Who do I pay attention to?

Who do I pay attention to? That is the question I keep asking myself after reading the reflection of Fr. Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission on FamVin. Another way he puts it is “noticing the unnoticed”. Those who have gone before us in the Vincentian tradition notice the unnoticed because they pay attention to the poor and the lowly.

The Grace of Visibility (James 2: 1-5)

America Magazine (8/06/18) recently featured an article entitled “Becoming Invisible.” The author observes how in both the early and ending years of life, a person is less visible to the surrounding world. A newly born looking out over her mother’s shoulder is hardly noticed, but when the eye of a grinning adult locks onto hers, something vital awakens: “I am seen; I am….” The older gentleman walking down the street senses that fewer people look at him passing by, show him that certain flicker of interest. This hunger to be seen (“be desired, be a taken as a person and not simply a role”) is a deep human one and is put there by the Creator. Lacking it, not only the elderly but anyone who goes unacknowledged senses some void. To be “seen” is to know I am not invisible; it is to experience myself as God’s looked-upon child.

In his letter, James plays on this theme of noticing and not noticing. Who gets your attention when they walk into a room, he asks? The man with the golden rings and tailored clothes or the commonly dressed woman with no accessories and shabby shoes? Who is given the favor (grace) of being looked at and who is overlooked? James says it’s especially the unobtrusive ones the disciple should be regarding, those hidden in the back of the room. They are God’s beloved too and need your interest just as much if not more.  By acting as if they are invisible you blunt the love coming from God’s gaze upon them.

This noticing of the unnoticed is a pervasive theme through the Bible. Who is it the Lord feeds, but the hungry, the ones who are bowed down, the shunted aside orphan and widow. Who is it the Lord choses to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, but the neglected of this earth, the ones routinely bypassed in the run of a busy day.

Isaiah also trumpets this visibility. To those who are frightened and feeling vulnerable, he assures the caring glance of the Lord. “Here comes your God to save you,” (Is 35:5) he proclaims. You are visible in God’s eyes, you are noticed and picked out and looked upon with special love. You are not invisible.

A corroborating Gospel incident is where Jesus and the Twelve enter the Temple when contributions are being given. The disciples’ attention swings to the large donors, the ones throwing gold and jewelry into the collection. By contrast, Jesus’ eyes follow an elderly widow who slips in to drop her tiny copper coin. Invisible to most everyone, she is “seen” by Jesus. He imparts to her the grace of recognition. Another instance is when his band passes right by a group of children while Jesus stops and tells them to come and gather round. In his company, these little ones are seen.

This is his consistent pattern, noticing the unnoticed, fixing his eyes on the blind and the crippled and the deaf and the outcast — and so stirring their inner worth. Surely Vincent’s refrain to see the Christ in the other, especially in the suffering and poor other, is our signature call to go and see likewise.

Jesus’ example is unmistakable to disciples of any age. Being “seen” is life-giving. Being “invisible” deadens the spirit. The Creator looks out at creation and, as Genesis puts it, “sees it is good.” To take notice of the overlooked in society, to fix a positive attention on the least celebrated, to give visibility to the mostly invisible is to do what Our Lord continues to do – shine the saving light of personal recognition on the least of the brothers and sisters.

The Lincoln Option as a Response to the Abuse Crisis

In Bishop Barron’s “cry from the heart” over the clerical sexual abuse and cover-up crisis he draws a lesson from Lincoln. In the Gettysburg address, he called everyone to build rather than abandon community. Bishop Barron calls each of us to exercise our prophetic charism. We are not fighting for an institution but for the community Christ.

Some of his phrases… This is the moment to be fighting for the church we believe in… fighting to set things right, fight any way you can… because we believe in Jesus Christ… every baptized Catholic is called to be a prophet… raise your voice, don’t cut and run… we are not fighting to save an institution… we are fighting for the victims…

I am reminded of the words of a contemporary mystic, Br. David Steindl-Rast

The question is: Do we have the grace and the strength and the courage to take  on our prophetic task? You see, the mystic is also the prophet. And the prophetic stance is a double one. It demands a double courage, the courage to speak out  and the courage to stay in. It takes a good deal of courage to speak out, not necessarily with words. Often a silent witness is much more of a witness. By word or by silence,, the prophet speaks out. It is difficult enough to speak out and then to get out as quickly as you can, to say your thing and run. But the second half of the prophetic stance is to stay in, stay in the community against which you have to speak out. But it will not do to stay in and to blend with the woodwork, to stay in and lie low. That is not prophetic either. The most difficult thing is demanded from us: to stay in and to speak out. Nothing less will do.
To stay in would be easy if we could disappear. To speak out would be easy if we could get out. But then you would no longer be a prophet, you would merely be an outside critic; that has happened to many tired prophets. They have become outside critics. As long as they were prophets within, they had leverage; they were able to change things. Now, on the outside, they say the same things, but it does not phase anybody anymore. But to stay in and speak out means crucifixion. The staying in is symbolized by this cross because you stay in; you can not go anywhere else. It is rammed into the ground, and it is the vertical post of the cross. The horizontal post symbolizes the speaking out. It happens to fit in the Christian tradition very nicely. But the cross of the prophet is there in every tradition.

A Cloud of Witnesses in the Vincentian Family

“We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 1:1) We begin a season of celebrating Vincentian Family martyrs. What can you and I learn from Vincentian martyrs?

A Season of Vincentian Martyrs

In a two week period, the Congregation of the Mission celebrates 3 memorials of Vincentian Martyrs. August 30 marks the martyrdom Bl. Ghebre Michael followed a few days later by the memorials of Bl. Louis-Joseph François, Jean-Henri Gruyer, Pierre-Rene Rogue , John Charles Caron and Nicholas Colin. Closing out this two-week cycle is the feast of St. John Gabriel Perboyre.

October 13 marks the date Pope Francis beatified 27 Daughters of Charity, 11 priests of the Congregation of the Mission, 3 lay Brothers of the Congregation of the Mission and 1 laywoman, a member of the Daughters of Mary of the Miraculous Medal Association– all martyrs.

As if that isn’t enough, on November 11 Pope Francis will declare blessed 60 members of the Vincentian Family. (Link)

What a “cloud of witnesses”! (Hebrews 12:1) Is there a message here for you and me as ordinary Christians? Pope Francis and St. Vincent think so!

Pope Francis’ Message

Pope Francis believes that every Christian is a “ martyr”, a witness to the sure hope that faith inspires. Etymologically “martyr’ means witness. By their example and intercession, may we become ever more convincing witnesses, above all in the events of our daily lives, to our undying hope in the promises of Christ.

…many Christians in the world today are blessed because they are persecuted, insulted, imprisoned. There are so many in prison, only to bring a cross or to confess Jesus Christ! They with their martyrdom, with their testimony, with their suffering, even giving their lives, offering life, they sow Christians for the future and in other churches,”

Vincent’s Perspective

Vincent shares his powerful insights with the early Daughters of Charity.

Did the martyrs suffer more than these Sisters? No indeed, they certainly didn’t, because having one’s head cut off is soon over and done with. If they suffered greater torments, these still didn’t last very long; they were quickly terminated by death.

But those women who give themselves to God in your Company are sometimes with sick persons full of infection and sores and often noxious body fluids; sometimes with poor children for whom everything must be done; or with poor convicts loaded down with chains and afflictions; and they come under the authority of persons they don’t even know but are bound to obey in every type of ministry.

And you wouldn’t consider such persons worthy of respect! They’re far more worthy of it than anything I could say to you, and I see nothing like it. If we saw the spot where a martyr had been, we’d approach it only with respect and kiss it with great reverence; yet, we’re capable of despising our Sisters, who are persons God preserves and enables to exist in a state of martyrdom. Hold them in great esteem, dear Sisters; keep that high opinion of them, no matter what may happen, and look upon them as martyrs of Jesus Christ, since they serve their neighbor for love of him (CCD:IX:213-214).

– from Saint Vincent de Paul: the Martyrdom of Charity

Questions to think about

  • What was my reaction to reading the powerful words of Vincent?
  • Have I ever thought of Vincentian service as a form of martyrdom?

[ An earlier version of the post first appeared on FamVin]

Prayers requested for Mr. Joseph Kolinsky

August 28, 2018

Please remember in your prayers…

Mr. Joseph Kolinsky  the brother of deceased confrere Fr. Artie Kolinsky, C.M.

Joe died at the end of last week after a long battle with brain cancer.
A funeral was held in North Carolina.

The family is planning a memorial service in Tampa, FL, September 22.

Favor de recordar en sus oraciones…

Sr. Joseph Kolinsky
el hermano de nuestro difunto cohermano Artie Kolinsky, CM.

Joe murió al final de la semana pasada después de una larga batalla
contra el cáncer cerebral.

Su funeral se llevó a cabo en Carolina del Norte.

La familia está planeando un servicio funeral en Tampa, FL,
el 22 de septiembre.

Condolences can be sent to:
Michael Kolinsky (brother)
50 Fordham Street
Williston Park, NY

Three Marks of Vincentian Service

A quick one-minute video message on Vincentian Values from Mark McGreevy OBE of Depaul International/Depaul Group Chief Executive. Mark McGreevy is also a Founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness in Chicago. [See below for what OBE means.]

Remember, the three marks

  • serve the poorest of the poor
  • take risks on their behalf, and
  • be fundamentally about action not words

And three matching quotes of St. Vincent:

It is a source of consolation to us that Our Lord seems to want to use the Company everywhere for the service and relief of the poorest of the poor. (V:66)

What price there would be if, under the guise of deference and humility, we were to abandon the honor of God so as not to risk our own. (III:44)

Let’s work, let’s work, let’s go to the assistance of the poor country people who are waiting for us. (XI:391)

Three questions 

Am I Willing …

  • to serve, or support those who, serve the poorest of the poor?
  • to take risks on their behalf?
  • to walk the talk?

Order of the British Empire  Awarded by the sovereign of the United Kingdom

“There’s an elephant in church!”

Imagine the scene at Sunday Mass. A child cries out “Mommy, there is an elephant in church!” And people are talking about this elephant. In today’s church, there are certainly many people talking about the elephant of clerical sexual abuse and coverup. But are we all talking about the same thing?

6 Blind Men “See” an Elephant

There is an ancient story that might help us see.

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.” They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.”All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.
“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and each insisted that he was right. A wise man was passing by asked them, “What is the matter?” With great certitude, each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like.

The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually, the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different experiences. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, maybe we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.”  and try to understand what I have missed. I suspect it would give us a fuller picture.

The scandals of clergy sexual abuse and justice

It seems to me we must talk about the many scandals of clergy sexual abuse.

  • There is the horror of what happened to the victims and how it affects the rest life of their life.
  • There is the scandal of those who should have known or actually may have known and done little or nothing. Bystander guilt takes many forms.
  • There is the scandal of judging every priest or bishop guilty by association.  The majority of priests or bishops are just as horrified, if not more so than others.

There are many questions related to justice. The traditional questions are

  • What laws have been broken?
  • Who did it?
  • What do the offender(s) deserve?

But justice also asks questions about

  • Who has been hurt? The obvious and not so obvious victims.
  • What are their needs?
  • Whose obligations are these?
  • What are the causes?
  • Who has a stake in the situation?
  • What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to address causes and put things right?

The Question of Focus

It is clear to me from what I have experienced and read so far that each of us has different experiences of the elephant in church. That experience seems to focus light on one or other of the questions.

