The Times They Are A-Changin’

For many, this week marks the ending of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. As a period of preparation and self-examination, Lent encourages us to intimately, sometimes painfully, confront our own humanity, our shortcomings, our frailties, and our most searching questions. But, always, this personal exploration is meant to be done with a spirit of compassion and understanding that mirrors the love God feels for us. Truly, Lent can be a time of personal and spiritual challenge but equally it can be a time of self-improvement and growth in our relationship with God.

It seems DePaul University itself is also experiencing a moment in our history that resembles the Lenten season. Spurred by budgetary challenges, as an institution we are being asked to scrutinize ourselves with rigorous honesty and courage to determine where changes need to be made. These changes will hopefully guarantee our relevance and sustainability long into the future. The difficult choices to be made will require sacrifice, commitment to the common good, and deep reserves of wisdom if we are to honor our mission and preserve our most distinctive and valuable identity: that of being a Vincentian Catholic university.

As lifelong Catholics, co-founders of what we now call the Vincentian Family, and astute observers of human nature, Vincent and Louise were familiar with the personal challenges of Lent and the systemic challenges of institutional change. Based on the voluminous records left behind, we know they approached the latter with pragmatism, compassion, and faith. They accepted that change—in communities, in responsibilities, in plans—needed to occur for their mission of serving the poor to be effective.[1] But they also taught that these changes, like all decisions, must be inspired by love and guided by that great rule of charity requiring us to do to for each individual that good that we would want them to do to us. As leaders, colleagues, and community members, we must make decisions animated by compassion and bound by ties of friendship and respect.[2]

Underlying every decision Vincent and Louise made was their abiding faith in the providence of God. They had confidence that even amid struggle and uncertainty, God would eventually provide a path forward and the clarity to see this path. In light of this faith, as followers of Vincent and Louise, it is our responsibility to be attentive to the signs of where we are being led and to work tirelessly, with good will and honest effort, toward the worthy purposes given to us.

Today, the signs seem to be pointing DePaul toward a path of strategic change and investment to ensure that we are able to best fulfill our purposes as a Vincentian Catholic university. These changes may require difficult decisions and painful cuts and must be made not only with pragmatism but with love, compassion, respect, and faith. To do any less would be a violation of our mission and a disservice to our community’s heritage and to its future.

Reflection Questions:

At DePaul, when have you observed decisions being made that are grounded in pragmatism, love, and respect? How might you better be able to incorporate these values into your own decision-making?

If you were to scrutinize your own life, your choices, and attitudes, what might you identify as something that needs to change? How would you approach that change? Are you coming from a place of self-love and understanding?

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

[1] See, for example, these two quotes from Louise de Marillac: “Changes can and must occur. If they are not accepted, we shall never enjoy the peace of soul that is essential,” (Document A66, “(On the Necessity of Accepting Changes),”Spiritual Writings, 813); and “You are well aware that changes are always difficult, and that it takes time to learn new ways of serving the poor skillfully and well,” (Letter 337, “To My Very Dear Sister Cécile Agnès,” December 30, (1651) Spiritual Writings, 385). Available online at

[2] See Conference 207, “Charity (Common Rules Chap. 2, Art. 12),” May 30, 1659, CCD, 12:217. Available online at

Change in Systems, Change in People

Last week on February 22, Christians celebrated Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of the Lenten season. Lent is the liturgical season of about forty days that leads to the celebration of Easter by millions of people throughout the world. For them, it is a time of preparing their minds and hearts to receive more fully and to remember again the transformative meaning and power of the Easter story, most notably that of the resurrection of the crucified Christ. This annual ritual of the Lenten season embodies the learned wisdom of the Christian community: humanity benefits from a regular time of “spiritual fine-tuning” to remember and return to what is most essential and to remain open to ongoing transformation.

The season of Lent is in many ways about remembering what we have forgotten and returning to what we already know, which becomes a transformative experience for many. The return to what we know most deeply about self, God, and life becomes a movement toward change, renewal, and a new way of being, doing, and relating. It is something that our entrenched habits may have prevented us from seeing or engaging in previously.

Surprisingly, I thought of the annual ritual practice of Lent during a recent seminar, “Charity, Justice and Systemic Change in the Vincentian Tradition,” led by Father John Rybolt, C.M. In this seminar, Father Rybolt spoke of the necessary relationship between systemic change and the change that must take place within and among people to make participation in systemic change possible. Always fascinated by the question of what makes positive change or transformation possible, I have come to believe there is something important in this insight about systemic change. It connects directly to the spiritual purpose of Lent – that is, the transformation of minds and hearts is necessary for the transformation of systems. They rise and fall with each other.

