At the beginning I want to thank Father Rolando for continuing his communication with me. I am in agreement with him when he states: We are not radical because we consecrate ourselves to the mission, but on the contrary, because in a dialogue of our creaturely freedom with the freedom of the Creator, we concluded that this was our path, there is no other option but radicality. Hopefully this radicalness will lead us, when necessary, to revise our language so as to be more faithful to the gospel of vocation.
I want to continue my reflection on the culture of vocations in order to see if we can deepen our understanding of a very specific theme, namely, generational differences. To be more specific, I am referring to the aging of the provinces and the challenge of this reality for vocational promotion in a province.
I raise this matter with Father Rolando because it touches me personally. At the present time I live in a community composed of sixteen confreres. The oldest is 99 years old and the youngest, myself, is 47 years old. The median age of the confreres in the house is 82. The next youngest after me is 73 years old (a difference of twenty-six years). I do not think that my situation is unique.
Classification of the Provinces and Vice-Provinces according to Median age
|USA – New England
|Rio de Janeiro
|Curia and Missions
|St. Vincent de Paul
|USA – East
|USA – West
|Cyril & Metodius
Many young and middle-aged confreres find themselves in a situation similar to mine. They are in an aging community with no companions their own age … a large generational gap. I know, however, that this is not the reality of the entire Congregation. I studied our online catalogue and classified the 37 provinces, the 4 vice-provinces and the reality of the Curia with its regional and international mission by age. According to my findings, 30% of the provinces have a median age greater than 60 years.
This reality questions us: How can we be connected with today’s world and respond to the present challenges when the local communities appear to be in retirement as a result of the advanced age of the confreres? How do we take care of the younger confreres so as not to create situations of burn out (as a result of burdening them with more responsibilities than can be borne by one person) or situations loneliness that results from living in the midst of missionaries whose age and thinking is quite distinct from theirs?
In chapter five of his book, Coordinates for a Vincentian Vocational Culture, Father Rolando offers us four coordinates that could be plotted out as a Cartesian plan. This will allow us to plan what we have to do with regard to each specific detail of the proposal for creating a Vincentian Culture of Vocations. He refers to [a] authentic prophecy, [b] radicalness or extinction, [c] rejuvenate or grow old, [d] time is superior to space.
We can see that when speaking about the third coordinate, he refers to the issue of aging and states: In the Pope’s refreshing theology, ecclesial structures and Vincentian institutions have only two paths open to them: either they are revitalized in Christ who is the true youthfulness of a world grown old (Christus Vivit, #32) or they simply enclose themselves in their secure dwellings which in turn makes them mediocre, aged and as a result they begin to suffer from ecclesial sclerosis (cf. Christus Vivit, #35). At the same time, this ecclesial sclerosis drains the members of their creativity and their ability to savor the mission and as a result, their “vinegar faces” scare away anyone discerning a vocation.
Our confrere has developed this theme and makes three proposal that can help us develop a Vincentian vocational culture.
- To clothe oneself in love: our confrere begins with the words of Pope Francis: Jesus, himself eternally young, wants to give us hearts that are ever young … he invites us to strip ourselves of the “old self” and to put on a young self (Colossians 3:9,10). In a word, true youth means having a heart capable of loving (Christus Vivit, #13) … and he concludes with the following words: listening to young people can help rejuvenate us. I understand that this proposal is in accord with the dimension of sensitivity and I also believe that in the context of prayer, during the time of a retreat, we are able to deepen our understanding of this concept of clothing ourselves in love. At the same time, Father Roland proposes that we listen to young people. I ask Father Rolando: what young people is Father Rolando referring to? In what situations should this be done? What themes should we be attentive to? How will this process of listening help us to love in a more profound manner?
- Missionary conversion: once again the author states very clearly: Living from a defensive position, without putting on the lens of a vocational culture in order to confront our way of living and serving, can become our worst enemy, one that attacks us continually and silently. I have been a member of the Congregation for twenty-five years, and I know that missionary conversion and the evaluation of our works has always been a focus of reflection in my province. Therefore, it would appear that we are in compliance with this proposal. I feel, however, that we do not seem to be able to move from ideas to the concrete reality. Indeed, I am aware of certain realities that force me to pose the following question to Father Rolando: who should carry out this process of missionary conversion and how should this be done? If the Visitor promotes change, then very quickly we will hear individuals who begin to say that the Visitor is imposing his will and acting in an authoritarian manner. If the local communities are allowed to become the protagonist of this change, that individuals immediately take a defensive position. If this is left to a Provincial Assembly, the worst-case scenario is that no agreement is achieved while the best-case scenario is that a plan is developed, but then that plan is filed away and forgotten.
- Dream big: the author reflects on our Founder: Only a dreamer like Vincent de Paul could inspire others to leave everything in order to dedicate their lives, with no recognition or glory, to service on behalf of the poor. Only a greatly inspired individual would have dared to expand his recently established Congregation and have the Missionaries and the Sisters begin to minister in places beyond the European continent. Vincent always maintained his youthfulness, even when he was almost eighty years old … and Vincentians of the twenty-first century need to revitalize their ability to dream. I view myself as a dreamer. During the year that was recently concluded, I presented the Provincial Council with a proposal for the evangelization of young people and presented my local superior with three proposals. All the proposals were rejected … they were seen as interesting and very Vincentians, but there was a concern for continuity: who would continue this project, this incentive if I were not longer in that place? Perhaps the most complicated question appears in this area: how to balance the sensitivities of the older missionaries with those of the younger missionaries?
I await the response of Father Rolando and also know that he does not have some magical recipe that will solve all these problems. I do believe, however, that dialogue and community reflection lead us to engage in the necessary and urgent process of discernment.
Brother. Francisco Berbegal Vázquez, CM
Our confrere develops it, making three proposals that help us land the Vincentian vocational culture: