A Vincentian View: The Vincentian Way to Minister
In his bi-weekly post for FamVin, Fr. Pat Griffin writes:
During the Easter Season, both in the daily and the Sunday Eucharist, we hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles. That is to say, we learn about the spread of the Church after the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. With a little attention, we can allow the Spirit to pass on many interesting lessons to us.
The reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 10th) tells the story of the appointment of the first seven deacons. The situation draws our interest. The needs of the widows in the Church require attention. The apostles had been carrying out that ministry. Then, the Apostles meet to make a decision:
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men,
filled with the Spirit and wisdom,
whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer
and to the ministry of the word.”
That may have been the thinking of the Apostles, but the Holy Spirit had another plan…
The first two of these men listed as deacons were Steven and Philip. The story of Steven emerges swiftly. He powerfully preaches the message of Jesus and is promptly arrested and killed. He becomes the first Christian martyr. The stories of Philip follow swiftly: he preaches the Gospel to the Samaritans; he converts the Ethiopian Eunuch as he explains the Scriptures to him; and, later in the Book, he offers hospitality to Paul on his missionary journeys. The point that emerges from the tales of these two men resides in this truth: their commissioning may have centered on serving the physical needs of the community, but the Spirit calls them to preach the Gospel as well.
I muse on how Vincent would approve of these individuals. When he trains his confreres, or the Daughters of Charity, or the Ladies of Charity, he instructs them with the directive that they cannot think of themselves as set apart solely for the physical care of the poor nor solely for their spiritual well-being. Both elements of service need expression in their entire ministry. We read:
So then, if there are any among us who think they’re in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others…” (VdP, CCD 12:195, p. 77)
One could point to numerous passages in which both Vincent and Louise make this point. One can see how the Gospels teach this truth—the story of Jesus preaching to the crowd and then feeding them comes immediately to mind (Mk 6:34-44; Lk 9:11-17).
At this time of pandemic, with the attention of so much of our world focused on the physical needs of our brothers and sisters, we hear the call to respond to their spiritual needs as well. That inclination rests centrally within our Vincentian charism and tradition. We can allow the Word of God to encourage us as it directs our attention to the Christian community that ministers to the entire person.