Happy St. Joseph Feast Day , Bonne Fête !
At this, our final Eucharist together, we have many reasons to be grateful to God! Why? First, as we hear proclaimed in our Gospel today, you and I are nothing less than branches of the vine of Jesus Himself –His life runs through our veins – so that wonderful things can happen in our own times just as it did for Paul, Barnabas and those first evangelizers in the first reading. My brothers, let us never forget that you and I are so special, so loved by God! Besides having been given the great gift of life (our first taste of mystery!), each of us has been given our faith and identity through Baptism, and, as Vincentians, our special calling as missioners to follow Jesus Christ, Evangelizer of the Poor. And we have credible models of what our own lives can mean for others – – first in our spiritual father Vincent de Paul, whose experience-rich 80 year journey brought him face-to-face with God through the very people he had at first endeavored to leave behind. And today we remember Joseph, a faithful Israelite yet quiet and fearless in his obedience to God’s voice in his life and his trust of Mary, even when it went against his religious instincts. Finally, today we express our gratitude for four weeks of Vincentian Heritage together, a pilgrimage together as many of you have noted. And clearly a gift from God and our Congregation, to nurture and refresh us, but even more, to encourage and challenge us.
During these four weeks we have experienced a CIF “formation program” designed for Vincentians who have many years of life experience. And whether or not we cherish those long ago memories of seminary days, CIF has been clearly a different kind of formation experience.
Like the young, ambitious Vincent, we spent our early formative years concerned with personal success, gaining knowledge, developing skills for pastoral ministry, becoming excellent priests and effective missioners. But as appropriate and necessary as that time in our lives was, CIF is different and meant to be so. Instead of acquiring new skills and concepts, we have tried to deepen our understanding of that call and identity we’ve committed to for years. Instead of competing for good grades and earning degrees, we have allowed ourselves to stumble a bit, to struggle to listen when it may not have been easy, to share time and life with our brothers from other provinces, languages and cultures, to be in someone else’s world. It’s likely that we felt uncomfortable or uncertain here in Paris, as strangers in a strange land, but these experiences can also open us to the reality “away from the center,” to those people and realities that, as busy pastoral workers or educators, we tend to not see and appreciate in our own more comfortable cultures. I hope so.
Years ago, Fr Hugh O’Donnell described CIF as “moving forward to basics.” I think this means that we should be deeply open to who we are called to be, and to our life-companion, the true, living God whom we tend not to notice in our busy lives, but who seems to be always pushing and pulling us where He would like us to go. Even after years of experience and ministry, we know we have stumbling blocks – such as being tempted to gaze backwards – to our accomplishments (or our failures), to keep repeating the same patterns and struggles we had as young men, or to be frightened of aging, of declining health, of becoming “less important” in the eyes of others. But instead of feeling that we must continue to fight same old battles in our lives, perhaps we can better see how our future as seasoned sons of Vincent could be truly satisfying and even bright : Why not “give ourselves away , completely” to others, why not gratefully receive more and be more willing to listen than be limited to deciding what must be given, and being in charge? Why not explore new reasons for hope as we age, rather than slide into self-preoccupation or even cynicism and despair ? Our father Vincent is such a good model for us as we become more seasoned !
Thank you for your willingness to live and work with us, with each other. Let us continue to pray for each other, hoping that our lives be marked more and more by the Life coming from that Great Vine that we have helped to form, so that we produce even more fruit as mature branches!
dpb, CIF 2013