As I have written elsewhere I have walked with victims and abusers, guilty bystanders and those whose only guilt is by association. At this point, my main question is “What would Jesus Do”?

He responded in a variety of ways to hypocrisy and other sins – overthrowing tables, writing in the sand,  forgiving criminals on the cross, asking questions about who went away from the temple justified, waking with and eating with sinners, cursing the barren fig tree, figuratively hanging millstones around necks, etc. In more than one situation he rebuked his angry apostles even when they drew the sword to defend him. He challenged all to think not as humans do but as God does.

As the wise man implied he had his reasons for each situation. His message was that God loves each and every one of us sinners… even as he challenges and invites us to grow.

What Is Your Focus?

What part of the problem have I experienced most directly?
Have I listened to those who have experienced other aspects of the problem?
When I pray about this am I telling God what to do or listening for God to speak?

Floods – Getting Right to the Point!

The Provincial of our Province in Southern India gets right to the point with the essential facts about the devasting floods.

  • Facts
  • What Viincentian Have Done
  • What still needs to be done

Existing facts and figures.

  1. It is the worst of all the floods in the last more than hundred years.
  2. The death toll has already crossed 500 (as of now).
  3. Thousands of people have become homeless
  4. Hundreds of sick are stranded and unattended.
  5. Innumerable children are traumatized and wounded.
  6. The hospitals and health-systems have become non-functional.
  7. Several of our parishes and parishioners are devastated
  8. Our ‘Priests’ Home’ at Angamaly is affected.
  9. Our theologate at Alwaye is totally disturbed.
  10. More than 35 of our own confreres hail from the affected area.

Measures already taken by the CM Southern Indian Province

  1. An immediate financial help of rupees seventy-five lakhs is released by the Southern Indian Province
  2. Our confrere-social-workers are already into relief campaign and work.
  3. Our theologians are serving the victims round the clock
  4. Our theologate is turned into a relief camp.
  5. Our priests’ home is converted into a relief and rescue operation
  6. Our Schools serve as places of medical help.
  7. Our parishes have become places of rehabilitation.
  8. Financial relief campaign launched in all our parishes and institutions.
  9. Southern Indian CMs keep on contributing to the relief fund
  10. Collaborative relief work of CMs and Vincent De Paul Society is underway.

Current requirements.

  1. Ready-to-eat food
  2. Medical help, specially first-aid.
  3. Sanitary provisions.
  4. Spiritual and Psychological support.
  5. Clothing (outer- and innerwear).
  6. Bedding
  7. Transportation facilities.
  8. Tools to clear the ways and roads.
  9. Man-power and medicine to fight the imminent (aftermath) and epidemics
  10. Finance to rebuild the houses and rehabilitate the families.

I do believe that now you have a realistic idea of the situation here in the southern federal state of Kerala and the psychological state of our confreres and their affected faithful and families.

The proposed housing and rehabilitation-projects by Southern Indian Province.

The Southern Indian Province of the Congregation of the Mission proposes and plans to undertake short- and long-term housing (construction of houses) and rehabilitation (reassuring living and self-employment by providing means of livelihood like cattle, livestock, farming-tools, small shops etc.) projects to settle and resettle the flood victims in solidarity and collaboration with the other benevolent CM-provinces and patrons.

1. Housing: 100 houses * Rs. 500000 = 50000000 ($ 781250 / € 675675)

2. Rehabilitation: 100 families * Rs. 100000 = 10000000 ($ 156250 / € 135135)

3. An immediate Southern-Indian-Province-help of Rs. 7500000 ($ 117187 /€ 101351) is already released.

May I humbly request you to help us out in whatever way possible to realize our projects to help the victims. Here below I furnish you with the bank details that you may contribute your valuable tiny tithe to the cause:

Bank details for receiving foreign funds.

