At the recent Vincentian Family conference hosted by DePaul University, we learned about how the Vincentian charism has grown in both size and impact around the world. From Vincent and Louise, through Frédéric and Rosalie, and so many others, to the Saints-in-training working alongside us today, we are a global force for good and charity.
It struck me especially how different Frédéric Ozanam was, and would be today, from so many others in his various professions. He was a lawyer, a professor, and a newspaper contributor/editor, as well as a husband and father. I’m sure that if social media were around in the 1830’s, Frederic would have been an “influencer” as well, using all available communications channels to spread his observations and ideas.
Ah, but that’s where the difference was made. The world then, and certainly now, is full of lawyers, professors and media types who like to talk, to complain about life and about others, and to offer ideas — always for someone else to do. Frederic stands out then, and now, because he didn’t just shout from the rooftops; no, he went out and did something.
While providing commentary and ideas is doing something at some level, putting your ideas into actions that help people, spread the Catholic faith, and engage others to join you is quite another thing. Maybe it was Frédéric’s young age, when energy and enthusiasm may be at our highest. Maybe it was the mentors and professionals such as Emmanuel Bailly who encouraged and supported his voice. Perhaps it was urging from Sister Rosalie Rendu, who provided practical outlets for his desire to help others. Or maybe it was the inner zeal Frédéric had to “do a little good” in his life, as he was aware of life’s frailties and possibly of the short lifetime he had in which to work.
As a servant leader, Frédéric led by example. He went on the first Home Visits. He continued to speak and defend his ideas in public forums where he was at times subjected to ridicule. He met with Church leaders, including several Popes, to create and advocate for change. Along with his friends, he organized the meetings and the standards that would become the Rule to keep the initial energy of what would become the Society in front of others. He realized that while one person can and should do something good for the poor, real societal impact comes through leading others to carry on and expand one’s vision and efforts.
Is it any wonder that we promote this man’s Sainthood?
While the canonization process unfolds, we can promote his cause best by following his example. The world today is full of talkers (and shouters) and writers, but is lacking in people to do the necessary tasks to help one another. As Vincentians we may feel relatively few, but we are mighty in our works and impact. Joining with nearly 900,000 Society members around the world, we are surely a force for good within the Church and within our communities.
The work is hard. What we see in poverty around us can break our hearts. Sometimes it seems that the systems around us thwart our efforts and even the opportunities of those they are designed to protect. Yet we persevere in fellowship with our fellow members and in our seeing the face of Christ in those we serve.
We don’t just talk. We Do.
Frédéric Ozanam and his friends led the way for us. When someone responds to our words with “So what are you doing about it?” we can smile and carry on. And invite them to join us.
Yours in Christ,