One of the buzzwords among internet literati is “social media influencer”. That’s “digital speak” for someone who has an impact on what others think, say, and do.
Today’s media influencers with their millions of followers make millions in dollars. Some rise to the top because of what they have done in fields such as athletics or music. Others have attracted millions with their flair for writing. Corporations with products to sell or politicians with points of view, vie for influencers with the ability to tell compelling stories about their product – a car, health aid, food, etc.
Influencers, whether mega, macro, micro, or even cricket or influencers who make little noise but do influence a niche group. All are masters at building community.
St. Vincent as an influencer
In his time St. Vincent’s media were words, spoken and written, and actions. He taught and did much to influence people from all walks of life. He even influenced the influencers of his day – the clergy, Including bishops, and the most influential leaders in France. In his later years, his influence spread to other mission countries.
I have long known that Vincent changed the face of France and the Church 400 years ago. But it is only in my later years that I have realized how he has influenced the Church of today!
Just look around at the most vital movements in the Church today. You will see the still glowing sparks of the practical love of Vincent de Paul that ignited the hearts of so many women and men of his day. With their help, Vincent changed his world. In doing so he also anticipated many of the most exciting currents in our Church today…
- A lay centered church focused more on the People of God and the poor than the hierarchy
- A recovery of the ideal of a church of the poor
- A concept of holiness that is more mission-oriented than a monastic emphasis on personal sanctification
- A practical vision of the role of women in ministry
- A commitment to forming priests who have “the smell of the sheep”
In my later years, I am beginning to understand that Vincent was a genius in building communities. Oh, I knew his role in calling together the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. It is only recently that I began to appreciate that his most important communities were among the laity. In fact, that was his pastoral gift to the church well before the latter two communities. These lay communities were called “confraternities.” He established them everywhere Vincentian “missioners” went. One of his most significant confraternities is still in existence today in the form of the AIC. It had communities of “volunteers” in almost every country in the world.
The heroes and heroines of our branches of the Vincentian family are relatively well-known Vincentian influencers. Let me speak of some cricket influencers I have known. They made little noise but influenced those they came in contact with.
I was a quiet Freshman from a working-class immigrant family in his first semester at St. John’s Prep. There I met Vincentians for the first time. It was only later that I realized each of them were unique embodiments of a man named Vincent – a man who changed their world. And because he changed their world, they would, over the next few years, change my world.
In these Vincentians, I experienced the glowing embers of the ideals of Vincent – following Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor with Vincent’s characteristic virtues – transparency, approachability, disciplined, realistic and hard-working.
Our call to be influencers.
Paraphrasing St. Paul, not many of us are from or reach the upper classes of influencers. But each one and all of us together can be cricket influencers. We can each mirror some aspect of the Vincentian virtues in such a way as to influence others and build communities.