Daily Reflection
September 27th, 2003
Eileen Burke-Sullivan 
Theology Department
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Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul
Zechariah 2:5-9, 14-15
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12, 13
Luke 9:43-45

I was privileged to experience my undergraduate education at a small women’s college owned and operated by sisters of charity, spiritual descendents of St. Vincent de Paul and his companion in ministry, Louise de Merillac.  The community and the college celebrated feasts for Vincent in July (old calendar) and September and it was important that all the students know about and appreciate the contributions of the talented and generous “Monsieur Vincent” that the Church remembers today.

Vincent lived for eighty years in the heart of Europe in an era following the chaos of the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent, on the leading edge of what historians now call the modern era.  It was a time of violent religious wars – primarily among Christian groups who slaughtered one another in the name of Christ’s mercy, discovery and conquest of new worlds and peoples, rapidly developing nation states, and the dawn of the scientific era following the development of the telescope, gunpowder, the printing press and other early technological wonders.  In short, it was the seed bed of our own era. 

Born in rural poverty, Vincent entered the priesthood for remarkably wrong reasons (wealth, status and power.)  After becoming the personal chaplain of a powerful noble family in his early thirties, however, Vincent’s “fortunes” changed – most notably he was given the grace of conversion in the very act of priestly ministry.  The works of charity and formation that flowed from this conversion experience have become legendary. Thousands of religious men and women, diocesan priests and bishops, and the poorest of the poor throughout the world can express gratitude that God’s mercy challenged and changed Vincent’s crippled values.  In his conversion he was led to heroic sanctity and in turn led the Church back to concern for the poor, toward spiritually forming priests and to accepting the active apostolic ministry of women.

Like Vincent, we are called in today’s first reading to return to our original call to grace.  When the Jews were called to return to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon many were not eager to undertake that great a change in their lives. They had intermarried into their captors’ families and seemingly had become established and comfortable as scholars, artisans, shopkeepers, and successful landowners.  They bought into the values of their captors and oppressors. Not only for the Jews of the 5th Century before Christ and for Vincent de Paul of the 17th Century, but for us today, life in the world of power, money and control anchors us in a way that makes movement away from it painful indeed!

Zechariah and the other later prophets, sought to lure their people to a change of heart. Peace, consolation from sorrow, prosperity for all of the little ones, the joy of divine companionship; these were all promised incentives woven together to draw the heart back to the covenant with God. It is not an easy journey, of course, but God became human and allowed himself to be “handed over to men” (those acting out of their darkest human impulses) to lure us into that relationship.

Jesus’ disciples were initially confused about his message of the degree to which God was willing to go to be with suffering humanity. Vincent started off in some confusion as well.  Today’s liturgy reminds us that God so desired Vincent’s company (and ours as well) that he emptied himself – and continues to pour out – every aspect of the divine and human self to seduce us into emptying ourselves of the dark and joining Him in his circle of infinite delight.

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