Fr. Tom McKenna recently wrote of facing the tension between doing and being praying and acting.
Years ago I heard Fr. Robert Maloney say something about St. Vincent de Paul I never forgot. “Hardly have I ever read somebody who could come down on one side of an issue and then 50 pages later say something the exact opposite.” And isn’t it true. Vincent’s counsels to simplicity, and then to shrewdness. His insistence on mortification, and then on self-care. His advice to be gentle, and then his words to St. Louise to put some vinegar into her dealings with others. And the one I like best. On the one hand Vincent has harsh things to say to those who don’t think hard work is essential for a missioner. But then there’s his letter in which he stoutly affirms that one of the priests who’s been sick and infirm at St. Lazare for decades, “does more for the mission than all the rest of us combined!”
And yet somehow Vincent pulls it off. Not self-contradictory, he makes so much practical sense in the end. (Just don’t pick him up on the wrong day!) He’s a master at holding seemingly opposite things together, especially in the spiritual life. Not an either/or person, he’s a both/and. And he doesn’t do it so much by keeping a balance between two seeming opposites as by holding them in tension, each tugging at the other, each circulating back into its contrary, each pulling its opposite number back on vertical.
Matthew 25, a favorite Vincentian text, highlights one side of a well-known tension in the spiritual life, that between doing and being, action and contemplation. Jesus’ “Whatever you do to the least ones, you do unto me” weights the doing end of the spectrum. Anyone looking in would observe how our Family genes incline us more toward this side of the tension: action, deeds of peace and justice. “What are we to do?” has been named as The Vincentian question.
If this is an issue for you continue reading his reflection Vincent’s Praying-Acting Cycle.