You can probably surmise a bit about today's saint from what you know about the "St. Vincent de Paul Society," a group directly involved in feeding the hungry and clothing those in material need. But do you know much about St. Vincent de Paul, himself? Fr. Michael Cummins introduces this champion of the corporal works of mercy on today's blog post.
We are told in Scripture that a tree is known by its fruits. Throughout the centuries the saints witness this in abundance. These men and women who let their lives be transformed by their encounter with the risen Christ had accomplishments that inspire and that still affect and bring life to our world. The accomplishments of St. Vincent de Paul, born to a simple peasant family in the late sixteenth century, are breathtaking in their scope.
St. Vincent moved in the circles of the rich and powerful of his day but rather than getting lost in that world (which so many do) he was able to make use of those friendships to bring aid and need to the poorest in society. This French saint devoted his life to works of charity and established groups throughout his life that worked to bring aid and comfort to the poor: orphans, widows, prostitutes, the sick, and the imprisoned all benefited from Vincent’s care. In a time when the education of the clergy was severely lacking and in need of reform, St. Vincent established the Congregation of the Missions (Vincentians) with the express purpose of preaching the gospel and training the clergy. With St. Louise de Marillac he co-founded the Daughters of Charity. But rather than giving a listing of accomplishments it is more beneficial, I believe, to reflect on what faith lessons are revealed in the life of this saint...
Catholics the world over continue to reel over the news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, which officially takes place today, and are trying to grapple with what this all means. A group that has a particularly important lesson to learn is the young, a demographic that has had a tenuous relationship with the concept of power. What can a powerful man ceding his impressive post teach us? A lot.
One reason I think that this generation yearns for religious authorities who can step away from power is because they are, in many ways, a generation without power. By stepping away from power, religious authorities can go and meet the younger generation where they are. It has been said that this younger generation of Americans will probably be the first to financially make less than their parents. It is not their fault. It is the cards that they have been dealt primarily due (in all honesty) to the greed and narcissism of older generations. Theirs is a generation that cannot find jobs once they graduate college (partly because older generations are not retiring). They are weighed down by exorbitant student loans due partly due to the fact that benefits afforded previous generations have not been passed down to them. They are not planning on social security being around once they retire. Many are facing unemployment or underemployment. One student recently told me that out of five of her friends who just graduated college, four have had to return home to live with their parents. If we as ministers can step away from the security of power we can go a long way in meeting these young people where they are.
This calls for a creativity in ministry, because it means “going to” rather than “waiting for them to come to us” — which has been the dominant model for a long time. But it should be recognized that this dominant model is a model of power. When “they” need to come to “us” we know how things operate, we know how things should be done. In other words, we have the power and they do not. The Catholic Church is a church of weighty institutions — we have schools and universities, we have hospitals and far-reaching charity organizations, we have large and expansive parishes — these all have a role and they are not going away, and neither should they, but we should recognize that sometimes the maintaining of institutions diverts energy away from the work of evangelizing and the ability to go outside the walls of the institution. We need to creatively think a space apart from these weighty institutions where we can meet and welcome this generation without power...
In this Year of Faith, we've all been thinking about how to evangelize more effectively, and no group is more coveted in this mission than our youth. Word on Fire blog contributor Father Michael Cummins looks to Scripture for inspiration, and finds a lesson in two figures that we all would be remiss to ignore.
On January 31st, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. John Bosco – a saint who devoted his life to helping young people. This saint and his feast day have led me to reflect on my own experience of ministering to youth and young adults, especially in a time and culture that is “youth obsessed.” We can readily see how this obsession is played out in all areas of society – the entertainment and news media industry, politics, sports, education, relationships – just to name a few. Yet, my own reflection led me to wonder how might this obsession with youth bleed into and perhaps even negatively influence the Church’s ministry to youth and young adults as they seek to claim their own Christian faith and spirituality?
I will start by stating that one of the core convictions I have gained in my ministry with youth and young adults is that young people do not benefit from older people trying to act young; rather young people benefit when their elders remember their own age and are authentic to whom they, themselves, are.
To use the language of Scripture: in our culture today, our young Samuels need the guidance of older and wiser Elis. For any person involved with young people, 1 Samuel 2-3 is a must read. I have returned again and again to this Scripture passage for wisdom and I have come to believe that Eli is an often unsung hero in Scripture. I would like to use this encounter between the young Samuel and the elder Eli as a means to share some thoughts.
In the second chapter of 1 Samuel, we are told that the Lord had withdrawn his favor from the house of the priest Eli due to the corrupt actions of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Yet the young Samuel “continued to grow both in stature and favor with the Lord and with men.” (1 Samuel 2:26) In the third chapter we find the famous scene of the young Samuel hearing the voice of the Lord, mistaking it for the voice of the old priest and going each time to the sleeping Eli until finally Eli catches on to what is happening and instructs the young man in how to respond...
We're just now regrouping from a season of entertaining, feasting and celebrating. Yet, new Word on Fire blog contributor Father Michael Cummins tells us about a Christmas feast tradition so powerful and Christ-like that we should strive to emulate it all year long.
A good meal with friends creates a human space in one’s life that not only nourishes the body, but also the soul and spirit of a person. This is why feasts are so important. For a special feast we set aside time from the rush of life, we give attention to decoration and setting, we invite those we love and care about and together we sit down for a fine meal and for valuable and rare time to be present to one another. In the utilitarian rush of our world, a feast can even be a subversive action where we conspire in love to say that there is so much more to life than what can be measured and commodified.
For 30 years now, the Community of Sant’Egidio in Italy has been holding such a feast (the Pranzo) every Christmas day. For its first Pranzo, the Community hosted around 50 friends, made up of the poor, the elderly and the physically and mentally handicapped. This year it has been determined that the Community hosted over 150,000 people around the world for the Pranzo. At the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, the pews inside the church were set aside and tables and chairs set up and friends gathered together for the meal. In New York City, a few Christmas dinners took place for the elderly in nursing homes and for the easily forgotten homeless. In parts of Africa, whole villages gathered together for the feast. In Johnson City, Tenn., the John Sevier Center (a low income housing center) provided the location for the Christmas Pranzo where 55 persons were served...