January 27, 2024
Society of St. Vincent DePaul Houston General Assembly Keynote Address
Delivered by Fr. Patrick McDevitt, C.M.
Provincial Superior, Congregation of the Mission Western Province
We are Called to Mission and SERVICE and NOT TO SURVIVAL
It is a great honor for me to be with you, my Vincentian sisters and brothers. Since becoming Provincial of the USA Western Province of the Congregation of the Mission, I have come to know the Society better and grown in love and friendship with you. Thank you for this opportunity and your kind invitation.
“Building the ARK.” I must admit this theme challenged me and got me thinking about a number of things; ATTRACT, RETHINK, KINDLE SPIRITUALITY.
I plan to do some things with this theme, “BUILDING THE ARK,” that you may or may not like or appreciate. However, my intention with this presentation is to encourage you, inspire you, and awaken your imagination and creativity.
This call is to MISSION and SERVICE and NOT SURVIVAL. Vincent de Paul was laser-focused on the priority of MISSION and SERVICE. Vincent was not concerned about perpetuating the company (CM) or concerned about our survival needs. I think Vincent would consider putting energy toward our “survival needs” as self-centered and a waste of energy. Vincent so believed in Divine Providence, meaning that everything is in the hands of God and everything is God’s plan. Therefore, our focus needs to be,
- LISTEN TO DIVINE PROVIDENCE – that comes to us in prayer and sharing and listening to one another
- TO BE A FAITH COMMUNITY
- SERVE THE MISSION BY BRINGING THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST TO THE POOR – TO SERVE AND FEED THE POOR.
Vincent was very clear that “THE MISSION” is not ours – it is the Mission of CHRIST HIMSELF – it is the Mission of the CHURCH. Therefore, the MISSION cannot and will not die because it is of CHRIST and who is the ALPHA AND OMEGA – the beginning and end of all things – CHRIST who is FOREVER. It is our role to serve the Mission – we are simply STEWARDS and SERVANTS of Mission.
A STEWARD cares for the Mission and does what is in the BEST interest of the Mission. VINCENTIAN STEWARDS of the Mission root themselves in prayer Individually and collectively; we dedicate our entire lives to PRAYER. VINCENTIAN STEWARDS believe in the power of friendship and the power of community with one another and with many other partners as the most effective way to serve the poor. VINCENTIAN STEWARDS of the Mission open themselves to a constant state of change and conversion. We know it is only by being evangelized that we CAN EVANGELIZE THE POOR. We are simply STEWARDS of this GREAT MISSION OF CHRIST.
As Vincentians, we serve. We do more than just talk. We do the work. We put our shoulders to the plow. We put our hands in the soil, and we get dirty. We SERVE, as St. Vincent said, “by the work of our hands and the sweat of our brows.” We are SERVANTS of CHARITY – our only motive is to serve out of LOVE FOR CHRIST and HIS PEOPLE. WE SERVE as St. Vincent said, “as very dear friends.” Our service is sustained and grows out of friendship and community with one another. Our service is EMPOWERED when we REACH FAR BEYOND our social circles, our families, our neighborhoods, and our cultural, ethnic, and racial groups. VINCENTIAN SERVANTS LOVE THE WHOLE WORLD! WE LOVE EVERYONE!
Given what I just said, as a Vincentian, I am STRUGGLING WITH the “BUILDING THE ARK” theme. Now, let me tell you why. The first image that came to my mind when reading this theme is “Noah and the ARK.” As we know, Noah had to build the ARK because of the destroying flood waters to come. Noah had to collect animals for SURVIVAL. The flood did come, and Noah’s family and the animals survived. God then promised, “never again to bring destruction to the earth.” Biblically, the time of SURVIVAL was over.
What follows from NOAH and the ARK is the promise of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they and their descendants will grow as a people and as a nation. There was NO NEED for survival for the Patriarchs. Moses received the COVENANT – THE BIND – the RELATIONSHIP with the living God in giving the 10 COMMANDMENTS. KING DAVID and all his descendants, including Jesus of Nazareth and all of us, is the HOPE found in the ARK of the COVENANT expressed as finding a KINGDOM – the KINGDOM OF GOD – a KINGDOM of LOVE, PEACE, and JUSTICE for all. As people of the ARK of the Covenant, we and this mission will do more than SURVIVE. We will THRIVE and GROW in our stewardship and service to the mission. We do not need to build the ARK. We already have the ARK of the Covenant in JESUS CHRIST. THANK GOD! Alleluia!
If you would indulge me, I would like to reflect with you on each letter of the ARK theme in REVERSE ORDER—KRA.
- K – Kindle spirituality
- R – Rethink
- A – Attract new members
#1 K – Kindle SPIRITUALITY –
FAITH and SPIRITUALITY are gifts from Almighty God. We do not earn, create, or manufacture SPIRITUALITY. Believe it or not, SPIRITUALITY is already within us since the moment of conception, our baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. THE SPIRIT OF GOD is within us, and the spirit is with us now and forever.
There is no need to kindle spirituality and we cannot. kindle a gift already received.
We discover the Spirit when we STRIP ourselves of ego, pride, defensiveness, anger, and what Thomas Merton called the “FALSE SELF,” which is “who we THINK we are” and “Who PEOPLE TELL US we are.” We discover the SPIRIT in our “TRUE SELF” – our “SURRENDER SELF” – as Richard Rohr calls our “NAKED SELF.” It is in these vulnerable moments that we can hear the voice of GOD revealing our TRUE SELF, that we are GOOD, TRUE, WHOLE, and BEAUTIFUL, the attributes of GOD HIMSELF. We touch and embrace the spirit of God when we LET GO and SURRENDER and just be ourselves.
#2. R – RETHINK THINGS –
Spirituality opens the INFINITE capacity within us that goes far beyond THINKING. Spirituality AWAKES IMAGINATION and CREATIVITY. Spirituality and imagination go hand in hand. The gift of imagination allows us to SEE VISIONS that take us far beyond what the world deems possible. THINKING and RETHINKING are limited, but IMAGINATION is infinite. IMAGINATION creates ongoing energy, creates ongoing excitement, and creates LIGHT that attracts people, brings people together, and frees people to serve. Imagination can be frightening, because it reveals our vulnerabilities and limits. We all make MISTAKES with IMAGINATION, and most of us do not like making mistakes. But, on the other hand, imagination shows our true and authentic selves – and the true and authentic is always GOOD and BEAUTIFUL. Frankly, I think the risks of imagination are worth it in seeing the GOOD and BEAUTIFUL in myself.
#3. A – ATTRACT new members –
You are so BEAUTIFUL. You are the IMAGE and FACE of the LIVING and LOVING GOD. I recall that beautiful line in Victor Hugo’s, Les Misérables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” How true this statement is – as Vincentians, we see the beauty and wonder of God in the faces of our spouses, children, grandchildren, family, friends, members of our church communities, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and of course we discover the beauty and goodness of God in the eyes of the poor.
When we “LET GO” of control, let go of image, let go of fear, let go of anxiety, let go of anger, let go of resentment, grudges, envy, and jealousy, and all the agendas of our ego – we find ourselves FREE. It is in this state of FREEDOM that we are our “REAL SELF” – we are our “BEST SELF” – AUTHENTICITY, VULNERBILITY, and TRUTH are so beautiful and attractive to behold.
Communities of real and free people who love generously, who laugh, sing, and dance with joy are welcoming and attractive communities. They do not need gimmicks and slogans, because their love and joy speaks volumes.
In conclusion, #1, we Vincentians always begin with Christ and the Spiritual Life to inform us and to anidmate us. Therefore, I propose the LETTER ”S” for Spiritual.
#2. We Vincentians are wildly imaginative and CREATIVE. Therefore, I propose the LETTER “I” for Imagination.
#3. We Vincentians are ATTRACTIVE and BEAUTIFUL in our poverty and in our ORDINARINESS. Therefore, I propose the LETTER “A” for Attractive.
S-I-A – Greek for IMMORTAL.
SIA – Service In Action
We have within ourselves the SPIRIT, the IMAGINATION, and the BEAUTY OF GOD. It is TIME for us to believe in ourselves and believe in who we are and what we profess. SIA – All we need to do is “LET IT BE,” because the gift is IMMORTAL.
Thank you, and God bless you.