We often take modern conveniences for granted. How life has changed from just a century ago in the United States with air travel, television, the microwave oven, the computer, and the Internet. Some of it has even been good!
Let’s look back further to 400 years and to Paris, France. We see none of the items above. Heck, we don’t even see indoor plumbing, penicillin, or widespread literacy. Heating and cooling meant opening and closing a window and starting a wood or charcoal fire and cutting blocks of ice. This is the world of Vincent de Paul (before he was a Saint) and it makes his works all the more remarkable.
Imagine now if Vincent had a cellphone.
In his day, Vincent ran several businesses, raised funds, recruited volunteers constantly, and otherwise organized like the dickens the numbers, the meals, the fuel, the people, and the buildings to feed the hungry and serve God’s neediest across Paris and rural France. Distances were “longer” then because you either walked them or, if you were fortunate, you had a horse or carriage to carry you at a whopping five miles an hour. If Vincent needed someone, he either sent a runner or had to go get them; he couldn’t send them a text or pick up the phone. Leave a message? Ha! Maybe a note on the door or with a neighbor, and even that with hopes that the recipient knew how to read!
Saint Vincent gives us so many examples in which to lead our Vincentian lives. He used the resources of his time to do the best he could with what God gave him. No excuses, just the use of the blessings he had to do all he could to serve. How did he recruit others to help? He rang the church bell, went door to door, preached in the pulpit and met people where they lived and worked to ask for their time and resources to help their neighbors. He delegated, encouraged, and then organized the laity (the Ladies) the religious (the Daughters) and the clergy (the Congregation of the Mission). He then provided the structures (the Rule) and prayed. A lot.
As Vincent’s organizational descendants we have many more tools at our disposal, including relatively more discretionary time and money, than most of the Parisians of Vincent’s day. We have communications and transportation technology that make the loads lighter and the distances shorter between our volunteers and people we serve. We have only modern-world problems!
This month as we consider our Fall activities and start of our alumni gatherings, church festivals, and holidays, please think of St. Vincent for a moment. How would he utilize these days of friends getting together to recruit – in pairs, face to face? How would he organize an evening of Vincentians in a Conference meeting, each with the modern-day miracle of a cellphone and a roster of inactive members, to hold an old-fashioned phone-a-thon to make some calls to invite them back, celebrating with each “new-found” friend? How would he inspire a Conference President or young adult to give a brief Invitation to Serve address at Mass, followed in the school hall or elsewhere nearby by other Conference members welcoming prospective members into our ranks? As his example inspired a young Frederic Ozanam and his friends nearly 200 years ago in Paris, how can that same zeal demonstrated by Vincent inspire us today here in our community?
Technologies change over time. Yet history reminds us that many of the needs of our world are timeless and universal. Fortunately, so too are our Church’s eternal examples of the Saints, none so more than our Society’s patron, St. Vincent de Paul. Let us learn from, and live by, the examples with which he has graced us.
Yours in Christ,