OZANAM…A LAY SAINT FOR TODAY
“Grace has its moments,” wrote St. Vincent de Paul to Father Bernard Codoing on March 16, 1644. And the grace of the rebirth of the lay apostolate in the Church had its moment, when Providence inflamed the heart of Mr. De Paul, leading him in 1617 to the foundation of AIC, the oldest lay women’s association in the history of the Volunteer Movement. How intuitive St. Vincent was in instituting and launching this feminine voluntary service to the world of the poor; but he was not so with the mixed voluntary services, nor with those of only men, which were a bird of short flight. The grace of Providence, for the male voluntary service, came two hundred years later, with a young nobleman of the French society: Antoine Frederic Ozanam.
And referring to him, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul celebrated the 25th anniversary of his beatification last August 22. A modern saint, precursor of the Social Doctrine of the Church, an example of a son, father, husband, professional and Catholic. Together with the SSVP, the Catholic Church and the Vincentian Family celebrated this important commemoration for the universal history, the Church and us.
Let’s touch briefly, some lights of his rich, fascinating personality and holiness.
- ..A lay saint: Throughout the centuries the Church has declared many men and women saints; but if we look at the list of saints, we see that a great number of them are religious men and women, priests, bishops, founders of religious communities. In the past, many thought that in order to lead a holy life, it was necessary to opt for the religious life, to enter a community, a monastery, to withdraw from the world. Today, especially since the Second Vatican Council, it is emphasized that everyone can attain holiness according to his or her state in life: “All the Christian faithful are therefore invited and even obliged to strive insistently for holiness and perfection within their own state” (Lumen Gentium, 42).Being Ozanam, a young man with very deep Christian roots, with great closeness to the priestly world, having seen all the capabilities he had, there was no shortage of people who advised him to opt for the priestly life, and even suddenly his brother Alphonse, who had heard the voice of God and reached the priesthood. Federico was always open to the motions of the Spirit, thus understanding that the Lord’s call for him was in sanctification within the lay state, as a true path of holiness, among the chores of ordinary life, in the family, in the university chair and among the poor. And there, among the vicissitudes of the world, he flourished in holiness.
- .. a saint in love with the poor: Frederic exercised his mission in the field of academia, law, history and literature, but he soon understood that his life could not be reduced to the field of lucubration. In a process of searching for God’s will, he saw that his mission had to go much further, in St. Vincent’s expression, it was necessary to move from “affective love to effective love”.Let us leave it to the Holy Father John Paul II, who at his beatification on August 22, 1997, at Notre Dame de Paris, expressed himself as follows: “….
From his youth, he became aware that it was not enough to speak of charity and of the Church’s mission in the world: this had to be translated into an effective commitment of Christians to the service of the poor. Thus, he agreed with St. Vincent’s intuition: “Let us love God, my brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the effort of our arms and the sweat of our brow” (St. Vincent de Paul, XI, 40). To manifest this concretely, at the age of 20, with a group of friends, he created the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, whose purpose is to help the poorest, in a spirit of service and communion….”He exercised with height and generosity his service to the poor, having, moreover, the holy intuition that his work should not be limited to his life and the group of his friends, but should be prolonged in time and space. The Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul were a mustard seed, which today is certainly a leafy and fruitful tree, giving solace to thousands of poor people in the world.
- ..a saint of the Vincentian Family: the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul is of an exuberant richness, for we find in our family a constellation of holy bishops, priests, sisters, brothers and seminarians, in the universal geography; and naturally there has been no lack of lay people who, to tell the truth, are the greatest number of the hosts that go throughout the world, serving Christ in the person of the poor.Ozanam drank from the uncontaminated sources of the Gospel, which St. Vincent transmitted to him with his life spent in the service of the poor, and with the wisdom of his doctrine. In his short life he was inflamed with this spirit, drank it and transmitted it to those who, like him, spent their lives in the service of the poor.
Some members of the Vincentian Conferences like Federico himself are on the altars, and together with him, Gianna Beretta Molla, Pier Giorgio Frassati or Ceferino Gimenez Malla among others, showing the world that the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul is a sure path to holiness, because in it the Gospel of Jesus is genuine because it is the spirit of the beatitudes, which strengthens and energizes one’s own sanctification, and that of the poor who, together with the daily bread, are nourished with the bread of life, which dignifies them in their being and doing.
With joyful hope… Now as we celebrate his liturgical memorial on September 9, as a Vincentian Family, how can we not unite all of us, imploring the Lord to continue sending committed lay people who, fully involved in the fabric of society, transform our reality from within.
May the longed-for canonization of Blessed Frederic Ozanam, trusting in the Lord, not be far off, become an example, especially for the laity, so that “…he may shine his light before men, that they may see his good works, and glorify his Father who is in heaven”. Mt. 5:16, so that, as he desired, we may “embrace the whole world with a net of charity”.
Lord, you made Blessed Frederic Ozanam a witness to the Gospel, marveling at the mystery of the Church. You inspired his struggle against misery and injustice and endowed him with an untiring generosity in the service of every suffering person. In the family, he revealed himself to be an exceptional son, brother, husband and father. In the world, his ardent passion for truth illuminated his thought, his teaching and his writings. To our Society, which he conceived as a universal network of charity, he infused the spirit of love, daring and humility inherited from St. Vincent de Paul. In every aspect of your brief existence, your prophetic vision of society appears as much as the evidence of your virtues. For these many gifts, we thank you, Lord, and we ask – if it is your will – for the grace of a miracle through his intercession, that the Church may proclaim his holiness, so providential for the present times! We pray this through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Marlio Nasayó Liévano, c.m.