Our Rule repeatedly emphasizes the importance of prayer to our vocation. We pray often, the Rule reminds us. We live “a life of prayer and reflection, both at the individual and community level,” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] Prayer is central to our lives and to our vocation. So, as in all things, we must ask: what does St. Vincent teach us about our life of prayer?
In a general audience in November 2020, Pope Francis expressed four characteristics of prayer, given to us through Christ’s example. [General Audience, 4 Nov 2020] The first of these is the primacy of prayer; prayer is “the first desire of the day.” We listen, we encounter God from our first moment of consciousness.
Similarly, St. Vincent de Paul urged that we should “always do whatever you can so that, prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX:29] Vincent himself began each day with “mental prayer,” interiorly seeking God’s guidance. The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission would later incorporate this practice for all the priests and brothers of the mission.
We are only human, and it is easy to seek coffee first – to try to physically jolt ourselves into the energy we need to get up and to get going. But how full are our hearts when we open them instead, first thing each day, to God? Caffeine may well make our hearts beat faster, but prayer will make them beat more insistently, more persistently, more patiently, and more purposefully.
Coffee doesn’t give us the empathy to understand the neighbor as we would a brother or sister. Coffee doesn’t help us to form relationships based on trust and friendship. [Rule, Part I, 1.9] Coffee is indeed a joyful way to help us greet the day, but coffee is only physical. It warms us from the outside in.
Prayer fills us from the inside out, from where God touches us most deeply so that His love may take root and grow to where we can share Him and His love with all those we encounter. But first, and to start each and every day, we must open our innermost hearts to Him.
On awaking, his biographer Joseph Guichard said, St. Vincent would begin each day by crossing himself and saying, “My God, I give You my heart.” May we follow his example, not only in our words, but in our devotion, our practice of prayer, and in our hearts – every day.
As a Vincentian, a Catholic, a Christian, how do I greet each day?