Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vincent de Paul -- friend of the poor

Today is Vincent de Paul's feast day. James Kiefer's Hagiography page has a wonderful explanation of his life. I was struck by the following.
In 1625 he established the Congregation of the Mission (now known as the Vincentians, or the Lazarists), a community of priests who undertook to renounce all ecclesiastical advancement and devote themselves to work in the small towns and villages of France. In an age not noted for "interdenominational courtesy," he instructed his missioners that Protestants were to be treated as brothers, with respect and love, without patronage or condescension or contentiousness. Wealthy men and women came to him, expressing a wish to amend their lives, and he organized them into a Confraternity of Charity, and set them to work caring for the poor and sick in hospitals and in home visits. In 1633 the Archbishop or Paris gave him the Priory of St Lazare as a headquarters. There he offered retreats six times a year for those who were preparing for the ministry. These lasted two weeks each, and each involved about eighty students. He then began to offer similar retreats for laypersons of all classes and widely varying backgrounds.
Perhaps he should be remembered as ecumenist as well?

Kiefer notes that his sermons drew penitents both rich and poor, who sought amendment of life. Such is the power of the Word spoken faithfully. If we exchange the gospel for something other than it, we preachers steal human beings of their dignity, leaving them instead to die in the rot of sin. The mistake, I think, is that we too often want people to live better lives. For better lives, all that is needed is maybe a different perpsective, or a little more effort, or just a warm feeling generated by some therapeutic message ("God's good life... NOW!" or whatever other dreck is being pushed).

Christ seeks to give us a new life -- see that... NEW. As Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." A new life is the perogative of God. Only God can give that to us. And we are called to that new life, in the waters of baptism of course, but also in the daily dying and rising to sin. Christ calls us to repentance, and with repentance comes amendment of life. But why should we bother with that... when preachers give us the gruel, thin and tasteless, rather than the staff of life, the gospel. In the Gospel, Christ slays the sinful heart that the righteous heart might come forth, the heart upon which the Commandments are written.

As in every day and age, we need the Gospel preached that the Word of Life might awaken us. As Vincent awakened the penitents heart through the preaching of the Word, may we all be awakened.


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