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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"Life in all its fullness“(John. 10,10)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

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"As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

At the Last Supper the Lord gave the disciples a clear way of Christian living “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you… By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34,35). The early Church was characterized by its heart for the needy. In a world where the trend is to accumulate, the call to be church is to give. A saint who brought the focus of the Church back to loving Christ in the least of the brethren is St Vincent de Paul. His impression on the Church to make it a serving church remains to this day.

“I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people” (Is 49:8)

St Vincent de Paul is known as the heavenly patron of all charitable works in the Church. However as the saying goes “He did not become a saint because of his adventurous charitable activities; rather he could commit himself to such voluminous charitable ventures because he was a saint.” His saintly heart could not remain indifferent to the miseries of the common people around him. It was his heart that was extraordinarily saintly and not merely the working of his hands. The Divine compassion of the Lord Jesus filled him and gripped him to such an extent that he could look at the abandoned and the downtrodden with the eyes of the Lord Jesus Himself and there followed in their lives and in the society and church at large, miracles that testify of his saintliness to every generation. The gospels tell us that when the Lord Jesus looked at a leper He was “moved with compassion” (Mk 1:41). Every miracle the Lord worked was the compassionate response to the cry of humankind.

History records that Vincent de Paul was not born a saint, neither were his intentions saintly when he opted for the priestly vocation. Priesthood was not so much a loving surrender to Godliness in those dark Middle Ages, rather it was an option for easy and secured living from a very materialistic point of view. Radical changes came into his life due to the many adversities that moulded his heart after the very heart of Jesus. While on a journey his ship was taken over by ruthless Turkish pirates and he was taken as a slave to Tunis. On the ship apart from the cruel lashings he was chained to the gallows on the lower level of the ship and had to row the big ship together with other slaves. After two years of slavery he returned to France. His sufferings were not over. He took very ill and was wrongly accused of having stolen a large sum of money.

Such traumatic twists in his life crushed his worldly spirit and in this furnace of humiliation the dross was burnt out and the treasure of saintliness shone forth. We know well that adversity does not always bring out the best in the human spirit. If adversity did bring out the saint in him it was because of his constant contemplation of the Cross of Christ that enabled him not to sink into despair but to fly above the thick dark clouds. The comfort seeking young Vincent learnt the futility of grabbing possessions, pleasures and securities of this world. He opted to give himself and found meaning in total self surrender to Jesus Christ in the person of His poor.

In these crucial years of trial a very clear conviction took shape in his heart and became the main spring of his spirituality moulding his entire life and ministry, ultimately etching its impact indelibly on the future of the Church and humankind at large. His heart warmed up with a lively compassion for the poor and the brokenhearted. He was able to see the face of the crucified Lord in every suffering person. Vincent de Paul speaks about his experience, “The net result of my experience is the judgment I have formed, that true religion is to be found amongst the poor.”

“Pour yourself out for the hungry” (is 58:10)

This deep religious experience moved him with an urgent necessity to serve the poor. He founded the Congregation of Mission for priests and the Daughters of Charity for women religious to commit their lives for the poor. He also founded an association of women lay helpers to find resources for the needy. The heart of this mission was clear – it was not meant to be like any other charitable organization doling out to the ‘less fortunate’. He clarified to them “You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.”

The work that was done was extensive and seemingly unceasing. The Sisters once asked him whether they should go out to respond to a sick person who comes knocking at the door during their time of prayer. He explained to them that in fact in such instances they were leaving God’s presence to go to the presence of God because it was God waiting for them in the person of poor. “When you are called from your prayers or the Eucharistic celebration to serve the poor, you lose nothing, since to serve the poor is to go to God. You must see God in the faces of the poor.” One cannot miss that their extensive services were all deeply rooted in a commitment to the love of God. “The poor are your masters. You are the servant. Cherish them since our Lord is in them, and they are in our Lord,” he explained.

As his spiritual services for the poor became widely known and accepted, he was also being identified by the royalty of France for his deep spirituality. He used his influence with the higher circles of society to sensitise them to their responsibility to the poor. “Go to the poor: you will find God,” was his bold directive to them. We need to remember that during this Dark Age in Europe the poor were despised and exploited by the rich with no qualm of conscience. The feudal system in which the society was organised relegated the poor as the cursed. No one could even imagine taking up their cause. The poor had no role in decision making, not even in the local bodies of administration. The policies and regulations were made by the rich and powerful who with a firm determination kept the poor out of the mainstream of society. The poor had abandoned themselves to their wretched fate. It was at this juncture that God raised up Vincent de Paul to be the champion of the marginalized.  The poor got a new lease of hope for a human existence. He became a shining light that shone through the ages, a witness of love divine that no one could ignore or reject.

It is recorded in history that when the French Revolution broke out, the mobs went all over France breaking down every symbol and structure of power and authority. The Church was not spared in anyway. Building and statues were broken into pieces. When such a vandalizing mob came past a statue of St Vincent de Paul and were about to break it in their frenzy, one among them indentified it to be the Great Apostle of Charity and they immediately drew back in reverence for one whom they could identify as the Saint of Compassion to the Poor.

“He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18)

St Vincent de Paul insisted that his followers should not imagine themselves as mere philanthropists, going about doing works of charity. They should most importantly sit at the feet of the Lord to recapture their love and commitment for God. This experience of compassion was clearly to be recognized as the fruit of their relationship with God. The work of the Congregation increased and multiplied until it seemed almost too much for human capacity. But Vincent knew wherein lay the strength of the Mission Priests. "How may we hope to do our work?" he would ask. "How can we lead souls to God? How can we stem the tide of wickedness among the people? Let us realize that this is not man's work at all, it is God's. Human energy will only hinder it unless directed by God. The most important point of all is that we should be in touch with our Lord in prayer."

This ‘Great Apostle of Charity’ knew in the intense moments of his prayer that his call was not only to care for the material needs of the poor. In order to bring about total wellbeing to their lives, one’s spiritual life was to be renewed in the love of God. The saint was once called to the bedside of a dying person. St Vincent realised that this man was tormented by guilt and fear about the sinful past. He had never experienced the liberating love of the Lord that the soul had always been crying for. A cry that was more intense than any cry of hunger or physical pain. This man had wasted his life satiating the needs of his flesh with no consideration for the deeper longings of the soul. Now he was dying in despair, still dissatisfied, filled with regrets and above all with a deep fear and insecurity for his failure to God and to his soul. Vincent de Paul led him to open his heart in prayer seeking the mercy of God in the sacrament of Confession, assuring him of the God’s compassionate response. Looking at the face of this dying man, Vincent de Paul heard the call of God to lead the people to the experience of forgiving love of the Lord.

With this, Vincent launched the great ministry of preaching. He trained the priests of his Congregation for the special ministry of the Word which he called as the Popular Mission. The name is significant because it required that those in the Word ministry be charged with the mission of proclaiming the mercy of the Lord to all, rich and poor, thus bringing about a conversion of the heart. Moreover the timings of the retreats were to be such that even the common people of the working class will be able to participate. He also insisted that the style of the preaching must be simple and straightforward so that even the poor and illiterate should be touched and converted. "Our sermons must go straight to the point," he would say, "so that the humblest of our hearers may understand; our language must be clear and unaffected." The love of virtue and the hatred of evil were the points to be insisted on; the people were to be shown where virtue lay and how to attain it. For "fine sermons" Vincent had the greatest contempt; he would use his merry wit to make fun of the pompous preachers whose only thought was to impress their audience with an idea of their own eloquence.

Because of his intense love for God his heart went out to those living in the misery of sin, unable to open their heart to the infinite mercy of God waiting to save them. Even in his frailty and old age, Vincent had a strong sense of obligation to preach the Word of God reaching out to those living in the slavery of ignorance. “In spite of my age (79), I tell you before God that I do not feel excused from the responsibility of working for the salvation of the poor. For what could really get in the way of my doing that now? If I cannot preach every day, all right, I'll preach twice a week. If I cannot preach more important sermons, I will preach less important ones. If the congregation cannot hear me at a distance, what is to prevent me from speaking in an informal, more familiar way to those poor just as I am speaking to you right now? What is to hinder me from gathering them near me just as you are sitting around me now?” One is reminded of the famous cry of St Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).

“You shall raise up the foundations of many generations” (Is 58:12)

Vincent’s zeal for souls would have great impact. It is described that even in his first appointment as parish priest “In him the sick and the infirm found a friend such as they had never dreamed of and any son of poor parents who showed a vocation for the priesthood was taken into the presbytery and taught by Vincent himself. The parish church, which was in great disrepair, was rebuilt; old, standing quarrels were made up; men who had not been to the Sacraments for years came back to God. Such was the influence of the Curé of Clichy that priests from the neighbouring parishes came to learn the secret of his success and to ask his advice.”

Vincent was well aware that God’s love will reach every broken heart only through the zealous ministry of the clergy. Unfortunately the spiritual and intellectual standards of the priests of the time were not worth any mention. The clergy had become servants of the rich catering to their needs as they were offered a comfortable life. With the consent of the higher authorities both in the Church and in the State, Vincent set out on a fervent trail of the renewal of the clergy. His zeal for the sanctity and intellectual formation of the clergy attracted the attention of the authorities. He was appointed to head the Committee to select candidates for the bishopric, depending solely on their holiness and commitment to the poor. There were many pressures on him to select unworthy candidates for such a holy position but he never gave in.  A high society woman slapped him on his face with her footwear for not considering her son as candidate for Bishop. Vincent was not grieved but admired the great love of a mother: “See how much she loves her son.” Vincent de Paul took special care in the formation of the priests of his own congregation, and he took many measures to improve the spiritual and intellectual caliber of the diocesan clergy as well. He prescribed as one of the aims of the Congregation a sincere attempt to help the diocesan clergy in their formation.

Always committed to the cause of the poor, St Vincent de Paul was a man of voluminous action and intelligent planning. It is said about him that in his lifetime he has contributed to the Church what a dozen saints would have achieved. However when we study his life closely we understand that all his activities flowed out of an intimate and vibrant relationship with God. Bérulle, a reputed orator-priest of the time and spiritual guide of St Vincent de Paul remarked in the early days of Vincent’s priestly ministry that “This humble priest will render great service to the Church and will work much for God's glory.” St. Francis de Sales, a contemporary of St Vincent de Paul spoke in awe of him: “He will be the holiest priest of his time.”

The one longing of the Saint was to be united with God in every decision and in all actions. The invitation of the Lord to be one with Him resounded in his heart always, leading him to see the face of Christ in every broken person. His zealous ministry for the poor was the fruit that was borne in his life being united with the Lord. St Vincent de Paul has a message to the men and women who want to make a good difference in the world. Take the heartbeat of Jesus expressed in the Last Supper, “You abide in me and I will abide in you… thus you will bear fruit” (Jn 15). Every activity of the ministry of the Lord must be not merely an action or a piety but a flow out of our intimacy with the Lord reaching the least of our brethren.

Prayer

Lord God you are love. We praise you that your love saves us from every need. We thank you for the gift of St Vincent de Paul who reflected this love so tremendously, leading us to understand that you care for the poor and the forgotten. No one is hidden from you O God. Today as we come to you, Jesus, we offer our hearts to you. Transform us in the fire of the Holy Spirit that we may long for all that you long for. As we follow St Vincent de Paul, may our hearts be drawn to loving you more dearly and to honour and serve others more sincerely. Then will our lives be the blessing that you need us to be. Amen.

 
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Retreats and Healing Masses in Sydney

Divine Australia invites you to healing Masses and retreats to be held across various venues in New South Wales, Sydney. To be led by Fr Augustine Vallooran VC. For details, email Fr Roni George, Director, Divine Australia - drcsydney@gmail.com.

Date: 2 - 7 October, 2018

Retreats at the Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby, Sydney

Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2017. For bookings, email Fr Roni George, Director - drcsydney@gmail.com. Hurry, as admission is limited.

Date: January 2018 - December, 2018

Divine Retreats in Adelaide, Melbourne & Canberra

Divine healing Masses and retreats to be held across various venues in Australia. Masses to be offered by Fr Augustine Vallooran VC. Praise and worship by Glen and Teresa La'Rive.

Date: 22 September - October 1, 2018

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