Ted Lasso, the Mission, and relying on stories to share the load.

In the depths of the pandemic last year, my family, friends, and even work colleagues began sharing recommendations for which show to binge watch next. I’m sure we weren’t alone. This probably started because retelling stories of our daily lives was bleak and became an exercise in recycled trauma, whatever our vocation. We weren’t seeing each other, scattered as we were across the country and world, or even next door, so TV shows became our lingua franca and way of being with one another.

Some of the shows were old standbys that had long since aired, so the spark of rediscovery and most importantly—knowing what came next—helped ease the overwhelming anxiety that permeated every other aspect of our lives. Even if we had seen the episode or heard the jokes before, there was something reassuring about that familiarity. Other shows were new (to us) and exploring their undiscovered countries felt like a joint expedition. Whether the series was just released, like The Flight Attendant or Loki, or was just finishing, like Schitt’s Creek or Killing Eve, we foraged streaming services looking for the next story to share.

With hindsight, a particular kind of humor ran through most of the series we collectively watched—a humor that borrowed a “dash of vinegar” [1] with its gentleness, a comic sense that didn’t flinch from the sadness and tragedy of the world, but that found a way to acknowledge sorrow and still laugh, and in so doing provide relief from its weight. Everything in our lives pushed us towards loneliness and individual sorrow, but through sharing these stories, we found ways to collectively persevere through humor. It made all the difference.

I’ll end with a quote from one of our favorite new shows, Ted Lasso, about an (American) football coach from Kansas who gets hired to lead a premier league (European) football team in England. On the surface, the series seems to be a celebration of joy and positivity (the eponymous Ted is unrelentingly optimistic, after all). Underneath, however, it is a show not about happiness alone, but how to cope with grief, together.

In a memorable scene (no spoilers), from the wonderfully titled episode The Hope That Kills You, Ted professes: “I promise you there is something worse out there than being sad, and that’s being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.” [2]

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

When things seem bleak and most sobering—what are ways that we can authentically find and share joy with one another? How can we find ways to make each other laugh, even while acknowledging the pain all around us? When pursuing our collective Vincentian mission, how do we make sure that we are taking care of each other along the way, so that our “immortified moods” [3] do not overtake both ourselves and our community?


Reflection by:            Alex Perry, Program Manager, Division of Mission and Ministry

  1. [I]f the gentleness of your spirit needs a dash of vinegar, borrow a little from Our Lord’s spirit. O Mademoiselle, how well He knew how to find a bittersweet remark when it is needed!
    Vincent de Paul (Volume: 1 | Page#: 383) To Saint Louise, 1 November, 1637
  2. “I promise you there is something worse out there than being sad, and that’s being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.”
    Ted Lasso, “The Hope that Kills You” Season 1, Episode 10, airdate October 2020
  3. We must hold as an irrefutable maxim that the difficulties we have with our neighbor arise more from our immortified moods than from anything else.”
    Vincent de Paul (Volume: 1 | Page#: 597) To Nicolas Durot, in Toulouse, December 1639

Sharing Our Trials as Well as Our Joys

“I received your letter yesterday; as always, it gave me fresh reasons for praising God. Still, it troubled me a little because, from what you tell me in your last letter, it seems to me you are suffering from something, although you did not state this clearly. Please share with me, Monsieur, your trials as well as your joys.”[1]

Moses (Peace be upon Him) is one of the most important figures in all three Abrahamic traditions,[2] and historically in American culture.[3] The Qur’an devotes more time to the life of Moses[4] than to any other person. In the Qur’anic telling, when Moses flees Egypt and the Pharaoh he arrives in Midian in a desperate situation. He hasn’t had anything to eat other than leaves, is physically drained and exhausted, and he remains deeply fearful that there are powerful forces seeking to capture and punish him. He is separated from all that was once dear and familiar. Moses comes across a large group of men watering their animals at a well, but his attention is drawn to two women who are said to be holding back theirs. Moses approaches them and asks “what is the matter?”[5] After they explain that their father is old and can’t come to the well, and that the men will not let them water their animals, Moses assists them and waters their animals himself. Moses then leaves to rest and pray to God, but this is the beginning of an unexpected blessing that will radically shift the course of his future.

