If the change that COVID-19 brought us is reduced to the “great novelty” of virtual work, then we will have failed in passing through this desert, because there will be no promised land, but only one more event within the same culture of adventures and entertainment, fond of new experiences, but without the possibility for conversion.
Vocational ministry is a good thermometer to measure the mystical-missionary creativity that allows us to appropriate a culture of continuous renewal according to the Constitutions, and that would be very opportune to remember during the time of this current pandemic.
The Congregation of the Mission, faithful to the gospel, and always attentive to the signs of the times and the more urgent calls of the Church, should take care to open up new ways and use the means adapted to the circumstances of time and place. Moreover, it should strive to evaluate and plan its works and ministries, and in this way remain in a continual state of renewal (Constitu8tions, #2).
In fidelity to its founder, the Congregation of the Mission finds its vital inspiration in Jesus Christ, the evangelize of the poor, who did not limit himself to a change of methods regarding the religious practices of his, but created profound mystical options at the same time that he created options for the involvement of women in ministry. That creative achievement surprised Saint Vincent and he expressed that in the popular saying: love is inventive to infinity … the origin of which is rightly the mystical-missionary activity of Jesus with regard to his real presence in the Eucharistic bread.
Furthermore, since love is inventive to infinity, after being affixed to the infamous stake of the cross to win the hearts and souls of those by whom he wishes to be loved — not to mention all the other innumerable schemes he used for this purpose during his time spent among us — foreseeing that his absence could cause some forgetfulness or cooling off in our hearts. He wanted to avoid this danger by instituting the most august sacrament, in which he is as truly and substantially present as he is in heaven above (CCD:XI:131).
Imitating the inventiveness of Jesus, we have the need to create new proposals and even to reinvent ourselves in the area of Vocational Promotion. We are not, however, children of a narcissistic tradition that allows us to settle for a few changes so that we can present a youthful image of our Little Company. That means we would fall into the vice that Pope Francis denounces as ecclesial sclerosis (cf. Christus Vivit, #35). Such sclerosis occurs when we are content because now we can meet together through some video app while our life, our missionary service, and our very being, remain unchanged.
The creativity that missionary mysticism (something that is characteristic of the Vincentian charism) demands of us is that which enables us to learn how to learn from all the different experiences of our life … and to do this not as one who dresses in accord with some specific occasion but rather to engage in that process with a young heart because young hearts are naturally ready to change, to turn back, to get up and learn from life (Christus Vivit, #12).
Therefore, from the perspective of the Vincentian Vocational Culture the key question is the following: both during and after the pandemic, how do we express that missionary mysticism and continually renew ourselves and also awaken in others the desire to follow Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor.
The time in which we live can become an ally of Vocational Promotion if we are able to embark on paths that generate convictions, sensitivities and lifestyles that are in accord with our foundational charism and are embodied in the present reality. From an almost endless list, I offer you the following examples:
- This is the time to rethink our missionary service:Do we have an impact on the structures that create poverty in the twenty-first century? Do we continue to be true formators? Do our works reflect the foundational charism with all the mystical power that is characteristics of this charism? If not, it could be that we are waiting for “everything to return to normal” because presently we have nothing but our usual energy, that is, we have no energy to rejuvenate ourselves … and yet, during this time of the pandemic we have the opportunity to review the works of the provinces and to do this from the paradigm that a Vincentian culture of vocations offers us (Final Document: First Meeting of Vocational Promotors can be accessed at:
- This is the time to move from a ministry of structures (which almost always tend to become more complex) to a ministry that involves us in waling with Jesus in imitation of the disciples on the road to Emmaus: face to face, person to person contact. The pandemic has forced us to eliminate those activities that require large concentrations of people in any one specific place. Sometimes it can appear that that only new things we have done is change the channel: people no longer come to Mass but now we transmit it on the various social networks. What creativity! Without taking away the merit of entering the digital world, we also have the need to become more sensitive to the need for spiritual accompaniment, that is, a well-defined process in which we dedicate time and offer opportunities for growth in the Christian life which is in turn, offering the baptized opportunities for growth in their vocation. The Synod on young people, faith and vocational discernment highlighted the urgency of this ministry: the young ask us to describe the qualities need in an accompanier. The service of accompaniment is a genuine mission, which requires apostolic availability on the part of those who provide it (Final Document of the Synod, #101).
- This is the time to move out from the comfort of the sacristy and to engage in vocational promotion in the new areopagus. Utilizing the social network platforms and through direct contact with people, we have the opportunity to become aware of an environment that is outside the normal circles of our movement. It is time to allow ourselves to be “outraged” by the concerns of humankind, time to gaze prophetically beyond the superficial interests that appear in the digital world, time to act in accord with the missionary style of Saint Vincent, a style that has the ability to discern pathways where others see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril (Christus Vivit, #67).
- This is the time to revitalize our community life. This time of confinement has forced us to spend time together. But this does not mean that we simply accept this more intense community life with the hope of returning soon to the activities of yesterday. This is, in fact, an opportunity to enjoy the fraternal relationships, to share in one another’s joy, to discover the value of the vocation of the confreres with whom we share our life. Although COVID-19 has made us aware of the need for “social distancing”, nevertheless we have the possibility of creating “neighborhoods” with the brother with whom we share a common mission. Perhaps this can be an opportunity to sing a beautiful Vincentian vocation hymn: O Divine Goodness, unite in this way all hearts in the Little Company of the Mission, then order whatever you please. Labor will be sweet to them and every task easy; the strong person will relieve the weak one, and the weak will cherish the strong and obtain increased strength for him from God. And so, Lord, your work will be done as you would like, for the building up of your Church, and your workers will multiply, attracted by the perfume of such charity (CCD:III:258).
- This is the time for formation. As a result of the seeming endless activity in missionary life, formation takes on the role of Cinderella because one has the impression that there are always things of far greater importance than on-going formation. In fact, it can be thought that the success of the mission depends on our constant activity (a demonic temptation). It is time to wake up from the dream of activism and to realize that the quality of our missionary service depends on the quality of our mystical life, our passion for Jesus Christ, the evangelizer of the poor, and our ability to walk together in community. The pandemic provides us with an opportunity to learn how to learn and to take seriously the call to missionary conversion which obliges us to form ourselves, and not simply update ourselves in theological and/or pastoral matters but to live in a profound manner the joy of the gospel that is embodied in our missionary vocation. Without a doubt this would be the best investment with regard to vocational promotion since passionate and well-formed missionaries are by nature “nests for vocations”.
By: Rolando Gutiérrez, CM