a gift of God, then fidelity to that gift demands that we all be attentive to God’s design for us and place the talents we possess at his disposal. St. Vincent wrote to one of the missionaries:
God does not guide this work according to our ideas and desires. We have to value the few talents he has placed in our hands. If we are faithful in the little things, he will place us over greater things… Let us put aside our work and reflect on our unimportance. The Company began without my ever having thought of it. It grew because of the blessings of God. With grateful eyes, God will see our commitment, and we will experience peace. The spirit of the world is restless and likes to do all sorts of things. Let us put aside this wordly spirit. Let us not follow our own paths, but rather let us follow the paths God points out to us. Let us offer ourselves to him so that we might do everything and suffer everything for his glory and for the edification of his Church.2
3. Let Us Trust in Providence
God, founder of the Company, holds us within his special providence. Saint Vincent exhorted his missionaries to have great confidence in Providence, especially in regard to the present and future of the Congregation:
Let us place our confidence in God, but let that confidence in him be complete and perfect and let us regard it as certain that, as he began his work in us, he will complete it. For I ask you: who established the Company? It is God who has done this and done it by means of such persons as seemed good to him, so that all the glory might be his. Therefore, let us place all our confidence in him—because if we place it in people, or indeed, if we rely on any advantages of nature or fortune, then God will withdraw from us. ‘But’, someone will say, ‘we must make friends for ourselves and for the Company’. Let us guard ourselves carefully against listening to such a thought, for it would lead us astray. Let us seek only God, and he will provide us with friends and with everything else, so that nothing will be wanting to us. Do you wish to know why we have failed in some task? It is because we have relied on ourselves.3
- What criteria do I use to judge and evaluate the events and actions of the Congregation of the Mission?
- What criteria do I use when I muse make a decision?
- Do I consider valid the doctrine of St. Vincent to seek no human or wordly spirit?
God our Father, the beginning and the goal of every human vocation, you chose St. Paul the Apostle at his conversion to spread your name throughout the world. You also brought forth, through the zeal of St. Vincent, a spiritual family to preach the Gospel to the poor. May we walk faithfully in the way of our vocation. As we imitate the work of the Apostle of the Gentiles may we preach confidently the Gospel of truth and peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 4
- “On Observance of the Rule,” Obras Completas De San Vicente De Paul, (Ediciones Sigueme: Salamanca, Espana, 1977), xi, 326. In the footnotes that follow, this work (a twelve volume work) will be designated with the letters, O.C., followed by the volume and page number, e.g. O.C., xi, 326.
- Letter to Guillaume Desdomes, April 25, 1659, O.C., vii, 438.
- “On Confidence in God,” O.C., xi, 731.
- Prayer from the Mass of the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25.