Many of us have experienced, especially in times of loss, anxiety, or other suffering, the blessing of having someone listen to our story or to our feelings. In some cases they may be able to assist us in material ways. At other times, perhaps they can only accompany us in our grief or hardship. Either way, it often feels that sharing our burdens lessens them. This is what profoundly struck me in the excerpt above: “Please share with me Monsieur, your trials as well as your joys.” As Marilynne Robinson says in Gilead, “There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that.”[6] When we are able through words or actions, let those close to us know that they can share with us what is normally kept under the surface, their trials as well as their joys. This can be a powerful step towards creating real community. We strive to make DePaul more than just a workplace. We strive to create a community joined together for the sake of mission. Let us ask ourselves how we can be open to those around us, whether it be students we serve, those we supervise, or the fellow employees we encounter and work alongside.

There are many ways people respond to the brokenness of our world. One of the most memorable characters in literature is found in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby fills her every moment with “work” towards an idealistic project in Africa, which she thinks will do enormous social good. Yet this project never comes to fruition. All the while she is ignoring the sufferings of those close to her, including her husband and her own children. In truly listening to the trials and joys of others, that which is under the surface, we begin to discern how we can best respond to those challenges that are within our sphere of influence. We see changes that can be made and realities that can be faced together.

For Reflection: Is there someone in your life with whom you can truly share your trials as well as your joys? Are there people for whom you provide that deep listening? What are some of the reasons we may be reluctant to share with others, or open ourselves to others sharing with us? How can we overcome these barriers to deeper community?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission and Ministry

See also our past Mission Monday reflection “Being Fully Present” by Emily Lahood-Olsen, based on a quotation from Saint Louise de Marillac: https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2019/10/21/being-fully-present/

We remind all of you that one of the ways you are invited to share with the DePaul community, whether sharing news of weddings, births, adoptions, or bereavements in your immediate family, is through the Newsline Family Events column: https://resources.depaul.edu/newsline/contact/Pages/life-events.aspx

You are also invited to share any requests for prayer with the Division of Mission and Ministry at: https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/religious-spiritual-life/Pages/Prayer-Requests.aspx


[1] Letter 1823, To Charles Ozenne, Superior, In Warsaw, 1 January 1655, CCD, 5:255.

[2] Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As I remarked in a recent interfaith dialogue event about Moses, perhaps they could just as accurately (if not more so) be referred to as the three Mosaic faiths or traditions.

[3] Moses serves as one of the most popular superhero archetypes in popular culture and historically has been a touchstone for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs.

[4] In Arabic, Musa.

[5] Qur’an 28:22-24.

[6] Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), p. 6.

DePaul… let’s be courageous!

Recently, due to a series of unique and unforeseen events, I received a surprising invitation. I was asked to stand-in as the “coach” for two DePaul student athletes competing at a tennis tournament in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What exactly were my qualifications for this role? Really, none at all… except for a relationship with DePaul Athletics, an amateur’s keen interest in the sport, and an open schedule and a valid driver’s license! Despite the spark of enthusiasm I immediately felt, given my lack of formal credentials it isn’t surprising I had reservations about this undertaking.

But looking back, I am so glad I did not give into my anxieties and decline the invitation. For if I had, I would have missed a truly memorable and enriching experience. The joy of connecting with students, the growth that results from new challenges, the fulfillment that comes from contributing to a greater good… none of these would have occurred in quite the same way if I hadn’t been open to opportunity.

As I reflect on our Vincentian Family’s 400-year history “gathered for the sake of the mission,” I know Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Frédéric Ozanam and others must have experienced fear and hesitation as they made decisions and took actions significantly greater than the one I described above. They made decisions involving risks and rewards, with outcomes that were uncertain. Understanding the challenges ahead, towards the end of his life Vincent de Paul exhorted his community members to, “Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s Will; let that be your lesson.”[1] Vincent must have believed that the best decisions are the ones made from faith, love, and freedom.

All of us at DePaul make choices every day for ourselves, others, and our institution. As we scan our horizon of opportunities and search our hearts for guidance, are we open to the invitations that excite us and hold out the promise of life? In those moments of surprise or hesitation, perhaps we at DePaul can remember these words of Vincent: “Let’s be courageous! Let’s go wherever God may call us… let’s not fear anything.”[2]

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

Are there invitations presenting themselves right now that spark excitement in you? What would it look like if you said “yes” to those invitations?

What might you do in your life that would enable you to become more open to life-giving opportunities? What might make you more open to the will of God?


[1] Conference 205, Indifference (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 10), 16 May 1659, CCD, 12:197.

[2] Conference 135, Repetition of Prayer, 22 August 1655. Ibid., 11:265.

 

Written by: Tom Judge, Division of Mission and Ministry

Saint Vincent de Paul: From Memory to Commitment

Vincent de Paul’s spirituality is not a spirituality of the academy but of life. Johann Baptist Metz, a German theologian, was the first one to talk about “the spirituality of open eyes.” According to him, “the experience of God biblically inspired is not a perception uniquely related to oneself but rather a perception vividly intensified by the pain and suffering of others.”[1] This is the spirituality of Saint Vincent de Paul whose memory we are celebrating today. Vincent was a man of faith whose eyes were wide open.

Looking was what saved him. When Vincent decided to open his eyes, his humanity and the purpose of his life were redefined. This progressive conversion of our founder gradually defined his spiritual maturity. “The poor, who do not know where to go or what to do, who are suffering already and who increase daily, are my burden and my sorrow.”[2] His many experiences with the poor shook him with great force, opened his eyes, and molded his spirituality. They led him to read history as a mediation of God continually revealing His will to us.

A prominent turn in contemporary theology has involved the call for a renewed relationship between Christian spirituality, sociopolitical factors, and environmental concerns. At DePaul University we feel that this is a challenge we cannot avoid. Our understanding of Catholic and Vincentian traditions must be informed by opening our eyes to the societal challenges made plain in our university Mission Statement. Catholic Higher Education is being invited from the heart of the Catholic Church to become an effective tool for social transformation, social mobility, sustainability, nonviolence, racial equity, and justice.[3]

“Since its founding in 1898, DePaul University has remained dedicated to making education accessible to all, with special attention to including underserved and underrepresented communities.”[4] Our continuous commitment is grounded in our understanding of the Vincentian Spirit, and on facing the challenges and opportunities of our contemporary world. Education is a human right currently denied to most members of our human family. It is a fundamental resource necessary for individuals and communities to thrive. Access to education and equity is an ongoing struggle, recently made evident by our concerns, our fears, and our prayers for the women of Afghanistan.

Today, I invite the DePaul community to celebrate Saint Vincent de Paul by continuing our move from memory to commitment. To embrace a spirituality of open eyes, as Vincent did, we need to dare to see, to hear, and to boldly interpret the signs of the times. This must be done personally, communally, and socially. In listening to the cries of our earth itself and the cries from across our planet of all those suffering exclusion and discrimination, we should understand that God is calling us.

HAPPY FEAST DAY DEAR DEPAUL COMMUNITY!

———

Reflection by: Fr. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., Vice President of Mission and Ministry

Please join DePaul colleagues for the Annual Vincentian Feast Day Mass and Lunch at both campuses today, Monday September 27th at 12 Noon, in the Miraculous Medal Chapel (Loop – 1st floor Lewis building) and the St. Louise de Marillac Chapel (LPC 1st floor Student Center). Lunch to follow masses at both campuses. All are welcome!


[1] Matthew T. Eggemeier, “A Mysticism of Open Eyes: Compassion for a Suffering World and the Askesis of Contemplative Prayer,” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 12:1 (2012): 43-62. See: researchgate.net.

[2] Letter 1143, To Rene Almeras, Superior, In Rome, 8 October 1649, CCD, 3:492.

[3] Francis, Global Compact on Education, 15 October 2020. See: vatican.va.

[4] DePaul University Mission Statement, March 2021. See: mission statement.

The Enduring Spirit of DePaul’s Mission

“Let’s take renewed resolutions to acquire this spirit, which is our spirit; for the spirit of the mission is a spirit of simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal. Do we have it or don’t we?”[1]

In 1659, Vincent invited his community to reflect upon the distinguishing characteristics, core values, and commitments of the Vincentian mission and to recommit to the essence of its spirit. Vincent understood the importance of reflecting on our actions to inform our understanding of the present, as well as to better craft the evolving future.

The seeds of DePaul’s mission were planted in seventeenth-century France and our heritage begins there. Yet, to paraphrase Vincent, even in these early days he challenged his community to discern “do we have the Vincentian Spirit or don’t we?”

Today, centuries later, each of us is invited to reflect upon similar questions. In what ways is the Vincentian Spirit manifest in our work and community? Where is it lacking? How are we interpreting the spirit of the mission for the reality of DePaul University’s present and the reality of its tomorrow?

In 2020-2021, for the first time in 35 years, DePaul engaged 600 community members in a ten-month-long participatory process to reflect upon who we are and whom we dream of becoming. Our updated mission statement is the result of this inclusive and communal process. Drawing on the same spirit as Vincent, it expresses the university’s current reality, reflects our shared values, and articulates our evolving hopes and common dreams.

Over the next seven days, we invite you to participate in the annual St. Vincent de Paul Heritage Week. In attending one or more of an array of mission-focused events, you will have the opportunity to celebrate our Vincentian Heritage, reflect upon the mission in today’s context, and examine its dynamic, unfolding meaning at both a personal and professional level.

We look forward to welcoming you and celebrating at one or more of these events. Registration information for the week can be found here.


Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 14), 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:251.

Can We Choose Enthusiasm?

I recently realized that I need to move past my habitual cynicism if I am to contribute to positive and creative solutions in overcoming challenges—in my personal life, in my work life, and as a citizen of our city and world. I am learning that in a society in which emotions increasingly seem to drive behavior, exercising thoughtful agency and intentionality in how we live and respond, regardless of how we feel, can be a great spiritual challenge.

For example, can we choose to be enthusiastic and do so authentically, even when our emotions or life circumstances might weigh us down? And, if so, will it even make a positive difference? To a certain extent the answer is yes, in that our emotional state can often change simply with a shift in perspective. Life habits, like exercise, meditation, or friendship, can also do much to cultivate enthusiasm and gratitude for what is present and possible before us. Our communities also play a vital role in helping us to cultivate and sustain an enthusiastic hope and vision. Moreover, rather than cynicism, in terms of its generative impact enthusiasm certainly tends to be more inspiring and effective in persuading others toward positive action.

Dictionaries suggest enthusiasm involves enjoyment, interest, and an energy or zest for life. Our current day understanding of enthusiasm shares something in common with what Vincent de Paul, in his day, named “zeal.” Vincent said, “if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.”[1] He seemed to see zeal as closely tied to courage and to an abiding trust in Providence, but also as something that one could acquire through lived experience and grace. Vincent once described zeal as the “soul of virtues.”[2] Zeal, for Vincent, was more than mere sentiment; it seemed to involve channeling our own conscious will and giving ourselves over to a purpose beyond ourselves. For him, this larger purpose was what he called “the spirit of the Mission.”[3]

How might we remain enthusiastic or cultivate the virtue of zeal in the face of today’s challenges, both personal and societal? As we witness the most recent destruction in Haiti, the horrific situation in Afghanistan, the pernicious gun violence in our city, the continued havoc caused by the pandemic and natural disasters like hurricanes, or the intractable systemic problems of racism, poverty, and war… and on and on… pain, sadness, and anger are perfectly understandable feelings to be experiencing. How do we get from there to enthusiasm or zeal, and why even bother?

One important reason to move towards enthusiasm is because change, whether at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, or societal level, requires it. If we are to move through and past painful emotions and work towards that which can transform, uplift, and create a new reality, we need the energy and vitality of enthusiasm. We need a certain hope and zest for life and for all that is still possible. At DePaul, as a Vincentian university, we must find a way to inspire one another to embody this “zeal.” It is our mission to prepare our graduates to become “agents of transformation throughout their lives” and to address “the great questions of our day, promoting peaceful, just, and equitable solutions to social and environmental challenges.”[4] We should consider enthusiasm, or zeal, an essential Vincentian virtue for our times.

  • What are the habits that help you to cultivate enthusiasm or a zeal for life?
  • How might you help to foster an enthusiasm for the “spirit of the Mission” in your own area of work, or in your circles of influence at DePaul

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 14), 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:250. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/

[2] Letter 460, To Pierre Escart, in Annecy, 25 July 1640, Ibid., 2:84. See: https://‌via.library.‌depaul.edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/27/

[3] Conference 211, Op. Cit., 12:251.

[4] See: DePaul University Mission Statement

DePaul, we have great work ahead!

The statues in Saint Vincent’s Circle are decorated with protective face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, April 30, 2020, on the Lincoln Park Campus. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

Almost exactly one year ago, I left Chicago for Iowa. I was planning to be gone for just a few days and never guessed my stay there would last a full 12 months. Feelings of isolation and despondency, familiar to many during this pandemic, had been growing in me since the spring of 2020. More and more, life was restricted to my cozy, lonely one-bedroom apartment. But, at my mother’s home in Iowa there was space, and I could work. I felt cared for, grounded, safe, and welcomed. Looking back, I knew then as I do today how fortunate I was to have that lifeline.

Now, one calendar year later, I have returned to Chicago and to my same cozy apartment. I am grateful for the support I received, humbled by the events the world has been through, and cautiously optimistic about the new school year. I have also re-learned something powerful: human beings need to feel safe, grounded, and cared for to flourish. We need community and we need to feel welcomed in the spaces that are our homes and workplaces.

I believe this life lesson is one that Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac knew well. In her voluminous correspondence we see that Louise was constantly encouraging her community members to live and work together in “great union and cordiality.”[1] In an updated version of the original Constitutions written by Vincent for the Congregation of the Mission, Vincentians are called to live and work in communities “animated by love…supporting one another especially in difficulties.”[2] Finally, DePaul University’s own Mission Statement reminds us that “Guided by an ethic of Vincentian personalism and professionalism, DePaul compassionately upholds the dignity of all members of its diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community.”[3]

What, then, should this key component of Vincentian spirit look like at DePaul during this most pressing moment in time? Together how can we help to make all members of our community—students, staff, and faculty—feel safe, grounded, and cared for so that we are all able to flourish? A few thoughts come to mind.

People’s health and well-being must continue to be our top priority. In all our endeavors we need to be flexible and responsive to this commitment. Vincent de Paul once said “love is inventive to infinity,”[4] and the challenge to be lovingly creative in what we do is more necessary than ever. Also, we must work together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual support. This requires very deliberate listening, effective communication, and receptiveness to new ideas, especially by those in positions of authority over others. It must be practiced by teachers and students, supervisors and supervisees, leadership and community members. Finally, everyone—especially our students, but including our staff and faculty—must feel truly welcomed and secure, while provided with the necessary support and resources to flourish at DePaul.

The task ahead will not be easy; it is one thing to say these things but another to bring them to life. However, I reaffirm my faith in the talent and integrity of the DePaul community, and believe that our university mission and values will help us navigate whatever challenges lay in front of us. I am hopeful and prayerful that the great work we have committed to do will bring out the best in what we all give.

Questions for Reflection:

In your role at DePaul, how might you listen more intentionally, act more caringly, and lead more creatively to contribute to an environment where all may flourish?

What do you need in your life right now so that you may flourish?


[1] Spiritual Testament, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 835. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/

[2] Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation of the Mission (1984, English trans. 1989), 17. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/cm_construles/23/

[3] See: DePaul University Mission Statement 2021

[4] Conference 102, Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.

 

Reflection by:  
Tom Judge, Chaplain/Assistant Director
Faculty and Staff Engagement
Division of Mission and Ministry

From Compassion to Organization

I watched the Tokyo Olympic Games and enjoyed my armchair view of the competitions. The personal stories of the contenders, their skills, fortitude, and camaraderie presented a multinational spectrum of dreams achieved, whether by presence or prize. I was intrigued by stories like the British gold-medalist diver who focused on knitting and crocheting as an outlet. Yet even as the Olympics dominated social media, cases of COVID-19 variants were suddenly spiking. News outlets juggled features of intense athleticism, with the climate crises, wildfires, and COVID.

Through the prism of pandemic-related stories of patients, caregivers, and activists, I heard echoes of the Vincentian tradition: What must be done? What must I do? What must we do?

Vincent de Paul, the patron of our university, offers wise insight in response to human misery. Impoverished people suffer greatly, but “more through a lack of organized assistance than from lack of charitable persons.”[1] For this reason, after learning of a family wherein everyone was ill and incapable of helping one another, Vincent encouraged his parishioners to assist them.[2] Moved by compassion, he also visited their home. Afterward, Vincent called a meeting. He “suggested that all those good persons animated by charity to go there might each take a day to make soup, not for those sick persons only, but also for others who might come afterward” in order “to assist body and soul.”[3]

Vincent organized the first Confraternity of Charity, at Châtillon-les-Dombes, 23 August 1617. Intending to engage others to collaborate in addressing an immediate need, Vincent’s charitable project created a chain reaction. The model was replicated, expanded, and refocused over the ages as social justice issues necessitated systemic change and advocacy to create healthier tomorrows for impoverished persons.

From that humble beginning, four hundred years ago, over four million people now embrace the Vincentian way. Today, the 150 branches of the Vincentian Family are multicultural, multilingual, prophetic, and global in the service of charity, social justice, and systemic change.

  1. What moves me to act with compassion?
  2. When I know or see someone in need, how could I respond compassionately?
  3. When I see human suffering, what motivates me to take action?

Note:  For more on the work of the charitable and systemic justice work of the Vincentian Family globally, see: https://famvin.org/vfo-en/

Reflection by: Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry


[1] Document 124a, Foundation of the Charity in Châtillon-les-Dombes, 23 August 1617, CCD, 13b:3-5. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/

[2] Cf. Conference 24, Love of Vocation and Assistance to the Poor, 13 February 1646, CCD, 9:192-3; Conference 20, Observance of the Rule, 22 January 1645, CCD, 9:165-6.

[3] Conference 24, Ibid., 9:193; Document 124a, op. cit., 13b:3.

The Strength of Weakness

Remember, Monsieur that roses are not gathered except in the midst of thorns and that heroic acts of virtue are accomplished only in weakness.[1]

The life experience of Xavier le Pichon, one of the world’s leading geophysicists, has convinced him that care for the weakest among us is what makes us truly human. In essence, le Pinchon maintains that weaknesses, imperfections, and faults are integral to facilitating the evolution of a system or a society. He says: “A system which is too perfect is too rigid because it does not see a need to evolve.”[2]

We find ourselves at a moment in history when our day-to-day reality seems to be evolving by the nanosecond. When aren’t we in a state of flux these days? As we seek to outsmart the pandemic, barely a day goes by without a new advisory directing us to adopt a different behavior Today masks are mandatory, tomorrow, they are not. The day after, masks are highly recommended, then deemed unnecessary, until, of course, the sun comes up to illuminate the wisdom of yet another new day. Booster advisories, social distancing alerts, vaccination updates, the list continues. The ground on which we stand is forever changing at the pervasive ping of a phone or the tenacious twitter of a tweet. The “new normal,” if such a thing even exists, may be the simple reality that we have become a people adrift. The constant shifting of the terrain threatens our equilibrium and unsettles our very core.

During his life, Vincent de Paul weathered a long period of upheaval and turmoil. What seeds of wisdom might his life experience offer us?

Vincent’s approach, as we see reflected in his penned advisory, was to acknowledge that the existence of thorns is necessary for roses to flourish. The lifeblood of the two are interdependent, thus, both are needed for the rosebush to thrive. Yet, Vincent did not stop here. Similar to his countryman, le Pinchon, Vincent suggests that it is the very existence of weakness that creates the fertile ground in which “heroic acts of virtue” must occur. Perhaps, to frame this in more contemporary terms, experiences of weakness and fragility, as hard as they may be to navigate, offer us a unique invitation to demonstrate acts of compassion, love and justice. Indeed, they call us to right relationship and invite us to develop our own humanity.

Vincent developed this wisdom not through a naïve sentimentalized view of the world, but while living through the tumultuous period of the Thirty Years War, and the civil war known as the Fronde. He certainly knew what it was to battle uncertainty and endure upheaval. Moreover, through his experience of caring for those who were poor, he understood firsthand the colossal weight of human need and the complexity of social problems. Yet, in the midst of navigating such rocky terrain, Vincent came to believe that love is always inventive to infinity.[3]

So, today, as we find ourselves barraged by ever-changing news advisories, I invite you to pause and recall a single moment, during the course of the pandemic, in which you felt most fully alive.  What role did weakness play in this moment? What may the unsettled ground of today be trying to teach you as you address the questions of tomorrow?


Reflection by:  Siobhan O’Donoghue, Ph.D., Director, Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

References:

[1] Vincent de Paul, CCD 2:21-22. Written to Jacques Tholard, In Annecy, 1 February 1640.

[2] Le Pinchon, Xavier.  “Ecce Homo (Behold Community)”. https://onbeing.org/blog/xavier-le-pichon-ecce-homo-behold-humanity/

[3] Vincent de Paul, CCD 11:131. Exhortation to a dying brother.

 

A Vincentian Woman Out of the Shade

How could a delicate infant girl born in Paris in 1591, to an unknown mother and a prominent father between two marriages, be relevant today? How could her inauspicious early life have led to ongoing waves of benevolence and social services?

Prestigious relatives relegated the young child to a Dominican convent in Poissy for education. When her father died, an uncle withdrew the preteen and sent her elsewhere to learn domestic skills until relatives could arrange a marriage with Antoine Le Gras. Given her obscure start, only a well-informed Jeopardy contestant might identify Louise de Marillac as an agent of social transformation.

When she began collaborating with Vincent de Paul and his works of charity, Louise stepped “out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.”(1) Petite, “benevolent but bold,”(2) Louise addressed social challenges astutely because she believed that “God is Charity” and, therefore, that the “practice of charity is so powerful” that helping her neighbor in need would bring her closer to God.(3) Despite the blessings of her life, Louise understood that the early sufferings she endured were her “way of the Cross” and she wished to be full of “the fire of Holy Love…[and] divine light.”(4) An illuminating spiritual experience she titled “The Light” eventually transformed Louise into a spiritual leader and advocate for social change.(5)

In overcoming adversity, frailty, and life’s inevitable hurts associated with her upbringing, Louise de Marillac became empowered: to supervise charitable outreach programs begun by Vincent de Paul; to establish and mentor Daughters of Charity for basic nursing; to develop contracts for their services with hospitals; to rescue foundlings; to initiate a foster-care system for unwanted infants; to initiate education for girls from needy families; to feed starving refugees; to care for persons with mental illness; and to network with wealthy women for financial support. This dynamism of organized charity created systems of care that improved the lives of impoverished people of all ages.

We honor Louise on her birthday, August 12, as an unlikely agent of social transformation. Her love became “our legacy”—to be compassionate in upholding the dignity of all members of DePaul’s diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community.(6) Louise lived by the light of her faith. What must we do to reach out and accompany those struggling at the margins of society? How can their needs illuminate our hearts to respond? Like Louise, we are called to be light for others. As Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, observes, “there is always light.” May we all be “brave enough to see it,” and “brave enough to be it.”(7)

Reflection Questions:

  1. What motivates you to step out from the shadows, aflame and unafraid?
  2. What does “light” mean to you? Describe your experiences of “light.”
  3. How are you motivated to be an agent of social transformation?

1) Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb,” (Viking Books: 2021), 32 pp. See also: Amanda Gorman’s Poem Stole the Show at the Inauguration
2) Ibid.
3) A.29, (ON CHARITY), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 710-11.
4) Ibid.
5) For more on what is known as Louise’s “lumière experience” see: Louise de Marillac’s Pentecost Experience
6) A.29, (ON CHARITY).
7) Gorman, “The Hill We Climb.”

 

Reflection by: Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar in Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry