What Tugs At Your Soul?

In his reflection on FamVin “Sent Out” (Isaiah 61:1-2) Father Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission helps us reflect on what tugs at our souls.

There was a documentary on TV about the Renaissance, that period of awakening in the history of Europe when a fresh energy flooded into the culture and triggered off a whole new view of the world. The reason for it, as the show presented, was a discovery of certain writings, wisdoms and ideas from the past that had been there all along but had lain hidden and buried. What got civilization moving again was the re-emergence of this underground current which registered in people as a kind of summons, a pull into the future. It was as if from this hidden spring they had heard a call and began to follow, as if being sent down a new road.

I pick up on this notion of being sent, this occurrence whereby something inside grabs hold and pulls a person in a new direction – because it’s just the kind of thing that happened to the prophet Isaiah. One day he wakes up and senses some tug on his soul. He recognizes it as The Spirit of God. He experiences it not just as warm feeling, but as a push, a prod, an energy sending him out. And in his memorable words he senses “being sent to bring good news to the poor and lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”It’s that same pattern, something sleeping inside waking up, grabbing hold, and propelling a person down some new road – in Isaiah’s case, the road of liberation of the oppressed. This scene is a visual of Isaiah responding to a call, a vocation.

In the gospels the apostles get caught up in this same kind of momentum. They have been walking with Jesus, listening to his words, seeing all the healing things he’s been doing, and taking in his very person. At a certain juncture, all this shifts and gets transformed into what you could call a sending-energy, being sent out to start doing as their Lord has been doing. This energy, half-awake inside them, comes out its slumber and begins to move them along.

The story of St. Vincent de Paul whose feast we celebrate this week follows much the same plot line. He’s someone on a path, being productive enough, but not yet alive to the life forces running deeper within him. A few circumstances come together, centered around his work out in the country with the rural poor.  Then over some months that inner something begins to rise up and propel him forward. In fact it’s the very words of Isaiah, now quoted by Luke, that provide the catalyst. Putting language onto Vincent’s inner experience, they wake up this energy that has been sleeping inside, catch hold, and move him out. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and is sending me to bring the good news to the poor and neglected.” It becomes his life’s motto, his statement of purpose.

Seeing this pattern at work is an occasion for each of us to look for its operation in our own lives. Can you think back to a time when the pull of some greater purpose started to register in you? Can you recall a before and after – when you were moving along at an accustomed pace, but then something caught you up and took you in a new and more generous, gospel-centered direction?

I think of a middle-aged woman looking for something to do with her time who went to a Vincent de Paul Society meeting. Not really knowing what she was getting into, she started to make those home visits to people who needed help. Stepping into this world which was foreign to her, something inside began to stir. In our beginning imagery, she felt herself being “Sent,” sent out to bring goodness. Or as Jesus would say, to deliver the good news that our God is the God of compassionate and abundant love and that this flows through the loving actions of God’s people.

Every believer’s story is different but in some form touches back on this inner pattern. Something slumbering inside wakes up and sends us out. Something underneath comes to the surface and moves us forward. Something calls.

It’s Vincent de Paul’s experience and that of all the people who would listen for and respond to that inner voice — God’s Spirit sending us out with word and deed to spread God’s healing news of love and compassion.

Thank You Vincent – You Changed Your World… and Our World

Vincent, Louise, Mother Guillemin, the Vincentian Family Today

St. Vincent changed not only his world. His change also changed our world today. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to realize Vincent de Paul was an amazing change agent. It is even more recent, as in the past few days, that I made the connection between Vincent and the prophet Isaiah. Vincent truly did many things new in his time… and still new today.

[This post first appeared on FamVin.org]

Can’t you see I am Doing Something New?

The prophet wrote, “Stop dwelling on past events and brooding over times gone by; I am doing something new; it’s springing up — can’t you see it? I am making a road in the desert, rivers in the wasteland. Is 43:18-19

His cry rings out across the centuries… and even millennia. It is a cry that Vincent understood in the marrow of his bones. I don’t think even he made the connection between what he did and Isaiah. The words “change agent” might have struck him as odd. After all, he was just doing the next logical thing after looking at a situation more deeply.

I finally made the connection as I thought about this weekly post on systemic change on the eve of the Feast of St. Vincent. I was amazed at how rich it was to connect these two dots. I wondered why I had not thought of this before.

St. Vincent Changed His World… and Our World

We have Vincent to thank for the following contributions:

  • Rethinking possibilities for women who wanted to dedicate their lives to service Learn more
  • Inviting us to go beyond a monastic view of holiness to what Pope Francis refers to as “ordinary holiness”  Learn more
  • Energizing the potential of laity in ministry and going beyond a clerically dominated conception of the church Learn more
  • Reminding us of a church that is the “People of God”, rather than merely the Roman hierarchy, called to minister to the poor and the marginalized Learn more
  • Teaching us to “see” the world’s weakest and poorest Learn more
  • Pointing out that Vincentians are called to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but all over the world (CCD:XII:215). Learn more
  • Stressing that we are evangelized by the poor Learn more
  • Asking us to “proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” Learn more
  • Encouraging us to dream and remember that we are not what we once were, nor are we what we are to become Learn more

“Father Vincent Taught Us That”

Once my mind wandered in this direction I remembered the words of Mother Suzanne Guillemin,  former Mother General of the Daughters of Charity. She guided the Daughters of Charity during the turbulent times of the 1960’s and the historic Second Vatican Council.