This insight is central to understanding the tenuous yet profound connection between Saint Vincent de Paul and what we now know of as “social justice,” which was an unknown concept in the minds of those in seventeenth-century France. While Vincent may not have known of the concept of social justice as we know it today, he seems to have clearly understood this fact: for lasting social transformation to occur, we must recognize the unavoidable relationship between the change in systems (economic, political, religious, social) and the change needed within and among persons. Systemic change requires intrapersonal and interpersonal change as well as a change in minds and hearts.

Vincent saw with the eyes of charity, or caritas, which can be translated most meaningfully as love. Vincent paid attention to people and to daily life and events. He recognized what was not right and responded to address the immediate needs of people, while also building new systems that would prove more effective in caring for them. He preached, taught, persuaded, and cajoled his contemporaries, often transforming minds and heart to become more open to encounter the suffering poor of his day. He encouraged the cultivation of habits (virtues) that led to active participation in working for the common good. That said, he did not work for the wholesale teardown of the existing system. He worked within existing systems, and then relationally among and for people, to make change and transformation possible.

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the way in which you believe you can contribute most effectively to the positive transformation of systems and people?
  • What habits or ways of seeing, working, or relating get in the way of your ability to contribute more fruitfully to this transformation?
  • What is the transformation that must take place in you for you to live more fully – perhaps beginning over these next 40 days!?

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, flection by: Mark Laboe, Assoc. VP, Mission and Ministry

Shifting Our Perception

Depending on our mindset, Mondays can be difficult mornings as we face the beginning of yet another week of work. This may involve facing a long to-do list, including some tasks we might not rather do, coming immediately on the heels of a weekend taste of rest and relaxation.

However, with some mental reframing, we might shift and say to ourselves with some authentic enthusiasm: “Today is a new day and the start of a new work week! This is a new opportunity for me to live my values and to put my mission into action!”

What might you need to move into such a mental-emotional space? Are there practices or habits that could help you to do so? Maybe meditation or prayer, walks outside, or seeking the support of a community of friends and colleagues?

As our Mission Mondays continue to follow Christians through their Lenten season, we might find some insight in the words of prophet Isaiah from the readings for this fifth and penultimate week of Lent. Isaiah invites the Hebrew people to change their mindset, to hearken no longer on the hardships of the past, and to recognize what God is doing anew in their presence: “Do you not perceive it?”[1]

How much of our mindset is the result of our perception or our ability to see and focus our attention on the emerging, possible good in our midst?

This week, we also read of Jesus’s often-quoted admonition to those condemning a woman: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”[2] Jesus is clearly seeing and focusing on something different than the mob of people set on violence.

Shifting our perception—whether to focus on the good and possible rather than what is troubling, or to set our minds and hearts toward forgiveness and compassion rather than judgment and condemnation—can be mightily difficult for most of us. Such a shift will probably not be achieved through our own will alone. The many ongoing daily challenges of life, added to the tragedies now being amplified in our world with the violent destruction and loss of life in Ukraine, can make it especially difficult to adopt a forward-looking hopeful frame of mind. Doing so may require a healthy dose of grace and some proverbial sunshine to emerge in our lives independent of our own efforts.

As Vincent de Paul would advise, we need to remain radically open to the experiences and people in our lives—to first perceive Providence at work, then to humbly and graciously receive the blessings and opportunities before us—so that we may be able to say, as the Psalmist does, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”[3]

  • What might help you this week to focus on the good that is possible for you to do and to experience, even amidst difficulty?
  • What holds you back from such openness?
  • When was there a moment in your life in which you embodied an open, positive mindset, and what were you doing—or what was occurring—at that time to make this possible? What might you glean from this experience to apply to your life today?

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

[1] Isaiah 43:19.

[2] John 8:7.

[3] Psalm 126:3.

A Sign of the Times

This Mission Monday continues our journey with Christians throughout the world who move through their sacred season of Lent. In the Lenten Scripture readings for this week, we engage with a familiar story from the Old Testament. Moses, tending his flock, encounters a burning bush. To his surprise, the bush remains intact, continuing to burn but unconsumed by the blaze. So, Moses investigates … and he hears from the flames the call of God. Mysterious, commanding, fearsome, the voice of God speaks to Moses. His life, as well as human history, will never be the same.

Lucky Moses. His sign came in the form of a supernatural occurrence—a non-perishable shrub—and the self-identified voice of God calling him by name. It would have been next to impossible for him not to have noticed these things around him! My signs are usually a little more difficult to discern. Maybe yours are too.

