2. Christian life as viewed from the perspective of a theology of mission: men and women who continue the mission of the Son of God
I have just mentioned the fact that the theology of mission is a starting point for the new forms of life in the Church, forms of life in which the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity have been pioneers.
The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity formulate the identity of the Company from the perspective of the mission of Jesus Christ:
- The Daughters of Charity form a Company recognized by the Church under the name of Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, Servants of the Poor. The Company participates in the Church’s universal mission of salvation, according to the charism of its Founders, Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac (Constitutions, #1a).
- Christ is the Rule of the Daughters of Charity. They endeavor to follow Him as Scripture reveals Him to them and as their Founders perceived Him: Adorer of the Father, Servant of His Loving Plan, Evangelizer of those who are poor. To follow Him and carry on His mission, the Daughters of Charity choose to live totally and radically the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, making them available for the purpose of their Company (Constitutions #8a, 8b).
The Constitutions of the Congregation view the life and the apostolic activity of the Missionaries as a continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ:
- The purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ evangelizing the poor (Constitutions #1).
- The Congregation of the Mission from the time of its Founder, and under his inspiration, sees itself called by God to carry out the work of evangelizing the poor. In its own way, it can, with the whole Church, state of itself that evangelizing is to be considered its own grace and vocation, and expresses its deepest identity (cf. EN, 14). Furthermore, the members, individually and collectively, can rightly make use of the words of Jesus: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God for which I have been sent”(Lk 4:43) (Constitutions #10).
- The love of Christ, who had pity on the crowd (Mk 8:2), is the source of all our apostolic activity, and urges us, in the words of St. Vincent, “to make the Gospel really effective”(SV, XII, 84) (Constitutions #11).
- Wishing to follow the mission of Christ, we commit ourselves as members of the Congregation to evangelize the poor for the whole of our lives. To fulfill this vocation we embrace chastity, poverty, and obedience according to the Constitutions and Statutes. And so, “the little Congregation of the Mission… to work for the salvation of people, especially the rural poor… has judged that no weapons would be more powerful or more suitable than those which eternal Wisdom so tellingly and effectively used” (CR, II, 18) (Constitutions #28).
Viewing life as a prolongation of the life and the mission of Jesus Christ, the Missionary of the Father, the Evangelizer of the poor, constitutes an important contribution of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the church.
The monastic ideal prevailed in the Church for many centuries. Consecration to God, as expressed in a life of chastity, poverty and obedience, introduced faithful Christians to a state of perfection. This ideal impelled some ordained ministers to create Orders that united priestly ministry with monastic life, for example, various groups of Canons Regular and later, Orders and Congregations of Canons Regular.
This same monastic ideal encouraged the development of Third Orders which enabled the laity to participate in the spirituality and the practices of the monks and friars and nuns. When Francis de Sales wrote, Introduction to the Devout Life, he intended to make the ideal of perfection accessible to those who were unable to live a cloistered life.
Vincent de Paul adopted the missionary program of Jesus as his own, that is, he has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). Vincent never tired of saying that the Son of God, the Missionary of the Father, came into the world in order to evangelize the poor. He would, then, go on to state that the Missionaries prolong the mission of Jesus Christ on earth: In this vocation, we’re very much in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who seems to have made His principal aim, in coming into the world, to assist poor people and to take care of them. Misit me evangelizare pauperibus. And if we ask Our Lord, “What did you come to do on earth?” ‘To assist the poor.’ “Anything else?” ‘To assist the poor,’ etc. Now, He had only poor persons in His company and He devoted himself very little to cities, almost always conversing with and instructing village people. So, are we not very fortunate to belong to the Mission for the same purpose that caused God to become man? And if someone were to question a Missioner, wouldn’t it be a great honor for him to be able to say with Our Lord, Misit me evangelizare pauperibus? I’m here to catechize, instruct, hear confessions, and assist persons who are poor (CCD:XI:98-99).
The Congregation of the Mission is situated in the Church as a group of workers who follow Jesus Christ and continue his mission on earth (CCD:XI:190-191)
Vincent de Paul, who played a decisive role in the reform of the clergy, urged all priests (not only the Missionaries), to strive for the apostolic ideal, assuring them that the Church needed apostolic men 1. According to Vincent de Paul, true renewal must involve conversion.
Louise had no hesitation in stating that if people wanted to be authentic Christians then they had to live as Jesus lived, they had to do what Jesus did:
- I have resolved to meditate profoundly on His life and to try to imitate it. I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the title of Christian which we bear, and I came to the conclusion that we must, indeed, truly conform our lives to the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (SWLM:777 [A.36]).
