In this reflection by Fr. Miles Heinen, cm we find the profound value of Pentecost in the thought of our Founder St. Vincent de Paul

For a Vincentian Pentecost 2024

I like the way Vincent talked about following the lead of the Spirit. He described it in terms of allowing the needs he was aware of to guide his engagement with history and then looking back afterwards to see where he had actually arrived.

“That’s what we used to do; God, meanwhile, was doing what He had foreseen from all eternity. He gave a certain success to our works, which, when some good priests saw it, they joined us and asked to stay with us. O Sauveur! O Sauveur! Who could ever have imagined that this would reach its present state? If anyone had said that to me then, I would have thought he was making fun of me; yet, that was the way God was pleased to give a beginning to what you now see. Eh bien, my dear confreres, would you call human something no one had ever intended? For neither I, nor poor M. Portail ever thought of it. Ah, we never thought of it! It was very far from our minds![1]

Obviously, there is something of the dramatic in this way of speaking, but I believe that the narrative is more about the truth than about the drama. I suggest we view this analysis of St. Vincent in the context of the summary of mission given in chapter 1 of St. Mark’s Gospel, verse 15: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  God’s kingdom is described as coming, meaning that we are in the process of changing our minds (repent).  St. Vincent called us to a wise use of the examine in order to learn from our experience where our hearts were less disposed to listening to the will of God (believe in the gospel) and to consciously address that lack.[2]

The underlining assumption is that God is leading us as only God can by empowering us with the Holy Spirit, as we read in Acts 1: 4-5 – “While meeting with them, he (Jesus) enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.’”

St. Vincent often spoke of this empowering as being from all eternity and as related to the exact place we find ourselves now. Note this very pointed response to the request for further study of M. du Coudray “Well do I know that the translation would be useful to the curiosity of some preachers, but not, to my mind, to the winning of the souls of the poor for whom the Providence of God has destined you from all eternity.”[3] This kingdom of God for which we are empowered is more than worthy of our profound respect as it represents the abundant life to which we are called before the creation of the world. We name this life “sanctifying grace” which proceeds from the Father and the Son in a unity beyond our imagination but called love.

We have instilled in our Constitutions the dynamics of this abundant life, which begin in number 1 by calling us to a radical discipleship as we use all personal and collective resources to put on the spirit of Christ. I am challenging us to move the meaning of “Spirit of Christ” from imitation of virtues to incarnation in us of the Holy Spirit who has been “poured out for the forgiveness of sins” as our new formula for confessional absolution reminds us. And even in this first number of the Constitutions we see inclusion of others outside of our congregation into our collective efforts to participate in the dynamism of this abundant life, that is, forgiveness of sins which translates, in my mind, to making active the kingdom of God since we are fulfilling His will which is the opposite of sin.

This becomes even more clear in C. 11 as we define the evangelization by which we follow Christ the Evangelizer making “the gospel really effective.” We “strive for this, that all, through a process of conversion and celebration of the sacraments, should be faithful to ‘the kingdom, that is to say, the new world, the new order, the new manner of being, of living in community, which the gospel inaugurates.”

The community the Gospel inaugurates is another way of saying the kingdom of God. It describes a collective yes to the outpoured Holy Spirit that is at very least interactive as we cooperate, in ways beyond our comprehension, in supporting the manifestation of the will of God. Vincent’s insight about general confession supports a process of conversion that can profoundly enhance our freedom in Christ to be molded by the Holy Spirit as we renounce lies that had come to control our perception of the truth.

C 12 provides for the grounding of our experience so that we will not, as M. Coudray did, miss the point of the particular experience which for us allows the Holy Spirit to manifest to us our participation in the will of God. There are many good things to do, but we are empowered to do only some of them.

C 42 neatly brings into unity those elements of our mission that can generate tension if not so unified: Apostolic involvement with the world, community life and experience of God in prayer. Community life is to build, in the collective ‘us’, the trust that opens the door to the humility of admitting our weakness in the face of needs beyond our capacities and finding in our experience of God in prayer the next step to take as He calls us deeper into the mystery of his Holy Spirit at work through us.

Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.

Fr. Miles Heinen, CM

[1] de Paul, Vincent and Coste, Pierre C.M., “Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, Volume XII. Conferences to the Congregation of the Mission vol. 2” (2010). Vincentian Digital Books. 36.  180. Observance of the Rules, May 17, 1658 p. 8

[2] Common Rules X, 9.

[3] CCD, Volume I, p. 245 (177.  July 24, 1634)