Fr. Marcelo Manimtim and I welcomed our new group this morning, launching the Autumn Ongoing Formation program — the 27th since 1994! I’ll be posting updates over the next eight weeks. We concelebrated our inaugural bi-lingual Eucharist in the “Oratoire” , the Maison Mère’s Community chapel on the first floor. Reflections spring from today’s readings (feast of the Nativity of Mary) and the chapel’s central painting — the aged Vincent de Paul’s last moments on this earth.
“You, Bethlehem-Ephrathrah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”
When we listen closely to the Word of God, it will often surprise us, challenge us, and even disturb us. Like the tribal Hebrews and their Israelite descendants, we may first look for a God to erase our problems, who stands up for us (since we’re always on the right side), even for a God who kills our enemies. Remarkably, over time our God always seems to turn out to be quite a surprise! We may have preferred a big, mighty, fearful king or a great magician, but God shows up in unexpected places and in “little” people, like an under-appreciated mother or father, a suffering servant, a beggar, an inexperienced teenaged girl, even a helpless infant who clearly needs US. When the Israelites learned to recognize God’s presence, when they on occasion welcomed His revelation they were always transformed into images, reflections of that Revealed God.
Transformation by grace is like that. We may start by begging God for favors, but slowly we learn to be open to God, to wait patiently and finally see and hear God around us, and most importantly, to welcome God as God reveals Self…and, voilà, we are the ones who are changed! This is why we celebrate Mary so often during our calendar year. She waits, she listens, she welcomes, and she says, “yes” to God. That’s really all this “little one” did. That’s all you and I need to do, in order to be like Mary.
Look at the painting of our founder on our chapel wall; the first time I noticed it, I was surprised – since it does not commemorate great works or accomplishments, but rather Vincent’s death. It describes a man who, in his final hours, is “marked” by joy, overflowing with grace. Even his missionary brothers who surround him are themselves hopeful and at peace rather than in mourning. These are people transformed by the Spirit.
In the following weeks we will see how very talented and determined the young Vincent was, but also how self-centered he was and in such a hurry for financial security. Yet, he ended his life with few possessions, but filled to overflowing with God’s love, eagerly caring for people and pouring out hope to anyone in impossible situations. Any mark that young Vincent would have made on the world probably would have been soon forgotten. Instead, the Vincent we know allowed God to mark him, and so we have a believable saint who we can learn from, emulate, pray to – because he is, after all, just like us. As Vincent’s followers, God’s mark on us is what we too hope for — we are inviting our own transformation!
If we give ourselves to the experience, these next eight weeks can certainly help all of us, . Marcelo and I are glad to be with you but let us also help each other! Presenters will guide and stimulate us, we will break bread and pray and serve each other, and our journey together will take us to so many of the places where Vincent walked and worked. The marvelous truth about being here in France, studying our own roots, our spiritual father, Vincent, is that we can soon identify with the inspiring organizer Vincent who also saw himself as a “work in progress.” He always knew his need for God’s grace. In that he acted just like Mary. Underneath his passion for working with the poor, Vincent lived and died urging his brothers, his sisters, friends and collaborators to be open, serious about how much God could do. We want to give ourselves to our work but let’s also learn better to wait on the Lord, to trust in Providence.
Continuing our Eucharist, let us now appeal to our God, who wants so much to be present in us… as He did with Mary, Vincent, and so many others … to transform us into instruments of His love.
dpb: paris, maison mère, 8 sept 2012