- Let us lift up our spirits … so that in all our actions we may honor Our Lord by the witness He wishes us to bear to Him by performing the actions which He accomplished on earth (SWLM:821 [A.26]).
- It is only reasonable that we should follow Him and imitate His holy, human life. This thought absorbed my mind and moved me to resolve to follow Him wholeheartedly, without any reservation. Filled with consolation and happiness at the thought of being accepted by Him to live my entire life as His follower (SWLM:715 [A.5]).
This experience, shared by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, would take form and would be perpetuated in the Church in the formation of Vincentian priests and brothers as well as in the Company of the Daughters of Charity and in the Confraternities of Charity.
We read the following words in the conferences and recommendations that were addressed to the Daughters of Charity:
- Like the Apostles, you go from place to place as Our Lord sends you by order of your Superiors. You’ve undertaken to do what Our Lord did on earth (CCD:X:117-118).
- They will perform all their actions, corporal as well as spiritual, in a spirit of humility and charity and in union with those Our Lord Jesus Christ performed on earth (CCD:X:105).
- Ask Our Lord to give you the dispositions you must have, and, by His goodness, to do in you, through you, and with you everything He wants you to do (CCD:X:449).
- Your way of life also prescribes that you make a short annual retreat … You’ll learn there to be true Daughters of Charity; you’ll also learn there how to serve the sick well. You’ll go over in your mind the actions of Our Lord when He was on earth, you’ll see that He spent a good part of His time serving His neighbor, and you’ll take the resolution to imitate Him. What do you think Our Lord did? He wasn’t satisfied with restoring the sick to health; He also taught them how to act when they were well. Imitate Him (CCD:IX:176).
The laity, who are members of the Confraternities of Charity, view their life from the perspective of Jesus’ mission. That idea was expressed in the various rules that were redacted by Vincent and Louise: The Confraternity of Charity will be erected in the parish church of Argenteuil to honor Our Lord Jesus its patron and His Holy Mother, and to assist the sick poor of Argenteuil spiritually and corporally: spiritually, by obtaining that those who seem to be close to death leave this world in a good state and that those who will recover make the resolution never to offend God in the future; corporally, by giving them the food they need; and, lastly, to fulfill Our Lord’s ardent desire that we love one another (CCD:XIIIb:103).
The mission of Jesus Christ is also a point of reference for the Christian life of the women who collaborated in the various Vincentian ministries: Jesus’ main concern was the care of poor persons in order to heal them, console them, help them, and respect them; that was His aim. And He Himself willed to be born poor, to welcome poor persons into His company, to serve those who were poor, to put Himself in their place, even going so far as to say that the good and the harm we do to those who are poor He will consider as done to His Divine Person. What more tender love could He show for persons who were poor! And, I ask you, what love can we have for Him if we don’t1ove what He loved! That being the case, Ladies, loving those who are poor is to love Him in that way; serving poor persons well is to serve Him well; and imitating Him is to honor Him as we should. Since that is so, oh! what good reason we have to be spurred on to continue those good works and to say right now in the depths of our hearts, “Yes,” I give myself to God to take care of those who are poor and to maintain the works of charity on their behalf. I will help, love, and respect them, and, after the example of Our Lord, I will love those who console them and show respect to those who visit them and bring them relief. Now, if this kind Savior is honored by this imitation, how much more should we consider it a great honor to make ourselves like Him in that! Don’t you think, Ladies, that this is a very powerful motive for renewing in you your first fervor? For my part, I think we should offer ourselves today to His Divine Majesty, that He may be pleased to animate us with His charity so that it can henceforth be said of all of you that it is the charity of Jesus Christ that urges you on (CCD:X:433-434).
The Vincentian charism, expressed and actualized by the communities and associations of the Vincentian Family, has revealed that to be Christian is to live as Christ and is to continue the mission which, as the Missionary of the Father, Jesus initiated while he was on earth. Furthermore, Jesus called the apostles and the women who were associated with the apostles to participate in his mission.
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- Corpus Delgado, “Hombres Apostólicos:Ser sacerdote a partir de la experiencia de Vicente de Paúl” [Apostolic Men: A Priest from the Perspective of Vincent de Paul’s Experience], Vincentiana, (2010), 39-61, this article is available in English at: http://famvin.org/wiki/Apostolic_Men