Junior St Vincent de Paul Mass

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Junior St Vincent de Paul Mass
15 March 2012

I am sure you are aware that both the name and the inspiration of the St Vincent de Paul Society, when founded by Frederic Ozanam and his young friends, came from their appreciation of the life and spirit of St Vincent de Paul. St Vincent was born in 1580 and he died in 1660.

During his lifetime he had experienced captivity by pirates and imprisonment in Tunis before he could escape. After he became a priest, he made the care of the poor, particularly the prisoners on the galleys anchored in the Seine River in Paris, as his main concern. He founded two religious congregations, and clearly his strong message continued to be followed long after his death.
In one of writing, St Vincent de Paul said:

“When the demands of life seem unfair to you, when you are exhausted and have to pull yourself out of bed yet another time to do some act of service, do it gladly, without counting the cost and without self-pity, for if you persevere in serving others, in giving yourself to the poor, if you persevere to the point of completely spending yourself, perhaps someday the poor will find it in their hearts to forgive you. For it is more blessed to give than to receive and it is a lot easier.”

That might sound a curious statement. Why do the poor need to forgive us? For what do we need to be forgiven? Shouldn’t we feel good about serving others?

I think we do have some idea of the answer. There is a certain humiliation in needing to receive, just as there is a certain pride in being able to give. The things we complain about are often our greatest blessing. What is worse than being too busy? Having nothing to do. What is more painful than giving away something that we own? Not having anything to give away in the first place. What is harder than dragging ourselves out of bed to begin another day?  Being someone who simply cannot get out of bed by themselves. It is certainly more blessed to be able to give than to receive, and it is easier as well.

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus is facing a difficult audience. In a sense it was understandable, given that he was doing something very extraordinary, something no one else has been capable of doing – healing people on the spot, in the most unexpected circumstances. It was not surprising that questions would be asked.

There were those who suggested that he was doing it all on his own, and again there were others that were saying that he was working with the power of the devil. Neither approach was acceptable. Jesus was doing what he was doing, because these were the instructions he had received from his Father. At all costs, he would remain faithful to the mission he had been given.

As we approach the time when we remember and celebrated the Death and Resurrection of Jesus at Easter, we are reminded that remaining faithful to his call cost him an enormous amount, in fact it cost him his life. But he remained faithful to the call just the same.

Being faithful to the commitments we make is one of the most important features of the followers of Jesus. The many thousands of members of the St Vincent de Paul Society down the ages and throughout the world have all remained faithful to a commitment they made, to help the poor and to see the face of Christ particularly in the poor. They have taken very seriously the words of Jesus “so long as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

I wish to thank all those who are stepping forward in this ceremony to take on a special responsibility of leadership in your school conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society. You are making a gesture which requires your commitment and your fidelity to what you have undertaken. I am sure you understand the importance of this commitment, and I know that you are ready to take it on.

I also thank the teachers in the various colleges who will give support to these students during the year, as they go about their tasks as members of the junior conferences.
For us who are deeply involved in works of compassion, it is important that we do take notice of the manner in which Jesus was compassionate – and that will allow us to take seriously the directives of the Gospel. By seeing how Jesus is compassionate, and is moved with compassion, we have it all before us.

That is not to say that it is all very easy, especially when one is tired and frustrated by lack of support. We can all lose heart, and begin to feel sorry for ourselves, and eventually we feel that we are being unfairly used by others, that we are being asked to give more than our share.

So the counsel of St Vincent de Paul should be told and retold:  “If we do not continue to serve the poor, despite our tiredness and self-pity, the poor will never find it in their hearts to forgive us.” We need to remember that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive. It is also easier.