I am not saying they are not there. I believe we do get signs all the time, from God, the universe, our Higher Power, or perhaps just as a result of how we choose to make meaning out of the things in our lives. Whatever the source, receiving a sign can be a purposeful, powerful event. It can give us strength, conviction, and guidance. But it is seldom as obvious as a burning bush.

Then how do we discern the signs in our own lives? The rainbow after a shower that gives us hope. The call that seems more like a whisper. The invisible hand of God. If asked how to discover the signs around us, Vincent de Paul would very likely advise paying close attention to our own life experiences.[1] Reflecting upon our thoughts and feelings, our successes and failures, our values and desires, our relationships and behaviors—honestly, humbly, patiently, compassionately— allows us to learn and grow. It is a practice Vincent and his colleagues devoted their lives to, and it contributed to many of the decisions they made in establishing what we now know as the Vincentian Family.

So many of us are eager to encounter and cooperate with the signs that we believe exist in and around us, to connect with that which is bigger than ourselves. Cultivating a practice that helps us attend to the signs in our lives is time well spent. We may never come upon a burning bush. But undoubtedly, we will discern the wisdom, truth, and hope that are there for us and that we are meant to uncover.

Invitation for Reflection:

How do you look for signs around you? How do you discern them? When have you discovered and been led by them in the past?

What might be signs in your life right now? What are they calling you to or pointing you toward? Are you excited by them? Do they evoke other feelings (uncertainty? fear?) in you?

Consider how you can cultivate a practice of reflection and discernment. What questions do you have? What might be helpful for you to make this a successful practice?

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

[1] See for example, Letter 1138, “To Étienne Blatiron, Superior, in Genoa,” September 17, 1649, CCD, 3:480; and Letter 460, “To Pierre Escart, in Annecy,” July 25, 1640, CCD, 2:84.


Moving Beyond Temptation

Christians throughout the world are entering the first full week of the season of Lent, which stretches this year from last week’s Ash Wednesday through to Easter Sunday (April 17th). These approximately forty days (about six weeks) invite Christians to a time of profound reflection and honest life assessment, as well as to return to a deep trust in and fundamental dependence on God’s provision and care, especially where they may have gone astray. The readings in the first week of Lent draw from the scriptural stories of Jesus’s forty days of temptation in the desert, as well as to the Hebrew people’s forty years of wandering in the desert before reaching the promised land. The number forty in Hebrew and Christian scriptures is shorthand for “a very, very long time.”

The season of Lent corresponds this year to an apparent relief from our very long journey through the COVID pandemic, as infection numbers and deaths continue to drop and hope rises for a return to seeing each other’s faces and smiles more regularly. Like the scriptural stories, after this very long and challenging period of time, we hunger to feel wholeness again individually and collectively. Yet just when we begin to feel some hope about that, we must confront the daily realities of war and death in Ukraine. The brutal violence and abuse of power manifest there is deeply troubling.

The challenges that life brings us can feel relentless. Sometimes, the world’s harsh realities can overwhelm us and tempt us to forget the truth of who we are and what we stand for. Into the midst of these challenges, the season of Lent enters, inviting all to remember what is most essential and who we are called to be.

In times when we are troubled or driven by our deepest longings—for love, for peace, for attention, for recognition, for pleasure, for self-expression—we can also be most vulnerable to the tendency to satiate our hungers with a quick and easy fix. Our desperate desire to be rid of our hunger pangs for moments of rest and peace can lead us to seek satisfaction in short-term or even harmful solutions. This tendency can occur with physical hunger, but it is also true with emotional, psychological, and social hungers. Over time, we can easily fall into habits that orient our minds and actions toward easy solutions, rather than toward that which is good.

Jesus’s forty days in the desert serves as a scriptural entry point into the Lenten season. Presented with the opportunities for comfort, power, and an easy fix to his troubles, Jesus withstands temptation because he is rooted in his fundamental identity as the beloved child of God who is filled with the Holy Spirit and called to be the Prince of Peace and the embodiment of love. Regardless of one’s religious, spiritual, or philosophical background, this Christian narrative and the season of Lent offers an invitation to all of us to reflect on our own life temptations and fundamental sense of identity.

Over these next forty days, how might you make the time and space to reconnect to the deep roots of who you are and what you seek to stand for in your life? As you do so, how might you identify and move away from any habits of mind and living that have taken you off course?

Vincent de Paul’s advice to his followers included the encouragement to be faithful to the practice of daily mental prayer, spiritual reading, or quiet solitude.[1] Vincent understood that without such time and space, we are more prone to seeking easy solutions to the challenges that face us rather than following the lead of Providence.

If making such time and space regularly seems impossible right now, perhaps begin with just thirty seconds of deep, restorative breathing, maybe even multiple times a day, and build from there. In doing so, we can grow more attuned to our emotions and anxious thoughts or reactions that can become patterns or unhealthy habits in our lives. And we learn the patience to sit momentarily still before our anxieties and impulsive desires, thereby becoming more intentional and authentic in our response.

As you remember most deeply who you are, what do you feel called to stand for in your life? What values do you seek to embody as you face life’s challenges and temptations?

What are the times, places or situations when you are most prone to pursue mental or life habits that draw you away from what you know to be best for you and for others?

What would help you in this season to be rooted again in what is most authentic to who you are?

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Mission and Ministry

[1] See for example: Conference 25, “Love of God,” n.d., CCD, 11:33; and Conference 67, “Meditation,” n.d., CCD, 11:76.




My Broken Christ


The following reflection was shared in advance of the Lenten season to members of the Vincentian Family by Rev. Tomaž Mavrič, CM, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission in Rome, Italy on February 10, 2021.

Dear members of the Vincentian Family,

May the grace and peace of Jesus be always with us!

After the dramatic events of last year as the suffering caused by wars, natural disasters, and famine was compounded by the pandemic of COVID-19, our faith calls us to live this new year 2021 in hope, even in situations that are, humanly speaking, hopeless.

With the opening of the Lenten Season, we continue our reflection on the foundations that made Saint Vincent de Paul a “Mystic of Charity” and more specifically on his relationship, and ours, with the disfigured Christ, which we began to explore with the icon of the “Savior of Zvenigorod.”

As I wrote in last year’s Advent letter, the person of Jesus is at the heart of Vincent de Paul’s identity as a Mystic of Charity and of the Vincentian charism and spirituality. Jesus is the reason for our lives and the person whose way of thinking, feeling, talking, and acting becomes our life goal. Vincent knew the importance of a close relationship with Jesus for personal conversion and effective ministry: “Neither philosophy, nor theology, nor discourses can act in souls; Jesus Christ must be involved in this with us – or we with Him – so that we may act in Him and He in us, that we may speak as He did and in His Spirit, as He himself was in His Father, and preached the doctrine He had taught Him.[1]

If the Icon of the “Savior of Zvenigorod” invites us to contemplate the face of Jesus, this Lenten reflection invites us to a dialogue with the disfigured Jesus. Around 30 years ago, I came across a book written by a Spanish Jesuit, Ramón Cué, called, My Broken Christ. The cover of the book pictured a broken crucifix. Christ was missing a leg, His right arm, and the fingers of His left hand; He had no face, and not even a cross. That image caught my attention, and its story made me desire such a figure for myself.

My Broken Christ is about a priest who loved artwork. One day, while visiting an antique shop, he saw a sculpture, among many beautiful sculptures, pictures, and other pieces of art, that right away attracted his attention. It was this broken crucifix. The work of a well-known artist, it still had its market value despite the damage.

 It so intrigued the priest that he decided to buy it and have it restored to its original beauty. The restorer whom he approached realized that it would take much work to repair the image and thus asked for a large amount of money. The priest could not pay such a high price, so he decided to take home the broken Christ as it was.

Looking at the broken Christ back home in his room, the priest started to feel uneasy, to the point of becoming angry. In a loud voice, he asked, “Who could do such a thing to You? Who could take You so brutally from the cross? Who could disfigure Your face so terribly?”

All of a sudden, a sharp disembodied voice said, “Be quiet! You are asking too many questions.”

The penetrating voice coupled with the mutilated body hardly brought the priest peace. Still in a state of shock after hearing Christ speak, the priest wanted to make Christ feel well and said with trembling voice, “Lord, I have an idea that You will like. I will find a way to have You restored. I do not want to see You so mutilated. You will see how good You will look. You know You are worth everything. You will get a new leg, a new arm, new fingers, a new cross, and, above all, You will get a new face.”

Again, a voice was heard and Christ said forcefully, “You disappoint me. You speak too much. I forbid you to restore me!”

Surprised by the broken Christ’s energy and determination, the priest countered, “Lord, You do not understand. It will be a continuous pain for me to see You broken and mutilated. Do You not understand how You grieve me?”

The Lord answered, “That is exactly what I want to achieve. Do not restore me. When you see me this way, let us see if you will remember my brothers and sisters who suffer and if you will grieve. Let us see if the sight of me so broken and mutilated can be the symbol of the pain of others, the symbol that will cry out the pain of my second Passion in my brothers and sisters. Leave me broken! Kiss me broken!”

