Reflect on 400 years of the Vincentians’ mission to help lift people from the depths of poverty. Ask yourself: What have been our contributions to that mission?
Fathers, brothers, sisters, and worshipers throughout the Eastern Province joined together at The Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal as Holy Mass began on Sept. 30, and a relic of St. Vincent de Paul markedly entered the assembly. With this, preparations for the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of the Mission began.
During the Mass, Fr. Stephen Grozio, CM, recalled visiting Niagara University during Vincentian Heritage Week and seeing a sign with a message from St. Vincent that read, “What are we doing if we are not doing God’s will?” Fr. Grozio said those words should serve as a reminder of the Vincentians’ purpose, challenge our passivity, and urge us to be vessels of God’s love.
“We’re going back to our roots and renewing our spirit,” Fr. Grozio said. “We’ll do that through prayer and reflection.”
Through this prayer and reflection, Vincentians aspire to:
- Renew the Vincentian charism.
- Recommit to be a Vincentian and all that entails.
- Witness Christ’s love and mercy to the world.
“Our Vincentian charism is not static,” Fr. Grozio said in his homily, which can be viewed just below. “For our charism to be alive, it must be constantly renewed in us as individuals, as houses, and as a province.”
Read the Homily
As I begin this reflection I would like to welcome all the members of the Vincentian Family Community who are here today. We have several conferences of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Philadelphia, the Daughters of Charity, members of the Spanish men’s retreat group, our seminarians, and confreres and lay collaborators from around the province. In a special way, I would like to welcome the family of Brother Vincent, who accompany him as he makes his commitment as a Vincentian.
This is a significant day for us as we unite with our Vincentian Confreres around the world to solemnize our spiritual preparation for the 400th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Congregation of the Mission.
Our Superior General, Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, symbolically opened the door to this sacred time during a ceremony in Rome on April 17, and each province has chosen an appropriate moment to begin its spiritual journey of renewal and revitalization. The simple, yet powerful ceremony of opening the Basilica door and processing into the assembly with the relic of St. Vincent de Paul initiates this journey for us today.
I invite you to look back with me to the foundational contract of the Congregation of the Mission.
Coste tells us that in 1625, Vincent gathered with Lord Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi and his wife, Lady François-Marguerite, in the presence of notaries and attorneys of the King, for the signing of what would be the official document of our foundation. Please listen to an abbreviated version of that agreement.
They reflected that God had provided for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants of the towns of this kingdom, only the poor people of the rural areas remain, as it were, abandoned. They thought, therefore, that this situation could be remedied to a certain extent through the pious association of some priests who would be willing to renounce the conveniences of the said towns as well as all benefices, offices, and dignities of the Church, so that they could devote themselves entirely and exclusively to the salvation of the poor common people. They would go from village to village to preach, instruct, exhort, and catechize those poor people and encourage all of them to make a good general confession of their whole past life.
The spirit of that document has remained alive in our little company down through the centuries. It describes who we are, when we are at our best: our commitment to evangelize the marginated and abandoned, our willingness to renounce the conveniences that others have and devote ourselves to the salvation of the poor, and our choice to have a missionary mindset, impelling us to go forth to the margins, where God’s people are. As today’s Gospel passage reminds us, it is our Lord Jesus who sends us forth to spread the Kingdom, and he asks us to rely only on Him.
Our Vincentian charism is not static. Should we allow it to be so, it would become weak and die. For our charism to be alive, it must be constantly renewed in us as individuals, as houses, and as a province. The message of Fr. Mavrič and of last year’s General Assembly calls us into a time of renewal. Through prayer together, examination of conscience, retreats, and shared reflections, we are invited to delve deep into our hearts. We are called to empty ourselves, so that we can open ourselves to the Will of God. This is what all of us, my Vincentian confreres, and all members of the Vincentian family are invited to do.
This invitation echoes the words of Our Lady, which we remembered when this beautiful shrine became a Basilica in April. During one of the apparitions, the Blessed Virgin pointed with her left hand to the altar and told St. Catherine to come to the foot of the altar and to open up her heart.
There is a quote from St. Vincent that can guide us in our spiritual journey of opening up our hearts. I was reminded of it this past week at Niagara University, where Campus Ministry had put up many signs with messages for Vincentian Heritage Week. The message of St. Vincent that caught my eye was this, “What are we doing, if we are not doing God’s Will?”
Vincent’s words should guide us in the years ahead. They remind us of our purpose, challenge our passivity, and urge us to be vessels of God’s love.
Today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah was the passage that our Lord chose in describing his mission, and it is the one that St. Vincent took to heart as he followed Christ, Evangelizer of the poor. This message is also rooted in our hearts, and today it impels our Brother Vincent Chung Luong to make a commitment to follow Christ evangelizing.
Vincent, you have finished a year of prayer, learning, and reflection in the internal seminary. You have opened your heart and prayed that you might know God’s Will. We rejoice with you and accompany you today, as you are ready to say your “Yes” to the Lord. Be assured of our prayers and support for you.
Some may ask, “What is a brother?” The General Council wrote in 1989, “The vocation of the brother is a true vocation, complete in itself, a true gift of God, with content of its own.” A brother in the Congregation of the Mission is a disciple of Christ, who, in response to God’s call and while at the same time preserving his lay state, concentrates himself in the Congregation to continue in communion with its other members, the mission of Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor, according to the teaching, and Spirit of St. Vincent and the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission.”
Brother Vincent’s commitment today is a living example of this spiritual journey we are beginning. As the first Brother in many years, he is a sign of hope, and his joyful personality and dedication to the Mission inspire us all. If you are like me, you will pray for Brother Vincent as he makes his Good Purposes, and in your heart you will renew your own vows and rededicate
yourself to following Christ, the Evangelizer of the poor.
In Brother Vincent, our province is again renewed, and we take up the challenge to renew our hearts and follow God’s will.
At this time, I wish to invite Brother Vincent to come forward to make his Good Purposes.
Celebrating the Hope of a Brother Completing his Vocation
During the Eucharist, Br. Vincent Luong, CM, approached the Altar to make his Good Purposes. This brought the immense breadth of 400 years of service down to one moment of clarity.
“In Brother Vincent, our province is again renewed, and we take up the challenge to renew our hearts and follow God’s will,” Fr. Grozio said.
Surrounded by family, friends, worshipers, and fellow confreres, Br. Luong smiled from ear to ear as he was ordained.
“Celebrating the Good Purposes of Brother Vincent is a sign of hope for all of us here. That’s what makes today such a wonderful day,” Fr. Luis Romero, CM, Vocation Director for the Congregation of the Mission of the Eastern Province, said.
True to the Vincentian spirit, Br. Luong looks forward to helping people in poverty, including those who are sick. Additionally, he hopes to grow young people’s faith. He emphasized this point when talking about the 400th anniversary.
Reflecting on 400 Years of the Congregation of the Mission
Fr. Grozio reflected on the Vincentians’ early efforts to reach society’s most marginalized, specifically their proficiency in exploring areas without parishes or priests and establishing a purposeful presence.
In his homily, Fr. Grozio read an abbreviated version of the agreement that would become the official document establishing the Congregation of the Mission. He emphasized the line, “the poor people of the rural areas remain, as it were, abandoned,” and the call for Vincentians to renounce their amenities, travel to these impoverished areas, and serve.
He feels the Vincentians, at their best, have retained the spirit of those lines.
“Today, we put a special emphasis on reaching the poor wherever they are, including people who might not be served by the Catholic Church because of their language or culture,” Fr. Grozio said.
This sentiment of global engagement could be felt throughout the gathering.
“I’m thankful for Vincentians across the world who tell people they are not alone. They always have the Vincentians. We love them because God loves them, and we are here to serve them,” Fr. Romero said.
Through this renewal, this purpose will hopefully flow through future generations of Vincentians.
“This is a new beginning – refreshing our community,” Rev. Mr. José Alexander Palacios, CM, said. “It’s a privilege to be a part of our community during such an important time.”
Putting daily life into the context of 400 years of Vincentians can pose a challenge. Each part of Mass helped those in the assembly with this challenge.
Envisioning Vincentian Spirituality Going Forth
“Hopefully, in the next 100 years, we’ll see these children grow up, grow our faith, and pass it down so it keeps going and going and going,” Br. Luong said.
Br. Luong leaves a formation program that currently includes 18 seminarians. To Fr. Romero, this offers a sign of hope. It’s a number that he hasn’t seen in some time.
For each seminarian, he optimistically foresees them keeping the Vincentian charism alive by emulating Christ and serving those most in need.
Fr. Grozio articulated what he believes the Vincentians of the next 400 years will need.
“I hope we will always be attentive to the will of God,” Fr. Grozio said. “We’ll have to be men of prayer. We’ll have to have hearts that are open to the voice of God however that appears, be it through the realities of life and the sufferings of people or through the inspiration of prayer.”