3. Faithful to Saint Vincent
The charism of the founders of religious institutes is revealed as an experience of the Spirit. This same charism is transmitted to their followers to be lived, preserved, interiorized and developed so that the Body of Christ might continue to be built up.
Mutuae Relationes, 11
The purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor. This end is achieved when, faithful to Saint Vincent, individually and collectively …
The call to fidelity is one of the main ideas of our present Constitutions. What is said here about the members and the local houses (individual fidelity is not sufficient, rather communal fidelity is required), is based on Saint Vincent’s inspiration and teaching. We are asked to be faithful to the purposes which Saint Vincent handed down to his followers.
1. Faithfulness to Our Founder—the Beginning of Renewal
The Second Vatican Council set forth the following principle for the renewal and adaptation of religious institutes:
The best interests of the Church are served when each of the different religious institutes has its own special character and purpose. Therefore, the spirit of the founders, the particular goals and traditions which constitute the heritage of each community, ought to be reaffirmed and preserved.1
Paul VI restated this same principle of renewal in his document Evangelica Testificatio:
The Council insists on the obligation of fidelity to the founders of religious institutes in those matters which pertain to their purpose and spirituality. This fidelity is one of the fundamental principles of renewal and one of the basic criteria for religious institutes when evaluating their works.2
2. Fidelity to the Charism of Saint Vincent
By its nature, the religious life brings with it a particular style of spirituality and apostolic activity which creates a tradition whose objective elements are able to be easily individualized. In evolving cultural circumstances and in the process of renewal, it is necessary to guarantee the fidelity of each institute. Only by acting in accordance with their particular ends and purposes can religious avoid the danger of becoming involved in the Church in a vague and ambiguous way.3
Since each charism bears with it a certain novelty in the life of the Church, it is not always easy to discern the way to respond to these charisms. Therefore, the above cited document goes on to say:
The characterization of each institute by its gifts requires: continual verification of its fidelity to the Lord, docility to the Spirit, understanding of the realities and visions of society, interpretation of the signs of the times, effective insertion into the Church, consciousness of its subordination to the hierarchy of the Church, boldness in its initiatives, constancy in its self-giving, humility in facing setbacks.4
3. The Constitutions as a Means to Be Faithful to Saint Vincent
Our Constitutions are merely an instrument at the service of the Vincentian charism. It is impossible to express in the Constitutions the totality of the spiritual message of Saint Vincent. There are other means. Recognizing, however, the limitations of the Constitutions, our fidelity to them is a guarantee of our faithfulness to Saint Vincent.
In accordance with the will of the Church, the Congregation of the Mission, founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, has revised its own fundamental law, in order that, under the inspiration of the Second Vatican Council, it might revitalize its apostolic activity and its life in the modern world.5
The Assembly of 1980 recognized the importance of returning to our roots, to the experiences and intentions of Saint Vincent, in order to fully understand and actualize the original purpose and spirit of our Founder. At the same time, the Assembly highlighted the necessity of drawing forth from our heritage those eternal truths that will enable us to respond to our calling, and that will allow us to maintain and express our unique place and purpose in the Church.
- Do I know Saint Vincent well enough to be able to discern my fidelity to his spirit, intentions and purposes?
- Do I think it is enough to work, regardless of whether or not my work is in conformity with the charism of Saint Vincent?
God, our Father, you filled your priest Saint Vincent with the strength of the apostles to work for the salvation of the poor and the instruction of the clergy. May we who follow the example of his life be driven by unceasing charity to continue the Mission of your Son in the world. 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.6