The Way of St. Vincent Is Our Way. 10. Attentive to the signs of the times

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoCharismLeave a Comment

Author: Miguel Pérez Flores, C.M. & Antonino Orcajo, C.M. · Translator: Charles T. Plock, C.M.. · Year of first publication: 1986.
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10. Attentive to the signs of the times

In the evening you say, ‘It will be fine; there is a red sky’, and in the morning, ‘Stormy weather today; the sky is red and overcast’. You know how to read the face of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times.
Matthew 16:2-3

With this purpose in view, the Congregation of the Mission, faithful to the Gospel, and always attentive to the signs of the times and the more urgent calls of the Church, should take care to open up new ways and use new means adapted to the circumstances of time and place. Moreover, it should strive to evaluate and plan its works and ministries and in this way remain in a continual state of renewal.
Constitutions, 2

The phrase “signs of the times” contains evangelical overtones. Because of its use by Pope John XXIII, by Vatican Council II, and by post-Conciliar documents, these words have acquired a profound and interesting meaning. The “signs of the times” can interpret or inspire; in these signs we can hear the voice of God.

1. Voice of the Times, Voice of God

Today no one doubts that God speaks through and is present in events. The task is to discern his presence and his message:

The People of God believe that they are led by the Spirit of the Lord, who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, they labor to decipher the authentic signs of God’s presence and purpose in the events, needs and desires in which this people has a part, as do all the other people of our age. Faith, you see, throws a new light on everything. Faith manifests God’s design for our total vocation, and so it directs the mind to solutions that are fully human.1

2. Scrutinize, Interpret, Discern

The “signs of the times” interest the Congregation of the Mission; they open up new methods, they evaluate our labors and keep us in a state of continual renewal. Therefore, the Congregation …

has the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Then, in language intelligible to each generation, we can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this life and the life to come, and about the relationship between these two realities. We must, then, scrutinize and understand the world in which we live—its expectations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.2

In this same sense Paul VI said:

All over the created universe we can find signs that are like bridges that unite us to the undescribable world of the hidden God. In time and in the course of events, these signs demonstrate to us the loving Providence of God, or point out something about God’s Kingdom, his designs for us, or the possibility, the availability or the urgency of an apostolic action.3

3. To Follow the Order of Providence

The works of Saint Vincent were inspired by the situation of the Church, her priests and the poor, viewed from the perspective of faith, Saint Vincent listened to the message of God in the events of his times and followed the lead given by that message. Thus Saint Vincent wrote to M. LeVacher:

None of these works, (i.e., the Congregation, the missions, our work with the ordinands or the Daughters of Charity), was started by itself or according to our plans. Instead, God began these works, for he desired to be served effectively in these situations. Without him we would not even know where to go to achieve our goals.4

For Saint Vincent, it was important to follow the lead of Providence and to act in union with Providence in important matters as well as in ordinary things.

  • Do I take time to study and reflect on those events which positively or negatively affect the life of the Church?
  • What signs of the times affect the life of the Congregation of the Mission today?


O Lord, you have given us the grace to see and to think, the strength to love and the joy of self-giving; help us to discern and understand the signs of our times in the light of the Gospel and of our vocation, so that we may whole-heartedly serve you, the Church and the poor. We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  1. Gadium et Spes, December 7, 1965, 11.
  2. Ibid., 4.
  3. Paul VI, Audience of April 4, 1969.
  4. Letter to Jean Martin, October 19, 1657, O.C., vi, 499.

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