Messages from the Bishop
Written by Bishop Henry on Saturday, 18 October 2014
Many years ago, during one of our study breaks as a student priest in Rome, I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Paris sightseeing, working on my thesis, and trying to learn a little French. My time was also prioritized accordingly - mostly sightseeing!
My greatest discovery and favourite hide-away was the Chapel of Saint Vincent de Paul (95 rue de Sèvres) just around the corner from the Mother house of the Daughters of Charity and the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. It was a quiet refuge in the midst of a bustling busy metropolis. The outside of the building was rather plain and it wasn't a major tourist destination. It's beauty was internal and hidden.
I loved the peace and solitude of the Chapel. It was also special because the bones of St. Vincent de Paul were encased there in a waxen figure displayed in an ornate reliquary which was raised up behind the main altar . The front of the reliquary was made of glass for good viewing. The reliquary was also very accessible by way of side stairs at both ends. I had climbed the stairs several times.
One day, I'm praying in the main body of the chapel when there is a loud commotion behind me at the entrance. I turned around and there is this little middle aged lady bursting through banging doors, obviously on a mission. She is focussed on the reliquary, looks straight ahead and mumbling all the way up the stairs behind the altar.
After a few minutes of audible prayer, she descends, spots me and proceeds to pull me out of the pew, up to the front of the chapel and the reliquary. She puts my hand on the reliquary and breaks out in a great big smile. She has just introduced me to her Vince!
Vincent was, and still is, a "popular" saint, renowned for compassion, humility and generosity. Later, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was created, dedicated to tackling poverty and disadvantage by providing direct practical assistance to anyone in need.
At the Second Vatican Council, St. John XXIII coined the expression "the Church of the poor. " The church of the poor is not composed only of the poor of the Church but the poor of the world, whether they are baptized or not, they belong to her. They are "Christians," not because they declare themselves as belonging to Christ, but because Christ has declared them as belonging to himself: "You did it to me!"
No religious founder identified himself with the poor as Jesus did. No one proclaimed: "All that you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40), where the "least brother" does not mean only a believer in Christ but every person.
Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" wants the joy that "fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus" to spread through evangelization, with a renewed effort to serve the poor.
"If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, "those who cannot repay you" (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, "the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel", and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them." (EV 48)
"Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other "in a certain sense as one with ourselves". This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: "The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely". (EV199)
The basic challenge for us Catholics today is to become, with the help of God's Spirit, grateful enough, free enough, humble enough, letting go enough to be able to see and read clearly the signs of the times in us, and around us so that our world vision may become that of Christ, as we grow in his gift of discovering His risen presence and actions in ourselves, in every person, in every happening in all of creation.
St Vincent de Paul once said: "That when we give bread, we should be on our knees."
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