- A time to understand
Evangelii Gaudium, the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis that was published some three years ago, highlights and clarifies the theology of joy that is based on an encounter with the Risen Lord: with Christ joy is constantly born anew (EG, #1). Four hundred years after the birth of our charism, the ideas, which have been emphasized by Pope Francis, provide us with an insight that enables us to reread our Vincentian spirituality during this Easter Season.
There is no doubt that Vincent de Paul was a man of his era, one who was influenced by the French School of spirituality and by the classical theology that was taught at the University of Toulouse. Such theology did not include a development of the virtue of joy nor a Christology that was focused on the resurrection as an historical event. Nevertheless, the life and the ministry of the apostle of charity has to be understood as a whole since it is only in that way that we avoid falsely interpreting individual passages in the writing of the saint.
It is true that a life of service on behalf of the poor demands sacrifice and mortification, but that does not mean that Vincent and his followers were bitter and/or resentful. Quite the contrary … we discover that Vincent spoke about service and dedication to the poor as a lifestyle that brings happiness to those who are engaged in such a mission.
For example, in April 1656, Vincent wrote to a Missionary who had recently made vows and stated: how happy are they who give themselves unreservedly to him to do the works that Jesus Christ did and to practice the virtues that he practiced, such as poverty, obedience, humility, patience, zeal and the rest (CCD:V:585). On October 29th, 1638 Vincent reminded the Missionaries that they must neither seek nor expect rest, satisfaction and blessings anywhere else but in the Congregation of the Mission, since that’s the only place God wants and desires them to be (CCD:XI:98). The same message was spoken to the priests who gave retreats to the ordinands, that is, he offered them advise and encouraged them to live their lives in such a manner that their witness in turn would motivate those who were about to be ordained: if possible you should blend the three colors of modesty, cheerfulness and gentleness (CCD:XI:145).
Four centuries later, as we reflect anew on Vincent’s charismatic insight, we are invited to be very careful about interpreting the following of Jesus Christ, evangelizing of the poor, as a praise of the cross and suffering or as a praise of the misery of those persons who are poor. We must also not assume that our spirituality is focused on sacrifice and mortification and great works that can be performed be individuals in some heroic manner. Indeed, we must be careful about interpreting our spirituality from a perspective of the cross that neglects the reality of the resurrection as an event that fills the community with life and newness.
When we are not careful in this regard, then, as Pope Francis says, our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns … there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard; the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades … this is not God’s will for us nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ (EG, #2).
As Vincent de Paul stated to the Daughters of Charity, our lot, our Vincentian vocation consists of a participation in the very joy of God: God’s pleasure, his joy, his satisfaction, so to speak, is to be with the humble and the simple who are conscious of their lowliness. What a great incentive for hope and consolation for us! (CCD:IX:309).
- A time to contemplate
We suggest that the various Vincentian groups can reflect and dialogue together by putting some form of light or a candle in their midst, thus reminding the participants of the Easter light. Around the light or the candle the following words can be written in large letters so that everyone might see them … the participants will reflect on those words:
JOY, HAPPINESS, DEATH, SADNESS, FRUSTRATION, RESURRECTION
It is important to provide silence so that participants can reflect on the following questions: what image comes to mind as I reflect on this word (one of the six words above); what memory is stirred up as I reflect on this word? After some time of silence, it would be good to share one’s thoughts with the others who have gathered together to participate in this sharing.
- A time to mediate
For this month of April we propose that the group respond to the following question: how, in our family, in our Vincentian group, in the larger community, do we communicate the joy, the newness and the message of the risen Christ?
- A time for commitment
The Easter event gives meaning all the various Vincentian works throughout the world. As Saint Paul says: if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is in vain. Therefore, our commitment should help us to give greater witness to the risen Christ.
More specifically, let us consider accepting some new responsibility during this Easter Season. Let us be for those persons who are poor an image of the Risen Lord who shares with all people the gifts of joy and hope and who offers them the opportunity to begin anew.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM
 CCD:V:585 refers to: Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009. Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number.