 The priest said, “I have a Christ without a cross. Some people may have a cross without Christ. He cannot rest without a cross, and a personal cross can only be tolerated with Christ. We started looking for a wooden cross for the broken Christ, where He can rest. We found instead our cross. Put them together, and the broken Christ will be complete. The broken Christ reposes on our cross, and we will carry the cross together.”

Still uneasy, the priest continued his intense dialogue with Christ, saying, “I would like to restore Your missing hand.” The Lord responded, “I do not want a wooden arm. I want a real hand of flesh and bone. I want you to become the hand that I am missing. You!”

 “Lord,” exclaimed the priest, “You have just one leg. You cannot even walk alone. You need help.” Christ responded, “I need to work as I did in Nazareth.” The priest said, “If You want, I am ready to accompany You to find work. However, I warn You that, in Your current state, unless You present Yourself as Christ Himself, You will never find work.”

Christ prohibited the priest from presenting Him as Christ. Together they visited many stores and businesses, but nobody offered Christ a job. Christ exclaimed with a heavy voice, “How can one say one loves Christ and with the same heart despise people looking for an honest job? I am they and they are I.”

The priest lamented, “How hard it is for me to love Christ without a face.” He spent many hours trying to find an adequate, beautiful face for his broken Christ, to ease his inner restlessness, but Christ once more said with a strong voice, “I want to remain like this, broken, without a face. Why would you like to restore me, for you or for others? Does seeing me in this deteriorated state make you feel uneasy?” Christ said more gently, “Please, accept me as I am. Accept me broken, accept me without a face.”

Christ continued, “Do you have a picture of someone you do not like, your enemy? Put the face of that person on my face, put the faces of all the most abandoned, rejected, poorest people over my face. Do you understand? I gave my life for all of them. In my face, there were all their faces. Do you understand?”

After long conversations with Christ, in the end, the priest understood Christ’s message and, in a soft voice full of longing, said, “Christ, I would like to accept Your invitation, but please, help me! Help me!”

After several years longing to find my image of a broken Christ, the day finally arrived. Approaching a building, all of a sudden, I looked to my right, and there it was: a broken Christ. I do not have any idea how the sculpture got there. I often passed in front of that building, but I never before saw any other old or broken item placed there for someone to take.

I remember my excitement and impatience, wondering if I would be allowed to have the figure. After I asked and received permission, I quickly left and took the broken Christ home. Once in my room with “my broken Christ,” I started crying. From that day on, it has never left me.

Why did I want to have a broken Christ? As the priest in the story, I would naturally prefer a beautiful, complete Christ on a nice cross that could be hung for veneration. From where, then, did this wish to find a broken Christ come? Certainly not from me. The only answer that I can find is: it came from Christ.

The broken Christ becomes a clear sign before our eyes that keeps disturbing our peace and calling us to conversion. He invites us to a continuous dialogue with Him in the here and now of the world and of our everyday relationships. This broken Christ helps us to bring ourselves to Him with our human reality, as well as with the reality of every human being.

Christ is always prepared to listen as well as suggest. He keeps challenging us, but gently and with a never-ending mercy, to answer questions like: Why do you think people disfigured me so badly? Does a broken Christ make you uncomfortable? Do broken people make you uncomfortable? What might cause people to change their attitude toward those considered disfigured? Where do you see yourself in relation to this reality?

Saint Vincent’s ongoing dialogue with Jesus led to his answers and his advice:

How beautiful it is to see poor people if we consider them in God and with the esteem in which Jesus Christ held them! If, however, we look on them according to the sentiments of the flesh and a worldly spirit, they will seem contemptible.”[2]

“ … Jesus Christ died for us, isn’t that enough to esteem a person? Jesus showed so much respect for us that He willed to die for us. By so doing, it would seem that He valued us more highly than His own Precious Blood, which He shed to redeem us, as if He were saying that He doesn’t value His Blood as highly as all the predestined…”[3]

My own broken Christ, whether before my eyes or in my thoughts, invites me to a real dialogue. May this Lenten Season help us to deepen or simply start a conversation with the broken Christ, which certainly will not leave us indifferent.

Your brother in Saint Vincent,
Tomaž Mavrič, CM
Superior General

[1] 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; volume XI, page 311; conference 153, “Advice to Antoine Durand.” Future references to this work will be indicated using the initials CCD, followed by the volume number, then the page number, for example, CCD XI, 311.

[2] CCD XI, 26; conference 19, “The Spirit of Faith.”

[3] CCD X, 394; conference 96, “Cordiality, respect and exclusive friendships.”