I don’t think I will ever forget the morning of 9/11/2001. The phone rang. A close friend could barely say “Turn on television… the World Trade Center…”  She could not finish the sentence! As soon as I turned on the TV, I knew why. I also remember very clearly thinking, “The world will never be the same!”

Over twenty years later, I find myself, for different reasons, thinking anew “The world will never be the same.” 

The only difference is that it is no longer the result of just a one-day event.

As significant as they might be, here I am not referring to changes brought about by technology. Or even the ravages of COVID or climate change.

 In more than 80 years of life, I have never experienced such a deeply angry and polarized world.

Something has crept into our hearts over those years.

Our personal infallibility

Anger and even violence pervade our every level of conversation with friends and even divides families. There is no longer any middle ground. 

Everyone has become infallibleThere is little or no recognition that there is something to be learned from others who think differently. Everything is “either/or”. There seems to be no “both/and.

We ‘listen” to one another, not to learn but to refute where we differ. Often, we do not really try to understand, only to convince. Differences quickly explode into verbal … and even physical violence. 

We have lost the sense of being brothers and sisters, earthen vessels of the body of Christ with different gifts and insights.

There seems to be no way out.

“Listening” to a challenging question changed Ozanam’s world

This past weekend, 9/9 of 2023, we celebrated the feast of Blessed Frederic Ozanam.

In 1832, he was a 19-year-old student at the famed Sorbonne. He belonged to a faction aiming to restore the primacy of the Catholic Church. The Church had suffered widespread disaffection in the decades preceding and following the French Revolution.

In a heated debate, Ozanam and his friends were challenged by some of their radical colleagues to prove that the Church cared for the poor as much as they did.

“What is your Church doing now?” the radicals demanded. “What is she doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you!”

Most readers of Vincentian Mindwalk know the rest of the story. He was stung by the question. But he did not just hear…he really listened to the question of those he disagreed with

With the guidance of Daughter of Charity Blessed Rosalie Rendu, he discovered the practical sufferings of those on the margins. It changed his life …and countless lives since then.

Today, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is present in over 150 countries, with 800,000 members and 1,500,000 volunteers. Every day, it helps over 30 million people.

Words he wrote more than 150 years ago echo in our world

“The problem which divides people today is not a political problem, it is a social one. It is a matter of knowing who will get the upper hand – the spirit of selfishness or the spirit of sacrifice; whether society will go for ever increasing enjoyment and profit, or for everyone devoting themselves to the general good, and above all to the defense of the weakest.”

Pope Francis hopes that the upcoming “synod on synodality” will help each of us to listen to the Hoiy Spirit who speaks to us in many accents.

If we listen to the Holy Spirit, we will

  • open ouselves to God’s word no matter how God chooses to speak to us
  • speak to one another in ways that bring about reconciliation between conflicting parties and among those who have refused to listen to one another.

Click below to listen to an early audio of this Vincentian Mindwalk