Name and address of the account holder:

Vincentian Society

#419, 2nd mail, Bannimantap

C Layout, Mysuru 570015

Mysuru, Karnataka, India

Name and address of the bank/branch:

South Indian Bank

N.R. Mohala, Sivaji Road

Mysuru, Karnataka 570007, India

Bank details:

A/c Name: Vincentian Society Swift No. SOININ 55

Bank code: SIBL 0000415.

Account No. 0415053000001500


Kerala Flood – 2018

Obviously, the subsequent fund will be used to rehabilitate and restore the victims after the flood, a time when the victims would be ‘mostly and usually’ left to themselves. We promise to provide you with the account of the money used to ensure transparency and responsible execution of the project.

I would also like frankly to inform you that I would be appealing to the other provinces as well for their spiritual sustenance and financial support.

Appreciating your commitment and contribution, and thanking you in anticipation, and awaiting your positive valuable response at the earliest,

I remain with lots of love and prayers, Your brother in St. Vincent,

Fr. Tomichan Mattathiveliyil CM

Provincial Superior, CM – Southern Indian Province, Mysuru

The Fig Tree I Sit Under Today

Graphic courtesy of Free Bible Images

The fig tree I sit under today!  As I was reading this morning’s Gospel a light went on in my head.

I normally read this passage as a vocation story from the past. I do sometimes  ask myself and others to reflect on the day when we were first called to take Jesus seriously.

The light that went on did not point to the past. It lit up the present.

Bartholomew asked, “How do you know me?” Jesus said to Bartholomew “I saw you sitting under the fig tree.”

It dawned on me that Jesus sees me under a variety of fig trees today… and calls me as I

  • Sit at my desk writing this
  • Sit at table eating with my confreres
  • Sit in my car driving to a medical appointment

You get the idea.

That past moment is present today for each one of us. Jesus sees us sitting under the fig trees of our daily lives!

Some questions I am asking today…

  • Will I recognize the many places and people in which Jesus calls me today?
  • How will I respond?

Writing, Yes, Writing, Letters

You read that correctly! Writing letters. Fr. Pat Griffin of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission reflects on letters and prayer. He is also a scripture scholar well-versed in the letters and other writings of the Bible. [The following appeared first on FamVin.]

When I worked for the Congregation and the Company in Europe, I resolved at the very beginning of my tenure to write home once-a-week. I carried out that commitment faithfully. Little danger exists that my letters will be collected and made into required reading for any literature class, but they were filled with personal tidbits and stories of my adventures. I suspect that these missives still find a place on the hard drive of one or both of my sisters. I still write letters to the family when I am away for any appreciable length of time.

One thing that has become clear to me is that some people can really write beautiful and revealing letters. Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam’s letters to Amélie capture something of their love. The letters of Vincent and Louise to each other and to other members of the Vincentian family are filled with practical instruction and deep faith for every age. The letters of the Popes, and in these days those of Francis, summon the Christian people to reflect upon the challenge of the Gospel as it needs to be lived out in the modern era. Good letters are not just informational but revelatory of the heart and soul of the author. On occasion, I envy the talent which gives rise to these texts and wonder whether or not I am capable of such wonderful expression.

I will guess that no individual has had his letters so frequently read and quoted than St. Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles established local Churches and then wrote to them as he continued his journeys on behalf of his Lord. A real value emerges for us when, in the midst of our celebrations, we try to listen to Paul’s texts as letters. Or, when we pick up our Scripture and read his offerings as being addressed to us and our parish. They were written for particular communities and have an interpersonal as well as intimate character. We can hear them as such.  Paul reveals his deepest self to his correspondents and challenges with words of energetic proclamation. His letters reveal the truth about himself and his beliefs.

Several experiences over the past weeks have made me think about letters. Twice I have heard people speak about receiving a handwritten letter from someone and how much they appreciated the time and care which went into that effort. One of the books that I recently read contained many letters in which real people were sharing their feelings and hopes with one another. I felt privileged to be able to respectfully listen in. The carefully chosen words revealed the studied reflection and intended revelation of the author.

