Members of the Congregation of the Mission around the world have been asked to think about a challenging essay by Fr. John Prager, CM. Here are excerpts that got me thinking..
Renewal of Vincentian spirituality requires movement, changing ideas and new perspectives.
Let me point out a few possible movements that might lead us to revitalization of our spiritual tradition:
1. A movement from spirituality as the road to perfection to spirituality as the road to charity
The road to perfection, in practice, provoked spiritual and pastoral problems.
For some, it became a semi-pelagian idea of winning salvation by force of will or character. Grace became a prize to be earned by good behavior rather than God’s free gift. Certain practices and actions were necessary to comply with God’s demands.
Vincentian spirituality is about relationships because the Gospel is about how we relate to God and others.
We need to ask honestly:
- Do our spiritual practices help us to discover Christ present on the margins of society?
- Does speaking about seeing Christ in the poor help us avoid seeing the poor?
- How can we be in solidarity with people we do not see or listen to
- How can they help us encounter the poor Christ and our poor brothers and sisters?
2. A movement from a Vincentian piety to a Vincentian spirituality
A Vincentian piety is not the same as a Vincentian spirituality. Sometimes we confuse the two.
Devotions are a means, not the end. Our spiritual practices have to enable us to relate with Jesus, the evangelizer of the poor, and with our brothers and sisters.
Pious practices can be a valuable expression of Vincentian spirituality. But they can also be an escape into fantasy.
So we need to ask serious questions:
- Do they help us discover the presence of the Lord in the ugly situations where he accompanies the poor?
- Do they make us more sensitive to the poor?
- Do our devotions and prayers make us more compassionate?
3. The movement from pre-modern to post-modern values
Saint Vincent expressed himself as a man of the Seventeenth Century. His sensitivities and ways of understanding always reflect the pre-modern society in which he lived.
Our uncritical appropriation of the tradition has also hidden the presence of Nineteenth Century additions from our consciousness.
Revitalizing the spiritual tradition means including the post-modern values that concur with the Gospel.
Like St. Vincent, we need new theological guides that can help us understand the experience of following Jesus among the poor.
4. A movement from a unicultural to a multicultural expression of Vincentian spirituality
The Congregation of the Mission was essentially a European community until well into the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Since Vatican II the Church has made great efforts to inculturate the Gospel.
It should be remembered that inculturation is not folklore. Native handicrafts and music are only the surface of the culture.
Culture is about how a people understands the world and relates to it. It includes values and disvalues, symbols and activities. Vincentian spirituality in these new contexts needs to be able to reflect on the values presented by the culture in the light of how they permit us to live the charism.
If we expect to encounter Jesus present in different cultures and if we wish to insert ourselves in the reality of the poor, we need to think about culture, not just pastorally, but as a spiritual experience.
5. A movement from Religious Life to Apostolic Life
St. Vincent always made it very clear that we do not belong to religious life. A revitalized Vincentian spirituality has to be less monastic and more missionary.
Mission does not mean going to foreign countries or even parish missions. It means leaving our own little world to enter the world of the poor.
A missionary spirituality does not include bringing Christ to the poor. He precedes us. He is already present with the poor.
Mission spirituality means discovering that presence along with the people.
6. The Movement from Individualism to Community
Contemplatives in action means personal prayer.
Personal prayer, however, leads to union with others.
- it leads to union with the poor Jesus.
- It produces new relationships with others: the confreres, the Vincentian Family and the poor.
Community is about shared values, common vision, and collaborative activity.
The revitalization of Vincentian spirituality is a crucial task for the Congregation of the Mission. … These six movements, although not completely new to us, might be taken up again as we prepare for the next General Assembly.
Any echoes in your heart?
(Fr. Prager has been Provincial of the Province of Ecuador and currently serves as the Director of the Daughters of Charity.) 21
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk