Dear confreres of the Congregation of the Mission of Saint Vincent de Paul, Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, other Congregations that share the Vincentian charism and spirituality, Lay Associations, Vincentian lay men and women in general, that is, all of us who are part of the Vincentian Family Movement, and all those who join us in the joy of beginning this time of preparation for the celebration, on 17 April 2025, of the 4th Centenary of the Foundation of the “Little Company.”
“Prepare,” speaks to us of “arranging,” of having everything ready so that the commemoration of our origins, with God’s blessing, may produce the abundant fruits we expect. We begin this time filled with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, with this significant “opening” of the holy door of this chapel of Saint Vincent de Paul. Encouraged by hope, we sing with joy: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, for God’s holy people is advancing towards you, now entering within your walls.”
We have not entered here to shut ourselves away and rest, but to advance toward You, grateful that You inspired Vincent de Paul to found a Congregation for the evangelization of the poor, the formation of the clergy, and the formation of the laity. From now on we ask you to leave the door always open for us to enter and leave. May it be the symbol that we will not stop, that we are ready to live continuously in prophetic, synodal, and missionary outreach, expressions of our spirituality.
During this time of preparation, it seems to me fundamental to revitalize three dimensions of our Vincentian spirituality:
1st The prophetic dimension. The crisis we have been experiencing for some time reflects a serious deficit in the spirit. In many cases, our consecrated life seems more in conformity with the dominant mentality of today’s world than with the Gospel. We do not give the Spirit enough space to enlighten our ways, to intensify the flame of apostolic zeal and the fire of charity. In other words, we are not allowing the Spirit of God to be “upon us” as the prophet Isaiah says and as Saint Luke reaffirms in describing the mission of Jesus Christ. The presence of the Spirit over Jesus Christ is characteristic of his being a prophet, one of the features by which Saint Vincent took Jesus as the norm and model of life for the Congregation.
What prophetic traits moved Vincent de Paul? To recover today and put into action the prophetic power that the Congregation of the Mission has had since its foundation, we must learn from Saint Vincent to read the signs of God in the cries of the poor and pay due attention to them directly, as well as through the formation of clergy and laity. Saint Vincent made two discipleship readings: the reading of the Spirit’s action in that dying man who, after going to confession, convinced him of the danger of damnation in which the poor of the countryside found themselves because of their ignorance of their faith, many times caused by poor preparation of the clergy, as well as often their lack of interest in people living in villages or small towns on the peripheries. This experience is repeated, under another aspect, in Châtillon, before that abandoned family, accused of having the plague, so feared by their contemporaries. The second reading: the voice of God in the laity. The insistent question of Marguerite de Silly, Madame de Gondi, was engraved in his ear: “Monsieur Vincent, what shall we do?” Quietly, he begins to look for a way to answer her.
The prophet is one who is going out. He is called, chosen, and sent by God, in varied but very concrete circumstances. He has to respond: to “go,” to go out to show by word and by his actions the will of the one who sent him. There is no doubt that, for Vincent, these signs of God made him come out of himself, leave his false securities, and renounce his own attachments. The painful reality of the poor, read from God, opened Vincent’s eyes, ears, and heart to transform his life into a humble instrument of God for the good of the poor. It is urgent, in these times, that the Spirit of God “be upon us” and awaken our prophetic dimension. In times of insensitivity, disinterest in others, self-centeredness and self-referentiality; in a world where the number of poor people is growing, their difficulties in living are increasing, and the forms of poverty are multiplying, how important it is to assume the prophetic spirit: to denounce with one’s own life “the pathology of living self-satisfied and without risks,” the attachment to economic compensation and possessiveness, the unhealthy obsession with technological advances, the world of the spectacular. How important it is to proclaim with one’s own life zeal for the salvation of people and to ask the right questions. The needs of the poor, seen and heard from the Gospel, are today and always a flame that lights the fire of charity and urges us to “go out,” to “be close” and “available” to all those whom the Father loves preferentially and whose salvation He seeks.
2nd The synodal dimension. The synodal dimension of our Vincentian spirituality, present at the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission, also needs to be revitalized today. Like Jesus, Vincent de Paul was not slow to realize “the immensity of the mission.” If the Son of God did not want to carry such a burden alone, why would Vincent have to take on the task in isolation? Jesus surrounded himself with disciples “to live with him and to send them out to preach” (cf. Mark 3:13-15). Should he not do the same? In following Jesus, Vincent involved other priests in the mission and, to begin with, he associated with himself four missionaries: Antoine Portail, Monsieur Belin, François de Coudray, and Jean de la Salle. In the Vincentian Community there is no room for isolation, exclusion, egoism, individualism, or attracting attention because the new community is for the mission.