I have been thinking about letters because of the stupefying number of spoken words which are part of our world and the even more overwhelming amount of written words. Such a volume lessens the impact of any one sharing.  Letters demand more attention and engagement.  They remind me of what prayer should look and sound like.

The Limits of Pope Francis’ Imagery

The imagery of Pope Francis

I am a great fan of the imagery of Pope Francis. He says so much with the images he uses. I particularly like his image of the church as “field hospital” So when I saw the title  “How the Pope’s Imagery on Critical Care Can Overlook Long-term rehab” I immediately read it.

Among the key points of Fr. Imbelli…

  • Pope Francis’s famous image of the Church as a “field hospital” is so often invoked that it’s easy to forget that a field hospital is about critical care, not long-term recovery. For that, the Church also needs places where the Christian life can be nourished and deepened — a role the new movements play well, when they overcome their tendency for in-fighting.
  • Field hospitals provide immediate and urgent care for critical situations. But this legitimate need does not gainsay the imperative for more in-depth diagnosis, which may necessitate the patient’s transfer elsewhere to treat not merely the symptoms, but the deeper causes of the disease.
  • Thus, successful therapy and ultimate healing also demand the presence of a skilled pathologist able to discern the roots of the affliction.

(Imbelli does say that Pope Francis’s own diagnoses of the spiritual malaise and pathologies of our time have not received the attention they merit.)

Vincentians who walk on one foot

As I read the article I thought of parallels to an implicit discussion going on between two groups of the followers of Vincent and Louise. At the risk of over-simplifying,.. One group is issue strongly committed to “up close and personal” direct aid to those who are in need. This is the way we have always (in recent times at least) done things. The other group is strongly committed to addressing underlying causes and long terms solutions. They stress advocacy for systemic change as a priority.

The United States Catholic Conference has its own way of expressing it.

Catholic disciples on mission are called to put Two Feet of Love in Action! This foundational tool describes two distinct, but complementary, ways we can put the Gospel in action in response to God’s love: social justice (addressing systemic, root causes of problems that affect many people) and charitable works (short-term, emergency assistance for individuals).

Archbishop Camera of Brazil once commented, “When I tried to help the poor, people said I was a saint. When I asked why they were poor, people called me a communist.”

The Archbishop touches on a rather widespread irony. Sometimes people applaud those who try to help the needy through direct assistance but they are critical of any attempt to change the structures that put people in need.

The Vincentian Both/And

What can we learn from the wisdom of our founders?

St Vincent was not an either/or thinker.

To take care of the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor …is to preach the Gospel by words and works … It is what Our Lord did (CCD:XII:77-78)

He was rather explicit on this when he addressed his contemporaries who might be inclined to one side or the other.

In an address to one of the early Vincentian Family Gatherings ten years ago in Princeton NJ  “Going with God’s Flow” Regina Bechtle, SC said

As Vincent, Louise, Elizabeth, Catherine, Rosalie, Frederic, and Thomas listened to the Word of God and pondered God’s ways with humans, something happened, something clicked. As they contemplated Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor, source and model of all charity, they had the intuition that the WAY TO GOD IS THE WAY OF BOTH/AND, not either/or. As they faced the tensions and conflicts of their times, as the Spirit opened their eyes wider and wider to see the face of Christ everywhere, they planted themselves firmly in the “AND.” Not with their – heads in the sand, but with their heads and hearts and bodies in the “AND.”

Action AND prayer
Solitude AND community
Head AND heart Now AND not-yet
Charity AND justice
Service that is material AND spiritual

AND is a key Vincentian word. Our founders were people who lived at the extremes and chose to hold them together.

Where Do You Stand?

What is my response to tension? Do I run away to one side or the other? Do I honor the truth of both poles of the tension?
Where can I find guidance and strength to hang on to both sides and the people that live on one side or the other?
[This post first appeared on FamVin.org]