A celebration to reconnect with our Founder’s heritage

From the beginning, Vincent de Paul linked the birth of the Congregation of the Mission to the feast of 25 January, the solemnity marking the conversion of St. Paul, called and chosen by the Lord: “What an abundance of graces suddenly fell into this vessel of election! What a marvellous instant that changes a persecutor into an apostle! Providentially, it was on that date that Vincent de Paul’s first Mission sermon was given in Folleville, thus beginning the Vincentian mission. Of course, Vincent clearly understood that the vocation and mission of the newly born “Little Company” was to proclaim the Gospel in the footsteps of Christ, the evangeliser of the poor (C,1). Such an exercise was to include assisting and caring for the poor, the sick, and the needy, and therefore required the organisation of “Charity“. According to Vincent, evangelisation with words and with charitable works for the poor is at the heart of the mission of Jesus, because “when he came into this world, he chose as his principal task to assist and care for the poor” (XI,33).  Thus, what is proper to the “Little Company” is to dedicate itself, like Jesus Christ, to the poor (cf. XI, 387). Consequently, on the day when we celebrate and remember our origins as a Congregation, we must return with courage and daring “to the heritage of the Founder, found in his writings and in the tradition of the Congregation, to learn to love what he loved and to practice what he taught” (C, 50).

An examination of the journey of the Little Company reveals that, after almost 400 years of serving Christ in the poor, there are many reasons to celebrate and rejoice. Let us rejoice then, giving thanks to God, the author of the Society, for, “I never thought of it. God has done it all” (XI, 326).  Let us congratulate ourselves in solidarity for being part of this great family. Let us continue to trust in God, totally and perfectly, certain that, if he began his work in us, he will bring it to a successful conclusion (cf. XI, 731). Let us therefore place our trust in his Providence, and place at his disposal the talents we possess to continue to build up the missionary work (cf. VII, 438). This celebration is also an ideal time to refresh, renew, rekindle our enthusiasm and awaken what has fallen asleep. It is also a time to revive or recover what has died in our Vincentian spirituality. Without realising it, the accelerated pace of today’s life often wears us down, tires us, turns us off, ages us. All this means that we do not always commit ourselves to “clothe ourselves with the Spirit of Christ” and “rediscover the contemplative dimension of our Vincentian spirituality“, as the Final Document of the 43rd General Assembly of our Congregation exhorts us to do.  We do not always give clear signs of our fidelity as a Congregation to the living of prayer, the vows and the virtues that characterise our Vincentian life (cf. C28-50). Often, our living of the sacraments is not evident, nor do we show sufficient dedication to assiduous reading, reflection, prayer with the Word of God, meditation on the Common Rules, the Constitutions and Statutes, as well as other Vincentian sources[1] .  Let us, then, make this celebration a means to revitalise our Vincentian identity. Let us rediscover the contemplative dimension of our Vincentian spirituality through personal, community and missionary conversion.

The feast of the birth of the Congregation is offered to us as a “charger“, to reconnect us to Divine Providence, to Vincentian spirituality and also to the best of who we are as Vincentians; to pay attention to that inner voice that tells us what to commit ourselves to as a family, what we are called to, what we wish to become, what God and the poor expect from the “Little Company“. This commemoration also invites us to reflect on what God and the poor expect from us, that is, to live our Vincentian commitment with responsibility and generosity, becoming authentic missionaries whose lifestyle is rooted in the evangelical counsels and Vincentian virtues. Today, “in the face of various and current forms of eliminating or ignoring others[2] “, we need to renew our dedication and commit ourselves to strengthening our fraternal life “as friends who love one another well” (RC VIII, 2), both among ourselves and with those we serve.

For Vincentians the challenge remains: “to foster the culture of encounter” in a world too “accustomed to the culture of indifference.” (Pope Francis). From our gaze fixed on Jesus Christ and the poor, we must think of new ways to create such a culture, encouraging mutual respect, listening, integration of all and harmonising differences. In reality, when encounter becomes a way of being, it becomes a shared “passion“, a desire, an enthusiasm and finally a way of life. Then, as a Congregation, we will be excited by the goal of meeting, of seeking points of contact, of building bridges, of planning something that includes us all[3] .

All of us who are currently involved in missionary work, building a prophetic and synodal Church, should be proud. But we must also dare to look at our Vincentian heritage with different eyes. That is to say, with God’s eyes. Supported by God and the legacy of Vincent de Paul, we are invited to revitalise our Vincentian identity. As we celebrate the birth of the “Little Company“, we once again listen with strength to the voices of the marginalised, of those who are on the geographical and existential peripheries and whose precarious lives are invisible, of all those who need the light of the Gospel[4] .

Let us celebrate, but let us pay more attention to what is happening in our world, our “common home“. At present, we have the impression that we are losing the capacity to defend our “common home“. Our capacity to promote “systemic change” and to “move towards social friendship and universal brotherhood” (Fratelli Tutti 106) has been greatly diminished. Let this celebration be an opportunity to review how we are promoting fraternity and mutual love.  Following the line of Vincent de Paul, let us make charity the heaven of our “common home“. Indeed, our “common home” will be a heaven if there is charity, since heaven is nothing but love, union, service and charity (cf. XI, 768).

On this day of commemoration, may the Congregation become for us a stimulus to “live the demands of the mission: to go out of ourselves, to leave everything to think, speak and act for the good of others, especially for the good of the poor[5] .” Let us reconnect with enthusiasm to the spiritual heritage of our Founder, avoiding such dangers as: practical relativism, selfish acidity and spiritual worldliness[6] .

Happy Birthday Congregation of the Mission! Thank you for inspiring so many to follow Christ the evangeliser of the poor, embracing as an inheritance those who have the least.

By Jean Rolex, CM

[1] Final Document of the 43rd General Assembly 2022 of the Congregation of the Mission. Called to revitalise the identity of the CM.

[2] Francis (2020). Encyclical Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/.

[3] Francisco (2016). For a culture of encounter. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/.

[4] Apostolic Exhortation Evangilii Gaudium (2013) of Pope Francis on the joy of the Gospel, n. 20.

[5] Reflection to begin the preparation for the celebration of the 4th Centenary of the Foundation of the CM by Fr Tomaž Mavrič, CM, Superior General (2023).

[6] Joseph, Y. (2022). Revitalizing our Vincentian identity: community and pastoral conversions. Retrieved from https://cmglobal.org/.