Vincentians are people of prayer – it is central to our vocation. Equal to it, though, is our commitment to go out and do. In the doing, we receive God’s transformational grace; we grow closer to perfect union with Christ by serving Him exactly as he has asked us to do, in the person of the poor.
St. Vincent once offered an interesting analogy for the balance between contemplation and action, likening it to the dove that eats its fill, then chews more food only in order to feed it to the little birds. In the same way, he said, we “gather light and strength for our soul in meditation, reading, and solitude on the one hand, and then to go out and share this spiritual nourishment with others.” [CCD XI:33]
Yet we also acknowledge the truth that it is really we who receive. And so, our person-to-person service becomes mutual, as Frédéric taught that it must be. From us, the neighbor receives not only some material relief, but the assurance that God has not abandoned or forgotten them; that He loves them so much he sends us to listen and to pray with them. We, in turn, receive a true revelation and a conversion of our hearts.
In the life of St. Vincent, we note several important moments of conversion, transforming him from the young, ambitious priest seeking benefices and connections, to the humble servant of the poor. In 1617 especially, when he received the confession of the poor farmer in Gannes, and later that year encountering the poor farming family in Châtillon. Like most of us, he was not converted in a blinding flash on the road to Damascus. Instead, through a series of experiences, some of which he may not have even noticed at the time, his heart was turned fully towards Christ.
Spiritually, he had been influenced strongly by the teaching of several mystics, especially Benet of Canfield, whose Rule of Perfection would be echoed fifty years later in the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission. Yet he could be somewhat dismissive, at times, of mystic visions of God.
What Vincent came to understand viscerally through his own encounters with the poor is that if you wish to have a vision of Christ, well, he’s right over there! He is asking for food, or shelter. He is begging to be seen. If you want a revelation of His will, listen; listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart to the cry of the poor.
We give our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves; we serve the will of God and of the poor in providing material assistance and prayer. When we do so, two or three of us together, the Christ who sent us is, as He promised, there with us, making every encounter a moment of revelation and conversion if we seek it.
When did I last see Christ, and what did He reveal to me?