Former Superior General – Vincent’s Love of Scripture
Fr. Robert Maloney preached the following homily focusing on Vincent’s Love of Scripture. The former Superior General spoke at the celebration of the Feast of the Solemnity of St. Vincent Sept. 27, 2017 in St. Vincent’s Seminary in Germantown.
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
Four years after St. Vincent died, his first biographer, Louis Abelly, wrote these words:
He seemed to suck meaning from passages of the scriptures as a baby sucks milk from its mother, and he extracted the core and substance from the scriptures so as to be strengthened and have his soul nourished by them – and he did this in such a way that in all his words and actions he appeared to be filled with Jesus Christ.
Vincent believed that Jesus speaks to us directly in the gospels, and he was convinced that there was nowhere else where Jesus spoke with us more directly than in the Sermon on the Mount, which we just read. He told his followers:
The means of establishing ourselves firmly in the teachings of the Gospel are for each of us to read with attention and devotion the New Testament, but mainly the chapters in Saint Matthew that contain them, namely the fifth, sixth, seventh, and tenth.
Vincent cited Matthew’s gospel more than any other, focusing especially on the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5-7), the great Missionary Discourse (in Matthew 10), the call to learn from Jesus’ gentleness and humility in Matthew 11, and of course, the judgment scene in Matthew 25, where Jesus identified himself with “the least of my brothers and sisters.”
In speaking of the gospel passage we just heard, Vincent said this: “The first thing that comes out of someone’s mouth is what that person has deepest in his heart. So, Jesus began his sermon with these words, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven …”
The thing I want to say to you today most of all today is this: the scriptures, especially the gospels, were the foundation of Vincent’s spirituality. He sucked meaning from the scriptures as a baby sucks milk from his mother’s breast.
May I suggest two things to you on this feast, in this year when we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Vincent’s charism.
1. Make the scriptures your daily bread. In a beautifully written foreword to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini described the Bible as:
… the water that gives life to the spiritual aridity of human existence (Is 55:10-11), the food that is sweeter than honey (Ps 19:11), the hammer that shatters hardened indifference (Jer 23:29), and the sword that pierces obstinate refusal (Heb 4:12).4
Read the scriptures daily. Meditate on them. Suck meaning from them. Chew over them. Digest them. Make them not only the word of God, but your own word, the source of your
own judgments, your own actions.
2. Let Jesus implant the Sermon on the Mount in your heart. Vincent was convinced that this
Sermon contained the thoughts that were deepest in Jesus’ heart and most on Jesus’ mind. Churn them over in your own mind and heart, so that Jesus’ instincts become your instincts,
Jesus’ feelings become your feelings, Jesus’ actions become your actions.
St. Vincent’s friend Francis de Sales once said that, if the gospel is like a printed sheet of music, then the life of a saint is that same music sung beautifully. Can you hear St. Vincent singing today? He sang the beauty of the beatitudes, where the poor are the first in the kingdom of God.
He sang the beauty of simplicity, where yes means yes and no means no. He sang the centrality of humility, where everything is God’s gift and our hearts are filled with gratitude. He sang the primacy of charity, where God’s love is a fire that burns in our hearts and that leaps from us to others as a forest fire leaps from tree to tree.
Can you and I join with Vincent in singing? In our Vincentian Family, can we sing together? Can the branches of our Family sing the same song? Even though we sing with varied tones, can we harmonize, so that our hymn to God, in union with the poor, is beautiful?
Just before Vincent died on this day 357 years ago, those surrounding him asked him to bless his family. He raised his hand and said, “God bless them.” Then, as his final word to his family, he cited the scriptures, Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the first chapter the sixth verse, “May God, who began this good work, bring it to completion.”
My prayer today is that God will complete Vincent’s good work in all of us, especially by filling us with Vincent’s love for the scriptures.