By Fr. Ray Van Dorpe, C.M.

The feast day for St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, is celebrated Sept. 27. For this occasion, Fr. Ray Van Dorpe, C.M., offers the following reflection.

One of the most often-quoted lines from St. Vincent de Paul is, “Love is inventive to infinity.” It is frequently cited when members of the Vincentian family engage in new ways to address poverty, to meet new challenges in pastoral ministry, or to improve the work in which they are involved.

The quote itself comes from an “Exhortation to a Dying Brother” that Vincent gave in 1645. In this, Vincent described the Eucharist as a demonstration of the infinite inventiveness of love that Jesus had for his followers. He noted that Jesus foresaw the possibility that, over time, the enthusiasm of his disciples might lessen, or they might even forget his affection for them. Therefore, Vincent suggests, Jesus “…wanted to avoid this danger by instituting the most august sacrament, in which he is as truly and substantially present as he is in heaven above (CCD:XI:131).

According to Vincent, Jesus’ creativity is rooted in his love and the best example of that divine creativity is found in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is from this sacrament where we find the highest expression of God’s love and the spiritual nourishment that we need to continue our work of serving the poor.

In Vincent’s time there were many who thought that the Eucharist was almost unapproachable (the heresy of Jansenism). However, Vincent took the opposite approach. He believed that frequently communion, when received with a healthy spiritual disposition, would lead the Missioners, Daughters of Charity, and really anyone to better serve the poor, as well as foster a deeper community life.

The present Constitutions of the Congregation has enshrined this very Vincentian value:

“Our life should be directed towards the daily celebration of the Lord’s Supper as towards it summit, for from the Eucharist, as from a living source, flows the power of our apostolic activity and fraternal communion.” (C.45 §1)

So, the next time we hear that for a Vincentian “love is inventive to infinity,” we are saying that no pastoral project or service on behalf of the poor will be truly Vincentian unless it flows from the love of God, from which all true inventiveness originates and which is sustained continually by the Eucharist, the most inventive gift Jesus gave to us, his disciples.