Seeing is the necessary beginning of systemic change. Systemic change requires looking anew at something we see…but do not see. This kind of seeing is really more like reading, reading the “signs of the times.”
St. Vincent was a man of the concrete whose starting point is direct knowledge of events about which he reflects before acting. So we often find in his letters and conferences the verbs “see” or “look.”
Asking Pope Innocent X in 1652 to intervene in favor of peace he describes the horrors of the war and he adds:
It is a small thing to hear or read these things; they must be seen and ascertained with one’s own eyes. ( IV, 458) (4, 446)
St. Vincent did not immediately turn upon the world this compassionate look which we know and which made him undertake a rich diversity of apostolic and charitable works. He acquired it progressively along a complex route. It is only little by little that he learned to “see” in depth the world and the Church with the very eyes of Christ, and to read there how God was calling him through the appeals of the poor and the abandoned.
The fundamental experiences that led Vincent to become more aware of God’s presence and more aware of his ministry were:
• In the encounter with the dying peasant in Folleville he “saw” spirituality poverty … and this seeing led to the missions that followed.
• In the encounter with the poor sick family in Châtillon he “saw” physical poverty … and this seeing led to the formation of the first Confraternity of Charity.
Full reflection -in this first of a three part reflection on see-judge-act in the process of systemic change.
Thank you,Father John!
Your series of reflections on “see-judge-act” has become, already, part of my spiritual reading. It seems that your meditation concerning St. Vincent infers how he effected true reformation. It seems to me that Vincent de Paul saw many abuses and that his eyesight flowed to his loving heart and to Godly action. For example,you emphasize this in your depiction of “the poor sick family” and “the dying peasant”. In addition,I remember a story where Vincent observed a priest vested and sitting on a bar stool following a Baptism. I feel that may have been internalized by Vincent to initiate the Vincentian development of seminary education for secular priests,an ongoing activity in today’s church,e.g. Our Lady of Angels Seminary. When Vincent saw a need for a new religious order,he saw also that the Pope would not allow him to do so. Nevertheless,he obtained papal permission to establish a congregation of “secular priests leading a community life”,the Congregation of the Mission. Vincent saw that need but his heart told him how to set up the constitutions; as a result, “you guys” have been following through for four hundred years. Vincent’s seeing “with the eyes of Christ” has recently brought a Vincentian into the Diocese of Trenton as its local ordinary and a Jesuit to “Peter’s chair”. May our eyesights sharpen and our hearts deepen as Christ reforms each of us and may we be God’s tools in making this a better world for so many hurting human beings.
Again,thanks for your inspiration,Father John!