Let us try to understand and appreciate the wishes of St. Vincent de Paul regarding his “Little Company”.
In this field, three aspects emerge in the Founder’s mentality:
- The Congregation of the Mission is a gift of God’s mercy to the Holy Church of God. It is the work of his hands, never the fruit of human will. Let us look at the Founder’s thought, let us read his legacy:
“O Savior! I never thought of it. It is God who has done everything. We men have had no part in it. As far as I am concerned, when I think of the way in which God wanted to give birth to the company in his Church, I confess to you that I do not know what part I have had in it, and it seems to me that everything I see is a dream. All this is not human, but of God! Will you call human what man’s understanding has never foreseen, what his will has never desired or sought in the least?… everything was done against my hopes and without my caring for anything. When I think of this and see all the tasks that the Company has undertaken, it really seems to me like a dream, it seems to me that I am dreaming, I would not know how to say. It happens to me like the poor prophet Habakkuk, whom an angel took by the hair and carried him far away to comfort Daniel, who was in the den with the lions; then the angel brought him back to the place from where he had taken him, and he, seeing himself in the same place from where he had come out, thought that it had all been a dream and an illusion”. S.V.P. XI, 326.
- But the Congregation is in our hands today, as it was in the hands of our elders yesterday. This gift of God demands a profound fidelity from each one of its members, fidelity to be vigilant, and to give ourselves in what we are and what we have, multiplying our talents, so that the Community may continue to live, following the paths that God is showing us step by step in the mission. The Saint expressed it well to a missionary:
“God does not govern himself in his works according to our ideas and our desires. We have to make the few talents he has placed in our hands worth as much as possible without worrying about having other greater or more extensive talents. If we are faithful in the little, he will put us over the much. Let us let him work and let us shut ourselves up in our littleness. The company began without our even thinking of it; it multiplied only by the blessing of God… God will see with pleasure our abandonment and we will be at peace. The spirit of the world is unruly and likes to do everything. Let us leave it. Let us not strive to walk in our own ways, but let us walk in the ways God wants to show us. …. Let us offer ourselves to him to do all things and suffer all things for his glory and for the edification of his church. Letter to a missionary. 2923. S.V.P.VII, 338.
- The Congregation is the work of God’s hand, who has naturally counted on our talents. Here we can highlight a third very rich element of the Founder’s legacy: the great trust in Divine Providence. With grateful memory, how can we forget his work in the glorious past that we have, his continuous presence in this present time, with so many lights and not a few shadows, and how can we distrust his presence in tomorrow?
“Let us have complete and perfect confidence in God, my fathers and brothers, and let us be sure that, if he has begun his work in us, he will bring it to a happy conclusion (Phil. 1:6). For who is it that founded the company? It was God, his fatherly providence and his pure goodness. Therefore, it is God who has done all this, and by means of the persons he has judged suitable, so that all the glory may be his. Let us, then, put our trust in him; for, if we put it in men, or if we lean on any advantage of nature or fortune, then God will depart from us. But – someone will say _, we must seek friends for ourselves and for the company. My brethren, let us beware of giving ear to this thought, for we would be wrong. Let us seek God alone and he will give us friends and everything else, so that nothing will be lacking (Ps. 13:11) Do you want to know why we have failed in some tasks? Because we relied on ourselves”. S.V.P. XI, 731
And from here, a few final lines:
– Pope Francis in his recent apostolic visit to Greece, last December 4, in meeting with his Jesuit confreres, among other things noted the growing decline and weakening of the Society. This decline is “a fact common to many religious orders and congregations. It has a meaning and we must ask ourselves what it is. Ultimately, this decline does not depend on us. The vocation is commanded by the Lord”.
And coming to us, let us look at the highest peak we have had in our history: 1966: we were 6,284 missionaries in 539 houses… but as the “Great Company” we have decreased, today in 2021, we are 3,396 missionaries in 492 houses. Cfr.www.catholic-hierarchy.org. And here, I agree with the Pope when he affirms that vocations depend on God, but I add that, among other factors, a good examination of each one of us who form this family should lead us to question ourselves about the goodness with which we have attracted young people to the Society, or the shortcomings with which we have kept away the vocations that have come to our houses.
– A second reflection was inspired by our Superior General Emeritus Robert Maloney, who, visiting Taipei, Taiwan in November 1999, said: “…in 1949, when we had hundreds of missionaries in China, today we have fewer than 50. In different periods when we were relatively few in number, we produced a great impact because of the influence exerted by a few well-prepared ones”.
And going to the reality of the province of Colombia, we can affirm, based on history, that never in more than 150 years of rootedness in our land, we have never been so many as today. And I consider that, in other regions of the Community, realities like these, can be given today. And then comes the question, to pray before the Lord and reflect among ourselves: Are we falling short of the ardor and zeal of those who preceded us on the missionary path? Are we as dedicated as yesterday to the service of the poor and the evangelization of the clergy?
To conclude, I will summarize the previous reflections as follows: the Congregation of the Mission came from the hands of the Lord, it became a fruitful tree with his grace and the fruitfulness of the talents of our elders, always counting on full trust in Divine Providence. Let us follow the saying attributed to St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola, but today with more certainty to the Hungarian Jesuit, Gabriel Hevenesi (1656-1718): “Work as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you”.
And with the strength of the Word of God, which St. Paul gives us in Philippians 3:16, let us always look to the future with sure faith, solicitous charity and joyful hope: “…God will enlighten us. Whatever point we have reached, let us continue on the same path”.
Marlio Nasayó Liévano, c.m.
Province of Colombia