It was not enough for Jesus to involve twelve apostles. A very clear sign is the sending of the 70 disciples: no disciple can isolate himself from the Mission, nor carry out the mission as an individual. The Spirit also suggested to Vincent that he should involve everyone in the Mission: priests, brothers, seminarians, lay people. He too sends them two by two, three by three, always in community.
God’s project for the “Little Company” is a discipleship, synodal project, where the missionaries, as the New People of God, learn to “walk together.” Inseparable, they learn to listen to God, to listen to each other, to listen to the poor and the laity. Next to one another, they learn to discern the will of God personally and communally, with their communities, with their people. In close proximity, they seek to involve, engage, and form everyone—priests, brothers, seminarians, and laity—in the search for ways to respond to God’s plan; united and in communion to work in building the Kingdom of God, knowing that this kingdom is, above all, for the poor. Faced with today’s world, this is also a prophetic and symbolic dimension.
3rd The missionary-outreach dimension is our natural characteristic. It gives us identity and defines us. A comfortable life with the least effort, so typical of the social environment, has led us, in many instances, to the loss, ever more obvious, of apostolic zeal, of the value of sacrifice, of the demands that the extension of the field of evangelization represents for the disciples of Jesus. Everything urges us to revitalize our missionary zeal. It is easy to confuse mission with activism: to carry out countless activities, to have many missionary spaces and activities, etc., and to forget the spirituality that accompanies the mission. The authenticity of mission arises from a deep spirituality, from an intense communion, closeness, and friendship with Jesus.
Vincent began by realizing that the Mission is God’s and not his own. The holy founder reiterates again and again that no one, not even he, thought of it in advance. He learned to discover and to want only what God wants. It is none other than God Trinity who undertook the missionary outreach. That is why the Congregation of the Mission was born “going out”; and the missionaries go out “on mission,” “to evangelize the poor,” as Vincent de Paul repeats endlessly. This mystique is at the origin, in the middle, and at the final destination of the missionary life of Saint Vincent and his followers. This is the conviction that led them to change their lifestyle: Vincent left the Gondi’s house and incarnated himself among the poor. The first four “incorporated” also leave their own, what they were doing, which was surely very important, but they leave it there and go out. Their missionary departure has the itinerancy of Jesus: to live they rent a simple, popular house; and when they go on mission, they give the key to a neighbor. The mission is the priority.
These convictions lead to something more profound: Vincent de Paul received from Jesus, “the Gospel of God” (cf. EN 75), the grace to feel God’s urgency for the mission. God’s zeal nourishes the zeal, the passion of the missionary to “do the same thing that Jesus came to do on earth: evangelize the poor.” This is shown in the foundation contract of the Little Company, where he negotiates “to go out” in the style of the Gospel: “they could devote themselves entirely and exclusively to the salvation of the poor common people. They would go from village to village, at the expense of their common purse, to preach, instruct, exhort, and catechize those poor people and encourage all of them to make a good general confession of their whole past life, without accepting for this a remuneration of any kind or manner whatsoever, so as to distribute freely the gifts they have freely received from the generous hand of God.” The only thing that should move the missionaries is passion, zeal for the salvation of souls.
Missionary spirituality helps missionaries to live the demands of the mission: to go out of themselves; to leave everything to think, speak, and act for the good of others, especially for the good of the poor. Living in the missionary spirit of Jesus helps to move away from self-referential egoism and the complacencies of accommodation. He admires that Saint Vincent and his associates gain in freedom, leave everything, and go out of their own free will, without anything or anyone pressuring them. Only the following of Jesus, whose life reflects God’s love for the poor and his passion for evangelization, moves them to adopt a new lifestyle.
I invite all the members of the Congregation to undertake with enthusiasm this new stage of our journey toward Jesus. Let us allow the Spirit to “be upon us” in this new process of listening and discernment to revive the spirit of Jesus in the Congregation of the Mission. Our paradigm is to return to the Gospel, to relive the spirit of prophecy and synodality for mission. The harvest is still abundant and the laborers very few. May our prayers never cease to ask the Lord for new and holy vocations. Let us ask Jesus that our feet never tire of going out, of walking, of being a prophetic, synodal, and missionary witness that invites and motivates others to put on the spirit of Jesus. May the Spirit that filled the Virgin Mary with God, make us creative and fruitful in revitalizing this Congregation that is God’s work and not man’s. Let us ask Jesus to give us the grace that through our testimony of life, our words and actions, the world, but especially the poor, may discover that the kingdom of God has arrived.
Tomaž Mavrič, CM