Rome, Lent 2022
To all the members of the Vincentian Family
MYSTICS OF CHARITY FOR THE XXI CENTURY AND BEYOND
My dear brothers and sisters,
May the grace and peace of Jesus be always with us!
After six years, my term is coming to an end. With this Lenten letter, I would like to summarize the reflections for Advent and Lent of these past six years, starting with my first message to the Vincentian Family for the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul in 2016. In that letter, I first shared in some detail about the title of “Mystic of Charity” given to our Founder. Through this title, so dear to my heart, I tried to discover for myself and, at the same time, share with you, what I eagerly hoped to understand in greater depth; that is, what it means to become a “Mystic of Charity.”
The searching over these six years does not end here by any means; rather, it is a small beginning and an invitation to continue immersing ourselves in the richness and depth of what it means to become a “Mystic of Charity.” It invites us continually to seek the deepest possible union with Jesus, to become “like Carthusians in their houses and like apostles outside them,” “a contemplative in action and an apostle in prayer.”
As we read this year’s Lenten letter, and go through the shared reflections of the past six years, we are invited to choose one point or area to which we feel Jesus is calling us to return in a more decisive and radical way, where we feel especially in need of His grace and mercy to accomplish His dream for us.
The theologian Karl Rahner, at the end of the 20th century, pronounced these prophetic words: “The Christians of the 21st century are going to be mystics, or they will not be.” Why can we call Saint Vincent de Paul a “Mystic of Charity”?
We all know Vincent was a man of action, so we may be surprised to hear him also referred to as a mystic. But in fact it was his mystical experience of the Trinity and in particular the Incarnation that was the font of all his actions in favor of poor people. Giuseppe Toscani, CM, united mysticism and action and came to the heart of the matter in calling him a “Mystic of Charity.” Vincent lived in a century of mystics, but he stood out as the Mystic of Charity.
Being a mystic implies experience, the experience of Mystery. For Vincent it meant a deep experience of the Mystery of God’s Love. We know that the Mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation were at the heart of his life. The experience of the Trinity’s inclusive love of the world and the Incarnate Word’s unconditional embrace of every human person shaped, conditioned, and fired his love of the world and everyone in it, in particular, sisters and brothers in need. He looked upon the world with the eyes of Abba and Jesus and embraced everyone with the unconditional love, warmth, and energy of the Holy Spirit.
Vincent’s mysticism was the source of his apostolic action. The Mystery of God’s love and the Mystery of the Poor were the two poles of Vincent’s dynamic love. But Vincent’s Way had a third dimension, which was how he regarded time. Time was the medium through which the Providence of God made itself known to him. He acted according to God’s time, not his own. “Do the good that presents itself to be done,” he advised. “Do not tread on the heels of Providence.”
Another aspect of time for Vincent was the presence of God here and now – “God is here!” God is here in time. God is here in persons, in events, in circumstances, in poor people. God speaks to us now in and through them.
For Vincent, the horizontal and the vertical dimensions of spirituality were both indispensable. He saw love of Christ and love of the poor as inseparable. Again and again, he urged his followers not just to act but also to pray, and not just to pray but also to act. To the objection: “But there are so many things to do, so many house duties, so many ministries in town and country; there’s work everywhere; must we, then, leave all that to think only of God?” he responded forcefully:
No, but we have to sanctify those activities by seeking God in them, and do them in order to find Him in them rather than to see that they get done. Our Lord wills that we seek above all His glory, His kingdom, and His justice, and, to do this, we make our primary concern the interior life, faith, trust, love, our spiritual exercises, meditation, shame, humiliations, our work and troubles, in the sight of God our Sovereign Lord … Once we’re grounded in seeking God’s glory in this way, we can be assured that the rest will follow.
You might describe Vincent as a “bi-spectacled” mystic. That is to say, he was (seeing) experiencing the same God through two different lenses, both at much the same time. One lens was his own prayer; the other was the person who was poor as well as the world he or she lived in. Each angle of view influenced the other, the one deepening and sharpening the perception of its opposite. Vincent “saw” (and felt) God’s love through both these perspectives at the same time and acted vigorously to respond to what he was seeing.
One of the central mysteries of Saint Vincent de Paul’s spirituality is the Incarnation. He left us the following thoughts on the Incarnation:
According to the Bull which established our Congregation, we are bound to honor in a special way the Most Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, mysteries beyond words. We should therefore try to carry this out most faithfully and, if possible, in every way, but especially in these three ways: (1) frequently honoring these mysteries by a prayer of faith and adoration, coming from our inmost heart; (2) dedicating certain prayers and good works each day to their honor and, above all, celebrating their feast days with special dignity, and the greatest possible personal devotion; (3) trying constantly, by our teaching and example, to get other people to know these mysteries and to honor and worship them.
The Holy Trinity is another of the central mysteries of Saint Vincent’s spirituality. In the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission, we find the following words: “As witnesses and heralds of the love of God, we ought to show special honor and devotion to the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation.” Jesus helps us to understand the relationship among the three Persons, the inner connectivity among them, and the influence of the Trinity on each individual person as well as on society as a whole. The Holy Trinity is the ideal model of “relationships”!
The third pillar of Saint Vincent’s spirituality is the Eucharist. In writing about the pillars of our spirituality and talking about the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity, Saint Vincent suggests that in the Eucharist you find it all. He writes,
There can be no better way of paying the best honor possible to these mysteries [the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation] than proper devotion to, and use of, the Blessed Eucharist, sacrament and sacrifice. It includes, as it were, all the other mysteries of faith and, by itself, leads those who receive Communion respectfully or celebrate Mass properly, to holiness and ultimately to everlasting glory. In this way God, Unity and Trinity, and the Incarnate Word, are paid the greatest honor. For these reasons, nothing should be more important to us than showing due honor to this sacrament and sacrifice. We are also to make a great effort to get everyone else to pay it similar honor and reverence. We should try, to the best of our ability, to achieve this by preventing, as far as we can, any lack of reverence in word or act, and by carefully teaching others what to believe about so great a mystery, and how they should honor it.
This understanding that in the Eucharist you find it all is accompanied by other prophetic and inspirational words, coming from his deepest life experience, “Love is inventive to infinity.” One of the best known of Vincent’s phrases, he used these specific words while talking about the Eucharist, trying to explain what the Eucharist is, what the Eucharist does, what we find in the Eucharist. Jesus’s imagination found this concrete means to be with us always, to accompany and to remain with us until the end of the world. His Love, inventive to infinity, keeps surprising us today, here and now!
The fourth pillar is the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- We should also show special devotion to Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church. According to the words of St. Vincent, she, more than all other believers, penetrated the meaning and lived out the teaching of the gospel.
- We should express our love for the Immaculate Virgin Mary in many different ways, celebrating her feasts with devotion and praying to her frequently, especially through the rosary. We should make widely known the special message expressed through her maternal care by the Miraculous Medal.
The principal fount from which Vincent drank as a Mystic of Charity was daily meditative prayer, daily meditation. One of Saint Vincent’s most quoted statements, from a conference given to the members of the Congregation of the Mission, expresses Vincent’s attitude eloquently:
Give me a man of prayer, and he’ll be able to do anything: he can say with the holy Apostle, “I can do all things in Him who sustains and comforts me” (Philippians 4:13). The Congregation of the Mission will survive as long as it’s faithful to the practice of meditation because meditation is like an impregnable rampart, which will protect the Missioners against all sorts of attacks.
Vincent was speaking of daily meditative prayer, daily meditation. He assured his followers,
Let’s all of us really devote ourselves to the practice of meditation, since through it all good things come to us. If we persevere in our vocation, it’s thanks to meditation; if we succeed in our works, it’s thanks to meditation; if we don’t fall into sin, it’s thanks to meditation; if we remain in charity, if we’re saved, all that is thanks to God and to meditation. Just as God refuses nothing in meditation, so he grants almost nothing without meditation.
Spiritual Direction: Saint Vincent often spoke of the need for spiritual direction. “Spiritual direction is very useful. It is an occasion for advice in difficulties, encouragement in weariness, refuge in temptation, and strength in dejection; in a word, it is a source of well-being and consolation, if the director is truly charitable, prudent, and experienced.”
The goal of speaking with a spiritual guide, expressed clearly since the time of the desert fathers and mothers, is simple: purity of heart. Knowing that, Vincent recommended spiritual direction at least several times a year, especially during times of retreat or a liturgical season like Lent.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation: Saint Vincent saw mercy as the core of the Good News. He described it as “… that beautiful virtue of which it is said, ‘Mercy is the distinctive feature of God.’”
The Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission encourage us to take part in the sacrament of Reconciliation frequently “so that we might achieve continuing conversion and authenticity of vocation.”
Faith Sharing: These Constitutions recommend it, urging us, in a prayerful context, “to share with one another, in fraternal dialogue, our spiritual and apostolic experience.” The form for doing this is up to us, to the community to which we belong. Vincent liked sharing to be frank and concrete. He stated:
It’s a good practice to get down to particulars in humbling matters, when prudence allows us to admit them openly, because of the benefit we draw from this, overcoming our repugnance to reveal what pride might want to keep hidden. Saint Augustine himself made public the secret sins of his youth, writing a book about them so that the whole world might know all the foolishness of his errors and the excesses of his unruly conduct. And didn’t that vessel of election, Saint Paul, the great Apostle who was ravished to heaven, admit that he had persecuted the Church? He even put it in writing so that, even until the end of time, people might know that he had been a persecutor.
Another foundation of Vincentian spirituality is Providence. Saint Vincent, trusting totally in Providence, became himself Providence for others, for the poor. “… let us leave it to the guidance of the wise Providence of God. I have a special devotion to following it, and experience has shown me that it has accomplished everything in the Company, and that our acts of foresightedness hinder it.”
What made Saint Vincent a Mystic of Charity is the fact that prayer was at the center of his life. Prayer takes on a transforming power. Prayer is a state of being, a continuous relationship with Jesus. I am talking, listening, and sharing with Someone who is the “Love” of my life and whom I long to resemble.
Take my word for it, my dear confreres, take my word for it, it’s an infallible maxim of Jesus Christ, which I’ve often proclaimed to you on His behalf, that, as soon as a heart is empty of self, God fills it. God remains and acts in it; and it’s the desire for shame that empties us of ourselves; that’s humility, holy humility. Then it won’t be ourselves acting but God acting in us, and all will go well.
The Sick and the Elderly: Saint Vincent spoke about the role of the sick on several occasions:
But for the Company—the poor Company—nothing special should be permitted either in food or clothing! I make exception, as always, for the sick. Oh, the poor patients! For them, even the chalices of the Church should be sold. God has given me tender feelings in that regard, and I ask Him to give this spirit to the Company.
Wherever we visit a sick person, inside or outside the house, we should look on this person as Christ rather than as just a human being, since Christ said that He regarded any service done to such a person as being done to Himself.
Vincent de Paul, in becoming a “Mystic of Charity,” came to understand and live the relationship with the sick and elderly as it was presented by Jesus.
At the beginning of this letter, I wrote that the searching for what it means to be a Mystic of Charity does not end here by any means; let us continue to immerse ourselves in the richness and depth of its meaning.
So as not to lose hope on this pilgrimage, we recall that it is Jesus who called us to follow Him on the path of our vocation. He remains always with us, as does Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Saint Vincent de Paul and all the other Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family. May they keep interceding for us.
Your brother in Saint Vincent,
Tomaž Mavrič, CM
1] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul, edited by John E. Rybolt, CM, translated by William Quinn, FSC, New York: New City Press, 1993, Book I, Chapter 22, page 124.
 Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission, IV, 42.
 CCD XII, 111-112; conference 198, “Seeking the Kingdom of God,” Common Rules, Chapter II, Article 2, 21 February 1659. CCD refers to the series, Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translated and edited by Jacqueline Kilar, DC; and Marie Poole, DC; et al; annotated by John W. Carven, CM; New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2014; future references to this work will use, as above, the initials, CCD, followed by the volume number, then the page number.
 CCD XIIIa, 454-455; document 117a, Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, (17 May 1658); Common Rules X, 2.
 Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission, IV, 48.
 Common Rules X, 3; cf. op. cit. CCD XIIIa, 455.
 CCD XI, 131; conference 102, “Exhortation to a Dying Brother,” 1645.
 Constitution IV, 49.
 CCD XI, 76; conference 67, “Meditation.”
 CCD XI, 361; conference 168, “Repetition of Prayer,” 10 August 1657.
 CCD III, 603; letter 1192 to Sister Jeanne Lepeintre, 23 February 1650.
 Cf. Common Rules X, 11.
 CCD XI, 328; conference 175, “Repetition of Prayer,” 2-3 November 1656.
 Constitution 45, § 2.
 Constitution 46.
 CCD XI, 44; conference 36, “Humility.”
 CCD II, 462; letter 678 to Bernard Codoing.
 CCD XI, 281; conference 141, “The Ecclesiastical State” [September 1655].
 CCD XII, 334; conference 220, “Poverty,” [5 December 1659].
 Common Rules, VI, 2.