Now Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.
Lay associations founded by Saint Vincent and those which are inspired by his spirit should be of special concern to our members, since they have the right to our presence and to our support. Although all members should be willing to undertake this work, it is necessary for some to be more skilled in it. It is important that this animation have a spiritual, ecclesial, social and civic dimension.
The above cited text of Saint Luke, which speaks of the ministry of women, was often quoted by Saint Vincent. He often used these words in reference to the Ladies of Charity1 and the Daughters of Charity2. Saint Vincent expanded the horizons for the involvement of the laity, especially women, in the apostolate of charity. His first work was the formation of the Confraternities of Charity—an organization for both men and women. Other groups, like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society founded by Frederick Ozanam, have come into existence because of the on-going influence and inspiration of Saint Vincent. Our Statutes encourage the confreres to continue to coordinate these Vincentian Associations that exist in the Church.
1. We Are Lay Women of the Vincentian Family
The women who formed the International Charitable Association referred to themselves in the following way: “We are the Church because we are baptized. We are the Church and members of these Charitable Associations because the Lord has called us, as laywomen, to live a life of charity.” For Saint Vincent these charitable associations were a gift of God to the Church and membership in them was a true calling of God.
Vocation is an election by God, a calling from God to serve in some good work. God will enlighten those whom he calls, so that they might understand his plan and from this frame of mind, embrace wholeheartedly the desired good work. These individuals who commit themselves to God and his will, will be glorified and raised up to new life on the last day. This reality has taken place in your midst because God has inspired you as members of the Confraternity of Charity to take on this good work. He has touched your hearts. He has done the same to you as he did to Mary at the Annunciation—that is, he has revealed his plan. Like her, you too, have responded: ‘Be it done to me according to your word.’ Immediately, the Spirit of God overshadowed Mary, and in her womb the Lord took up his dwelling. God blessed Mary, and placed within her the body and soul of the Holy One, thus sanctifying and making her holy. Because of her perseverance, the angels comforted her and glorified her name3.
2. We Commit Ourselves to God in Order to Live as True Christians
God’s call demanded a response and for Saint Vincent this meant total consecration. Through this consecration, the members of the Vincentian Associations commit themselves to live their baptismal promises: to honor Christ and thus obtain the grace to live as true christians. This idea is explained in one of Saint Vincent’s conferences:
The Ladies of Charity commit themselves to God in order to live as true Christians. In this way they fulfill the command of God and the demands of justice: married persons should be faithful and obedient to one another; widows should live as widows; mothers should care for their children. Finally we add this last obligation which has been given to us by the Bishop of Geneva: let those who enter the Company or the Confraternity of Charity make a special profession to live a virtuous life, let them make exterior acts of piety and mercy and mortify their passions for the love of God. Then you will begin to travel the road of life that leads to the fullness of life. Come, then, those of you who have not yet joined, come and enter this Confraternity. It is most important that you open your hearts to the Lord, that you seek to do his will, that you serve the Lord and your brothers and sisters. If you take delight in your spouse, it is a blessing from God; if you are concerned about your children; it is a blessing from God; if you do your daily chores, it is a blessing from God. For this is how one enters the narrow gate of salvation. This is how one comes to live in heaven4.
3. We Have to Assist the Poor and Help Them Help Themselves
At the end of each mission, with the permission of the bishop and the pastor, Saint Vincent established the Confraternity of Charity. This reality manifests a deeper desire of Saint Vincent, namely that the Congregation of the Mission promote and establish groups, movements, associations and confraternities that have as their goal the service of the poor. This is made clear in one of Saint Vincent’s conferences:
So then if there are any among us who think they are in the Congregation of the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor but not to comfort them; to provide for their spiritual needs but not their temporal wants—listen then to these words, for we ought to assist them in every way that we can and we ought to influence others to work on their behalf5.
- Do I value the Association of Charity or do I criticize these associations without lifting a hand to help?
- What have I done to strengthen these Vincentian Associations?
- Do I consider this work an extension of my mission to evangelize the poor?
O glorious Saint Vincent, Patron of all charitable works, Father of the poor, you never denied help to anyone. Look kindly upon all those who seek your protection. Through your intercession may God assist the poor, alleviate the pain of the infirm, and comfort the afflicted. May the rich be moved to practice charity; sinners, converted; priests deepened in their apostolic zeal. May the Church be united; all nations live in peace; all people obtain salvation. In your holiness and power, be generous to us. With your out-stretched hand lead us through the difficulties of life. May we all one day be reunited with you in heaven where there will be no more weeping or mourning, no more suffering but only joy and happiness. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen6.
- Dialogue With the Ladies of Charity, April 6, 1647, O.C., x, 957.
- “On the End of the Congregation of the Mission,” December 6, 1658, O.C., xi, 392.
- Dialogue With the Ladies of Charity, April 6, 1647, O.C., x, 937.
- “On the Charity of the Ladies of Chatillon-Les-Dombes,” November and December, 1617, O.C., x, 574.
- “On the End of the Congregation of the Mission,” December 6, 1658, O.C., xi, 393.
- Prayer to Saint Vincent, Patron of Charitable Associations.