Who are you calling a radical?

“Christ of the Breadlines” by Fritz Eichenberg, Courtesy of The Catholic Worker

Fr. Pat Griffin of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission offers food for thought in “A Vincentian View: “Be Radical.”  It got me thinking. First, his thoughts.

The Many Meanings of “Radical”

“In the English-speaking world, the word “radical” could sometimes have a negative implication. It can suggest someone or something lying outside the ordinary course, far from the norm, far from the center. A “radical” could describe someone who does things in a way that few others would, someone who thinks in an original, if not counter-cultural, way. A “radical” might advocate the overthrowing of a system or an established way of thinking/acting. He/she might try new and unorthodox practices and cast aside an older established order. In a simple, neutral term, a radical might be described as an “outlier.” Radicals stand apart from the usual pattern and experience.

“This description of the word “radical” seems to run against its origin. The term comes from the Latin word “radix” which means “root”— yes, like a radish. It connects to what is essential and the source of nourishment; it draws towards the center. Thus, the idea of a “radical” being an outlier seems discordant with the provenance of the word which clearly suggests lying at the foundation and heart of a living thing. “Radical” as “root” as well as “trailblazer” seems to encourage a rich interpretation and hopeful growth.

The Meaning of Vincentian Radical

What might this mean for a Vincentian? When we speak of our “radical” character, our intent could direct us to our foundations which place a first and primary emphasis on the care of those who are most poor. We consider these marginalized individuals and groups as our “lords and masters” and ourselves unworthy to offer our simple service. Our interventions and actions keep their needs in the center. We resist the thinking of the powerful and influential in order to celebrate the simple and humble. That can be pretty radical.

He concludes by sharing what he asks himself about his work at St. John’s University. Please read his reflection.

Toward a Personal Understanding of Being a Vincentian Radical

Fr. Griffin’s reflection is an invitation for each of us to look at our own understanding of what it means to be radical, a Vincentian radical, and whether we walk this path with our actions in the nitty-gritty of our daily life.

The decision to follow Christ is itself a call to radical living. The lifestyle changes that follow such a commitment are considered radical by those who fall within the world’s definition of “normal.” The deepest layer of that challenge, especially in today’s world, is to recognize the implications of “Our Father” and our radical equality before a God who treats everyone as equal. This is the challenge that Pope Francis echoes in his words… and actions.

Radical questions

  • In my life, do I treat others as equals or only those who are like me?
  • What if God treated me the way I treat others who are not like me?



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