Fr. Patrick McDevitt, C.M., Provincial Superior for the Congregation of the Mission Western Province, gave the following Morning Reflection to the National Board of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on Oct. 14, 2023, in Atlanta, GA.
Our society has become so TRIBAL – so political. Politics is a part of every relationship, every group, every community, every organization, and every family. I define politics as the human process of negotiating “power and control.” We can either negotiate the “power and control” in a healthy and productive manner or in a toxic manner. Toxic politics are destructive and never helpful.
At this moment, toxic politics has given us the war in Israel-Gaza. We have experienced horrific acts of gun violence over the last several years. The public discourse has become, at times, mean and petty. There is so much pain, hurt, and brokenness on our planet at this moment.
As Vincent said, “What must be done? What must we do?” The gift the Vincentian charism brings to this pain, brokenness, and need is our corporate/commitment to the mission. This is NOT our mission; it is the mission of Jesus Christ himself. Mission is the antidote for toxic politics. Mission calls us to CARE FROM OUR HEARTS FORTHE PEOPLE WE ARE CALLED TO SERVE. Mission transcends partisanship, tribalism, racism, sexism, and every other way we humans DIVIDE among ourselves.
How do we get to this place of mission?
How do we grow deeper in mission?
In Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he calls us to this notion of “encounter.” In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis quotes Pope Benedict: “We must all start from Christ, recognizing that being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.” Vincent taught the same – the center of the Vincentian heart is the encounter and experience of Jesus Christ.
Encounter is human – encounter is divine.
Encounter is prayer – encounter is spiritual communion.
THE ENCOUNTER OPENS – THE ENCOUNTER FREES.
THE ENCOUNTER CHANGES OUR HEARTS.
THE ENCOUNTER RELEASES CREATIVITY.
THE ENCOUNTER MAKES DREAMS REALITY.
When you look at the journeys of Vincent, Louise, Frederic, and many of our Vincentian heroes, their ENCOUNTERS with Christ in the poor CHANGED everything for them. We must first encounter Christ in our own personal poverty, and we encounter Christ in one another and in the poverty of our neighbors. Pope Francis is calling us to be authentic by being a Church of the poor, with the poor, and for the poor. Facing and embracing poverty is OVERWHELMING and LEAVES ALL OF US POWERLESS. It is at this place of powerlessness that makes the Vincentian Mission CLEAR: SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!
We need each other in this mission, because NONE OF US CAN DO THIS ALONE. NONE OF US has all the ANSWERS and RESOURCES. We need the POWER of the Christ ENCOUNTER. We need the bonds of love and support in our encounters with one another as a community. Vincentians can ONLY serve the mission united with one another and with other mission-value and mission-driven people. Vincent, Louise, and Frederic were LASER-FOCUSED ON THE MISSION to serve and bring the good news of Christ to the poor. The missionary spirit and drive of Vincent, Louise, and Frederic moved them to reach out and partner with all kinds of people – rich, poor, clergy, religious, laity, kings and queens, politicians, and with anyone willing to serve. I believe society’s and churches’ notion of class and hierarchy does NOT have a place on the frontlines of the Vincentian mission. We need Christ, and we need everyone to serve the mission.
The Vincentian Mission is HANDS-ON AND PRACTICAL – SERVE CHRIST IN THE POOR AND SHARE WITH THE POOR THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST.
I believe the church, at this time, is struggling how to think about, plan for, and respond to the great demands of our times with diminishing resources and aging and declining church membership. The nature and structures of the church often restricts the church in serving its own mission, i.e. canon law, legacies, clerical hierarchy, and other structures. It is my understanding that Vincent, Louise, and Frederic wanted the Vincentian spirit to be absolutely FREE and UNFETTERED in giving ourselves to the mission. Vincent, Louise, and Frederic urged the Vincentian family to work together to build a powerful network to serve the mission.
For example, the Congregation of the Mission was born out of Diocesan priests preaching parish missions where the people gave us the name “The Priests of the Mission.” Vincent saw the value for the priests to live and serve in common. Vincent wanted the Congregation of the Mission to be FREE for mission. He wanted the members of the Congregation of the Mission to completely give their ENTIRE LIVES to the service of the Mission. THIS FREEDOM for mission is evident in our private vows – not solemn/perpetual religious vows where members’ vows are to the particular religious order. Our vows are to be directed to God and between ourselves and God for the services of the Mission in the Congregation of the Mission. In the ceremony, no one receives or acknowledges the vow professed. THE FREEDOM to serve the mission with our whole heart and soul is of high priority. It is my HOPE and DREAM that the Congregation of the Mission and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul can deepen our missionary friendship. I want our encounters – our relations with one another – to better enable us and empower us to serve God’s beloved poor. I would hope the Church can look to us (the Vincentian Family) as an example of partnership in mission, creativity in mission, and how to think outside the box for mission.
In Conclusion, as we move forward in our mission, relationship, and partnership, I hope that we can call upon one another – challenge and invite one another to work together to serve the demands of the mission. We can only grow in our capacity for mission when given the opportunities to struggle together in mission! Let’s grow in helping one another in serving this beautiful Vincentian Mission.
Thank you for the honor and privilege of being with you and for allowing me to share with you. Be assured of my love for you and my prayers for you.
St. Vincent, St. Louise, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and Blessed Rosalie Rendu. All the Vincentian saints, blesseds, and servants of God.