We can say with Mother Guillemin that there is nothing more timely in the world today than the spirit of Saint Vincent. For her, this was one of the great discoveries and one of the greatest marvels that occurred during the Council.

She reacted to the “new ideas” of Vatican II:

“Every time some idea was proposed which appeared new I said to myself, with a deep sense of personal, filial satisfaction: “Saint Vincent taught us that!” Not with the same words of course, but using the words and language of his epoch. His thought had that purity, that clarity, that authenticity of doctrine which has never been denied or opposed by what the church has taught … let us rejoice at being [children] of such a father (Mother Guillemin, Instructions to the Sisters Servants, Responsibility for the Local Community, 1966).
Mother Guillemin and timeliness of Vincent. The Prophetic Dimension of the Vincentian Charism in Light of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Let me conclude with a quote from Mother Guillemin’s annual retreat talk of 1966:

“We must, therefore, my dear Sisters, become souls who are in a perpetual contemplation of God. It is marvelous to see Him so near us, so attentive to our needs and to our brothers and all who live round about us. This is the MYSTICISM of a Daughter of Charity; it is nothing else than this life of Faith which opens our eyes unceasingly to the Presence of God around us, which makes us continue His life. We must learn TO SEE HIM…if we see God in all things, our life will pass in a sort of perpetual jubilation.” Who Was That Daughter of Charity at Vatican II?

Catching up to Vincent

If you have followed the links about Vincent as a change agent you know that each article gives rise to many questions.  Here are just a few.

  • Are there ways in which these breakthroughs are still unfolding and echoing through the Church of today?
  • What are the tensions I observe in thinking about the mission of the laity in society today?
  • What can I do to practice these insights from our heritage?
  • What can I do to foster a greater awareness of the universal call to “proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord”?

We thank all of you who associate yourselves in some way with the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission as it walks the path of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor.

Please remember +Mary Tobin, Eastern Province Affiliate

September 28, 2018

Please remember in your prayers…

Your prayers are requested for Mary Tobin and her family.

Mary Tobin died peacefully yesterday morning, Thursday, September 27, 2018, surrounded by her husband, Peter, and their children, Peter and Kristen, at their Phoenix, AZ home.

Mary & Peter are affiliates of the Congregation.

Funeral details to follow

The Heart of University Life is a Project of Discovery

In his September 25 visit to Niagara University, Superior General Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., spoke powerfully of the heart of university life as a project of discovery.

Discovery of one’s calling in life begins when we have the courage to encounter ourselves and our world with compassionate hearts. Our families share their values and their faith with us, and we set out on life’s path. On  each stage of the journey, we encounter others who help sharpen our skills, open our minds and form our choices. Eventually, we choose a career path which gives clearer focus to the road ahead.

A crucial point on that path, for many, is the time we spend at university. Here at Niagara University, you have developed an educational process that assists the young in developing their gifts

  • through rigorous study and demanding departmental curricula,
  • through career-focused experiences in your Impact program, your specialized internships, and your commitment to faculty and student research, and
  • through countless opportunities and activities on and off the campus.

He drew out the implications of the vision for both students and faculty.

To the faculty

First, the most influential relationships that young people will have at Niagara are, or can be, those they have with you. Make it your goal to open your students to their possibilities and to their responsibilities.

To students

Make an impact here and now. Work to dismantle racism, sexism, and those structures of inequity and economic oppression that are some of the root causes of homelessness. Be Vincentian and find your vocation. Give of your very best. Don’t be afraid to give all. You will find yourselves.

He quoted Frederic Ozanam,  who as a young student set in motion a movement of nearly one million members in over 150 countries of the world.

“To be a martyr is to give back to heaven all that one has received: his money, his blood, his whole soul.
The offering is in our hands; we can make this sacrifice.
It is up to us to choose to which altars it pleases us to bring it,
to what divinity we will consecrate our youth and the time following, in what temple we will assemble:at the foot of the idol of egoism, or in the sanctuary of God and humanity.”

His final words…”There is great power at this university. I ask you to use it in ever more creative ways. Let us enter together, the sanctuary of humanity.”

Full text At the heart of University life is a project of discovery

All this took place not far from the scenic wonder of Niagara Falls, where Niagara University has conducted its Vincentian Mission since 1856. Fr. Jean Baptiste Etienne consented to the request of Bishop John Timon, C.M. to send missionaries to found a seminary to be called Our Lady of Angels. That seminary later became Niagara University under the leadership of Fr. John Lynch, C.M.

On Tuesday, September 25, 2018, Niagara was honored with a visit from Etienne’s successor, Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M. He toured the University’s systemic change initiative in the South End of Niagara Falls, and was honored with an honorary doctoral degree: Doctor of Humane Letters.

Welcome to Father Tomaž Mavrič

Citation for Very Rev. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., Doctor of Humane Letters

See recent stories unfolding this ministry of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission.

Special thanks to Tom Burns, Michael Freedman and Aidan Rooney for supplying photos and background to this story.