September 27 is the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul, an important day for Vincentians around the world, including my congregation. Prior to entering the Sisters of Charity sixteen years ago, I honestly had no interest in St. Vincent de Paul. After all, what could a man who had been dead 400 years teach me about my life today? (The irony is this thought did not cross my mind about Jesus!)
So at first, it seemed like St. Vincent de Paul didn’t have much to do with my call to religious life. I was attracted to the Sisters of Charity by how the sisters lived their everyday lives. The first time I encountered these sisters, I was living and working at a Catholic Worker homeless shelter in a lower socio-economic section of town. Several sisters served monthly meals at the Catholic Worker, and we attended the same Catholic church.
As I became a member of the church, I witnessed sisters praying and sharing with other church members. They were together in their sorrow over the violence and blight in the surrounding neighborhood. They were together in celebrating parishioners’ joy when their children received the sacraments and graduated from high school or college. I was attracted by the sisters living and serving alongside the people in such a Gospel-centered way.
I took a step closer to the sisters by moving into Xavier house, an intentional community for Sisters of Charity and lay women. We shared meals, prayers, chores, and celebrations together. Many a meal ended in laughter after a comical recounting of someone’s day. This way of life was literally feeding me body and soul through the bond of community and faith. I continued to strengthen my relationships with the sisters, neighbors, and church, and I came to recognize the mutual support we gave each other.
After a few years had passed, one day a sister made the comment to me, “You are so Vincentian!” I was puzzled, as I had never paid attention when he was mentioned during the sisters’ prayers. Looking back, I realize it was the Sisters of Charity mission, which comes from St. Vincent de Paul, that was attracting me as it was being lived out by the sisters around me. That mission is “to offer every loving service to our neighbor especially the poor.” Before long, I took the leap of faith and entered the Sisters of Charity—and came to know St. Vincent much more over the years since then!
I learned that this 17th-century French priest translated Jesus’ call in the Gospels to love and serve those less fortunate than ourselves by treating them as our brothers and sisters. St. Vincent fleshed out Jesus’ radical vision for the people of his time saying:
“You will find out that Charity (love) is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see and the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.”
St. Vincent understood that many people were treated unjustly and less than human just because they were poor. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
I learned that Vincent’s heart was lit on fire as he saw the face of Christ in those he served. This fire gave him the strength to connect those who had the financial means with those who did not. He was a bridge builder, able to organize people, and collaborate with others to get the job done.
St. Vincent’s mission continues to inspire and energize me each day, along with the whole Vincentian Family. Today, there are over 4 million members of the Vincentian Family, working to end systemic poverty around the world. Happy Feast Day, Family!
To learn more about St. Vincent and the Vincentian Family visit famvin.org.