There is an old saying that nobody, on his deathbed, ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Yet in a famous scene in the movie Monsieur Vincent, St. Vincent, near his own death, tells the queen that he has done nothing in his life. She asks then, if he has done nothing, what should the rest of us do? St. Vincent de Paul replies, “More.”
Vincent’s life’s work, though, was not a job! Likewise, for us, our work of charity is not a job, nor are we simply “volunteers”. Instead, ours is a vocation; it isn’t what we do, it is who we are. There is no question of “clocking out” for the day, for ours is a “vocation for every moment of our lives”. [Rule, Part I, 2.6]
A vocation is a calling; the word itself comes from the Latin vocāre, meaning “to call”. Every person is called; our church teaches, to the common vocation “to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father’s only Son.” [CCC, 1877] This common vocation takes a personal form, leading each of us to our particular road toward the perfection to which Christ directs us.
Our road is the Vincentian pathway. It leads us to Christ; it is our way of being Catholic. We sons and daughters of St. Vincent are called by his example to “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” [CCD XI:32] With these words, Vincent recalls that labor is the common lot of mankind since being cast out of Eden, sentenced to eat bread only by the sweat of our brows, but as Blessed Frédéric Ozanam put it, this “applies as much to the nourishment of the soul as of the body.” [Letter 6, to Materne, 1829]
Ours is not a job for pay, but a labor of love – to serve Him in the poor, the hungry, the lonely, and the desperate; to dry their tears, to offer our hearts, and to share with them this great hope that lights our path. “That is what is proposed to us, the sublime vocation God has given us.” Frédéric said. “Would that we were a little bit worthy of it and bent easily to its burden.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835]
We needn’t be ashamed that we tire, from time to time, at the labor required to visit the poor, to stock the pantries, to answer the calls, to talk to the landlords, and even to fill out the paperwork, but let us always remember the Savior’s call to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
And let us also ask Blessed Frédéric to pray for us, as he did for his brothers, “that you may know your vocation and will not fail in the courage to follow it…” [Letter 387, to his brother Charles, 1842] In becoming Vincentians, we answered His call, and each time the Conference helpline rings, He is calling us again.
How can I seek to do “more”?