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If Einstein, or whoever said it first, is right … insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results… then Vincentians have some things to think about.

What we do over and over… and do well

In the Vincentian Family we have a long tradition of doing some things over and over. And we do these things very well! We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. And that’s what Jesus asked us to do!

But why do we do we to do these things over and over?

Looking at things through the lens of Einstein’s insight we should ask a further question. Why is it that so many people continue to need food, clothing and shelter? Is there something we are missing? Vincent and Frederic thought so.

We all know the wisdom of Vincent and others before and after him. It is not enough to give someone a sandwich to tide them over. We sometimes have to teach the person how to fish so they can learn to feed themselves or change structures that prevent them from feeding themselves. Frederic was very pointed in pointing to the relation between charity and justice. Charity binds up the wounds but justice seeks to prevent the wounds.

Saint John Paul II challenged Vincentians to look for underlying causes and long-term solutions. In 1986 he famously reminded Vincentians of their heritage.

“Search out more than ever, with boldness, humility, and skill, the causes of poverty and encourage short and long term solutions; adaptable and effective concrete solutions. By doing so, you will work for the credibility of the Gospel and of the Church.”

(Osservatore Romano, English Edition, August 11, 1986, p. 12).

St. John Paul II  did not use the words systemic change. But isn’t the call to search for long-term solutions another name for systemic change?

Vincent did not speak the language of systemic change. But he was one of the best illustrations of always seeking out long-term solutions. Just recall how he went from a sermon to giving parish missions; from giving parish missions to working toward the formation of the clergy, first by offering a weekly formation program for clergy and then shaping a seminary system to ensure each parish had dedicated well-formed leadership.

Our international leaders are calling us to think beyond the first aid of addressing only immediate needs and respond to the challenge of getting at root causes and long-term solutions.

What are we waiting for?

Of course addressing underlying causes is no cause not to address immediate wounds. But unless we also collaborate towards long-term solutions we risk being case studies for the validity of Einstein’s insight about the insanity of doing the same things over and over while expecting different results.

It is time we examine our consciences. (And let the one that is without sin throw the first stone!)

An examination of conscience 

  • Why is seeking long-term solutions important for the credibility of the Church?
  • What makes sense to me in this thrust of the Vincentian Family?
  • What experiences helped me understand the value of the approach?
  • What experiences turned me off?
  • What would help me shift my horizon to include sensitivity in how I approach the way I could serve more effectively?
  • Has this weekly series helped you grow in understanding and practice?
  • Anything else you care to share?

It is time to talk openly about these things! Thanks for thinking.. and sharing your comments!

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentia Mindwalk

If Einstein is right…

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