Why Am I a Vincentian Priest?

The Question – Why Am I a Vincentian Priest?

I see… and read… many posts asking “Why I Am (Not) a Catholic”. I also hear of former Vocation Directors saying that this time must be a tough time for Vocation Directors. From those discerning, “How can I think about becoming Catholic after the latest sex abuse reports?” And of course, there is Cardinal Dolan quoting a phone call from his mother in her nursing home. “I’m ashamed to go to the dining room,” he said she told him. “I’m so embarrassed to be a Catholic. I don’t know what to say to anybody.”

It is not surprising that some priests are asking “Why am I a priest”? It is a serious question that I also ask “Why Am I a Vincentian Priest?

For me, the answer lies in a culture I love. No, definitely not the popularized clerical culture rightly being called into question. I speak of a very different, simple, lived culture I have experienced as a Vincentian priest trying to follow Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor.

Vincentian Culture Over the Years

I first experienced that Vincentian culture in my high school days over six decades ago. And it a culture that I still experience today now that I am in my 80’s…

Back then I was impressed by the joy I saw in the faces and lives of my teachers at St. John’s Prep. We students were mostly the first in our families to have the benefit of quality education. I experienced our teachers’ patient commitment to help us not only to learn what we needed to know about our world. They also shared with us their own deep faith and awakened us to the living faith of their bothers who had suffered at the hands of the Communists in China or other missions. They lived an ideal that attracted me.

In the years since then, I have seen this culture up close and personal, warts, ulcers, and all.

I remember well the confusion of the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. It seemed almost weekly there would be announcements of men leaving the community… often the brightest and most dedicated among my closest friends. I started asking “Why am I staying?” So for me, the question is not a new question.

We are by no means perfect. Yes, I cringe at some of the things I have seen and experienced in community. I cringe at some of the things I myself have said and done over those sixty years. In retrospect, I would like to have many “do-overs”. I also know, that, despite our very rigorous formation there have been some grievous failures.

Among us, there may be polar opposite political and theological views but there are values we all agree on. These  5 values infuse Vincentian concern and care for the marginalized and one another. Then, as now, I come back to the vision I experience embodied in the earthen vessels with my brothers. Vincent’s words and actions challenging us. “Let us love God but let it be with the strength of our arms and sweat of our brows.” “Sometimes one must leave God for God.” “Let love light up my mortal frame til others catch the living flame” (Cardinal Newman)”

A former Provincial captured our overall Vincentian culture well. At funerals, he said he learned so much he did not know about confreres when people shared the impact on their lives of a particular Vincentian (with all the quirks and flaws we knew all too well about each other).

Hallmarks of this culture

What are the hallmarks of this culture? In the language of the times I grew up in, we spoke of simplicity, meekness, mortification, humility, and zeal. In the language of today, we might say honest, approachable, self-disciplined, realistic and hardworking. Whatever the language, the spirit of St. Vincent transformed our lives … and the lives of others who minister with us. (See the video series of ordinary men and women telling the story of how their lives were transformed by these virtues.)

Whatever the language, there is the vision and culture that calls me and supports me in my life as a Vincentian priest. These five values bind us together as followers of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor and a band of brothers. These five values infuse our efforts of Vincentian concern and care for the marginalized and one another.

And that is why I am a Vincentian priest!

A Vincentian View: “Speaking the Truth”

In his weekly column on FamVin, Fr. Patrick Griffin of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission reflects on the necessity of speaking the truth even when it hurts. He concludes with the words of St. Gregory “It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

A Vincentian View: “Speaking the Truth”

In recent history in the United States, people have been more challenged to come to grips with the truth. In the political as well as ecclesial spheres, the need to decide who to believe and how much to believe has arisen often. We have been invited to challenge the words and actions of those to whom we would ordinarily give ready allegiance.  We have been called to examine the motives to which we might have given an ordinary acceptance. The truth is not arbitrary or time-conditioned or relative. Certainly, circumstances must be understood, but the truth is the truth and should stand firm.

St. John’s University where I work comes under the patronage of St. John the Baptist.  The celebration of the memorial of his death last week gathered our particular attention.  The readings of the day caused me to reflect again upon the issue of truth.

In the first reading, we find ourselves early in the book of Jeremiah.  The prophet is being encouraged by the Lord to stand firmly and boldly in the message which he proclaims.  Listen:

But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.

And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

What great imagery! The prophet is to be a “fortified city,” an “iron pillar,” a “bronze wall.” All these are symbols of solidity and strength.  The prophet is to speak the truth with clarity and without hesitation.  The Lord stands by him/her.

The Gospel of the day tells the story of John’s beheading. John is a speaker of the truth. Herod has married Herodias, the wife of his brother. Most others are silent on this matter, at least publicly. It does not pay to summon the ire of the royal family. John, however, speaks out loudly and without compromise: “Herod’s action is wrong. Herod cannot marry this woman who is bound in marriage to another.” This kind of teaching raises the anger of Herodias and leads to John’s death.  He accepts this resolution willingly.  He could only say what was true.

A phrase which one hears on occasion in the modern era teaches the need to “speak truth to power.”  The origin and application of this phrase is sometimes traced back to the Quakers who used it as a summons to emphasize nonviolence in its guidance to leadership.  It has also been identified with the Civil Rights movement and the resolve to describe truly the experience and thinking which affect people of color.  The yearning for knowing and acting on the truth can drive those who deal with the powerful.

As Christians, we hunger for the truth. Christ identifies himself with this value as he proclaims: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Vincent’s manner of acting with simplicity and humility find their center in the truth.  One of his great gifts was speaking openly about those who are poor to those who hold power.  As a Vincentian Family, our attention must focus upon the real situations and conditions of those who are needy among us and we must be prepared to speak and act humbly and confidently on their behalf.  In this way, we respond to the unvarnished truth of the Gospel in the modern world.

I was preparing to send this essay on the Memorial of St. Gregory the Great.  Before I dispatched it, however, I opened my VIRTUS bulletin for this week.  At the top of the page were these words from Gregory:

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

Surprise After 50 Years!

September 2, at the conclusion of Sunday mass and in the presence of the parish community, Fr. Pio Jimenez was surprised by the commemorative plaque from the Superior General Very Rev. Tomaz Mavric, CM.

Thank you, Fr. Pio., for your years of dedicated service!

He is the oldest Vincentian serving in Panama. A native of Panama, he was ordained May 25, 1968. Since then he has served in a variety of parochial ministries. He has also served as Superior of various houses and on ht “Panama Commission”

And thank you for the special efforts of the Eastern Province Provincial Office and the members of St. Mary’s Parish, Balboa, Panama.

Palm Sunday Procession Balboa 2014