Rolando Gutiérrez, CM, Vice-Province of Costa Rica, continues his 400th anniversary reflections with “The Charity of Christ Urges Us”

[1] A time to understand 

It was 1897 when Pablo Picasso presented the world with a painted canvas entitled, Science and Charity.  In that painting, we see a Daughter of Charity who carries in her left arm a poor child while extending her right arm in order to comfort and care for the child’s mother.  This incredible work of the Spanish artist crystallizes one dominant insight: the doctor is a symbol of knowledge while the Daughter of Charity is seen as an icon of charity.

For four centuries the Vincentian charism has raised on high the banner of charity.  Indeed, as Vincentians we are heirs of the charismatic insight that enabled Vincent de Paul to understand the depth of meaning in the words that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees:  one of them [a scholar of the law] tested [Jesus] him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Vincent, in his advanced years, stated: Each of us knows that the Law and the Prophets are included in the love of God and neighbor (CCD:XII:213)[1] and that same idea was emphasized in the first rules that were given to the Daughters of Charity in 1645 (rules that were made more explicit during the time of Father Almeras [cf. CCD:XIIIb:147-169]).  That rule parallels the evangelical text which unites love of God and love of neighbor, viewing such love as two sides of the same coin: they will always be mindful that they are called Daughters of Charity, that is, Sisters who make profession of loving God and the neighbor; consequently, besides the sovereign love they should have for God, they should excel in love of the neighbor, especially of their companions (CCD:XIIIb:126).

In this way, the greatest artistic work of Vincent de Paul can be described in terms of painting the world in charity … thus highlighting the Pauline imperative that became the motto of the Daughters of Charity: Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Corinthians 5:14).  That charity flows out in three directions: toward God, toward the neighbor, and toward one’s companions.  Nevertheless, that charity, regardless of whether it be toward God, the neighbor or one’s companions, has the same end, the same urgency and the same way of loving: affective and effective.  Vincent stated: you should know that there are two kinds of love: one is called effective, and the other, effective. Affective love proceeds from the heart. The person who loves is filled with warmth and affection, is continually aware of the presence of God, finds satisfaction in thinking about Him, and spends her life imperceptibly in such contemplation. Thanks to this love, she does, with no difficulty-and even with pleasure-the most difficult things, and is vigilant and careful concerning anything that can make her pleasing to God; lastly, she basks in this divine love and takes no pleasure in any other thoughts.  Love is effective when we act for God without experiencing its warmth. This love isn’t perceptible to the soul; it doesn’t feel it, but it still produces its effect and completes its act (CCD:IX:373).

 How is one able to love God, neighbor and one’s companions in ministry in an affective and effective manner?  Vincent responded to that question during the conference in which he referred to the seven acts of charity (May 30, 1659).  In that conference Vincent was explaining the twelfth chapter of the Common Rules to the Missionaries and he stated:  We should try, then, (1) to behave toward others in the way we might reasonably expect to be treated by them; (2) to agree with others, and to accept everything in the Lord; (3) to put up with one another without grumbling; (4) to weep with those who weep; (5) to rejoice with those who rejoice; (6) to yield precedence to one another; (7) to be kind and helpful to one another in all sincerity finally, to be all things to all people so that we may win everyone for Christ (CCD:XII:213).  Later, Vincent concluded: We really must give ourselves to God to imprint these truths on our soul, to organize our life according to this spirit, and to do the works of this love. There are no people in the world more obliged to do this than we are (CCD:XII:214).


[2] A time to contemplate

 The artistic work of Picasso presents us with an opportunity to contemplate our Vincentian being and manner of acting.  Let us attempt to enter into this painting and let us experience, from a Vincentian perspective, what it is like to represent the charism of charity to the present-day world.  Let us also attempt to feel with the Daughter of Charity and ask ourselves: are we enflamed with charity on behalf of the poor who are beside me?

Let us also attempt to identify the infirm woman and the child with the face of individual members of our specific branch of the Vincentian Family … what acts of charity arise from me as I serve the neighbor who is so near to me, the neighbor with whom I live and with whom I share the Vincentian mission?


[3] A time to mediate

 As we pray and ask God for the needed humility in order to better understand ourselves, let us also pause to ask ourselves:

  • How do we understand the word charity? How do we express charity in concrete, everyday situations?
  • Do we understand the relationship that exists between charity toward God, charity toward the neighbor, charity toward our companions and charity toward our family members? What difficulties/successes do we encounter in this regard?
  • How do the seven acts of charity speak to us today?


[4] A time to commit

In an environment of prayer and silence, reread the seven acts of charity that are most valid in today’s world (if possible read, CCD:XII:213-225).  Select one of the seven acts and commit yourself to develop that aspect during the remainder of this Jubilee Year.

If we persevere in the practice of authentic charity we will grow in that humility which makes us holy Vincentians.  Vincent concluded his explanation of the seven acts of charity with the following words:  Humility is a genuine effect of charity; when we meet someone it causes us to be the first to show the person honor and respect and, by thus win his/her affection.  Who does not like a humble person (CCD:XII:223).

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM

Philadelphia Province

[1] CCD 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.