“Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness. And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” There are many people who are in need of a shepherd to look after them, to nurture them and to strengthen them. Many are lost in the world, seeking meaning and purpose in life, or are wounded by the trials of life, especially in relationships. The young are especially vulnerable because they are overwhelmed by so many different opinions on the internet and social media, so much so they cannot tell right from wrong. The elderly are abandoned at home, many suffering illnesses associated with old age. Of course, there are many who are financially and materially poor and are finding difficulty in meeting their basic needs in life.
For this reason, the Lord said to His disciples, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.” All of us in our own ways are called to be labourers in the vineyard of the Lord. This vineyard could be in our home, in the office, in church or in society. Wherever we are, there is the responsibility to cure “all kinds of diseases and sickness.” This was what St Vincent De Paul wrote, “So our vocation is to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but all over the world; and do what? To set people’s hearts on fire, to do what the Son of God did. He came to set the world on fire in order to inflame it with His Love.”
To do what Christ did, we must focus on lives centered first and foremost in the Lord. Before we can serve the poor in Christ, like St Vincent De Paul, we must put God and Christ as the first place in our lives. Without being filled with the love for Christ, our service would be compromised by our unconscious desire for recognition, power and glory. Truly, there are many who say, “We do everything for the greater glory of God!” But they would fight for position, squabble over non-essential matters, divide the community, form cliques and pressure groups to bolster their position. So although all claim to serve God, yet if they look deep within themselves, their service is tainted with pride and egotism. At times, they even make use of the Church and religion to not just promote themselves but their own selfish interests.
That is why when we celebrate the feast of St Vincent De Paul, we are called to imitate him by having the right focus in our service. We are called to follow him by being an evangelizer to the poor in all forms, to be missionaries of Christ’s love through a life of simplicity, humility, kindness and charity. St Vincent De Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to form a society based on solidarity and charity. He was able to involve everyone, the rich and the poor, the ordinary and the influential of society to come together to serve one common mission of witnessing to Christ’s love by being at the service of the poor and the needy. He founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity to serve the poor. Yet, we must not think that the strength of his work of charity came from his ingenuity and ambition.
On the contrary, the strength of his calling to serve the poor came from his devotion to the Lord. St Vincent was captivated by the humanity of Jesus. He was greatly inspired by the Lord telling His people that He was anointed to bring the Father’s love to the poor and to set them free. He saw Jesus’ compassion for the sick and the needy as portrayed in today’s gospel. Such an image of Jesus excited St Vincent to give himself to Jesus and to helping the poor. He associated himself with the gospel scenes in which Jesus related with the sick and healed them. Thus, he recommended that in prayer we must come with Jesus before God so that we can imitate Jesus and have a free exchange with the all loving God in His Father in the Holy Spirit. Only then, could one discern the will of God and do His will.
It was because of his sensitivity to the sentiments of our Lord that he was a great man of discernment. He was able to detect the loving presence of God when encountering the needy. He imagined that at the final judgement, the poor would gather around the throne with the Lord Jesus, testifying to those who were their friends. In serving them, he himself was brought to the presence of the Lord. He saw Christ in the poor and the suffering. He knew that in the kingdom of God, the poor bore the closest semblance to Christ and therefore we must serve them with affection and intelligence.
St Paul reminds us that we should not simply rely on our intelligence, our ingenuity, our influence and human wisdom to do the work of God. On the contrary, “it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.” Otherwise, we become proud, arrogant and self-sufficient. When we do not feel indebted to God and count ourselves as beggars who have been graced with God’s love and mercy, we will not be able to show our gratitude to God by extending what we have received to others. The temptation for the rich and the powerful is that they are giving away money to the poor and needy out of condescension or guilt rather than out of sincere gratitude to God for blessing them with resources. That is why St Paul makes it clear, that “the human race has nothing to boast about to God. As scripture says: If anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.”
Indeed, our work of evangelization requires that we become true disciples of the Lord. Pope Francis reminds us constantly that we are missionary disciples. St Paul said, “but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.” To be focused on Christ is to become like Christ in wisdom, in virtue, in holiness and freedom.
A true disciple of Christ must come to realize that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the Wisdom of God in person. It is in listening to Him, observing Him and following Him that we can walk the way of truth and love. Jesus is the key to fullness of life. Unless we contemplate on His life, His words and His passion and resurrection each day, we cannot feel with Him in His love for His Father and for His people.
For Christians, Christ must also be their virtue and their righteousness. In Christ, we see how to live a righteous life, that is a life of integrity, right relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. It is to remember that it is God who makes us righteous. We cannot do any good on our own strength because we are sinners. But with Christ and His grace, we can do good only because of His power at work in and through us. If our lives are lived in Him, then we can be like the psalmist who says, “He has no fear of evil news; with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord. With a steadfast heart he will not fear; he will see the downfall of his foes.”
Christ is not just the Wisdom and Righteousness of God, but He is also our Holiness. This is to say, in Christ Jesus, we know what devotion to God entails and what it means to consecrate our lives to Him. Jesus was a man who lived totally for God and that was why He could live totally for us. When we consecrate ourselves totally to God, like Jesus, which is what a life of holiness is all about, this holiness will be manifested in our love and devotion to the poor, enabling us to live a life of justice. As the psalmist says, “Riches and wealth are in his house; his justice stands firm for ever. His is a light in the darkness for the upright: he is generous, merciful and just. The good man takes pity and lends, he conducts his affairs with honour. The just man will never waver: he will be remembered for ever.”
Indeed, St Vincent had little tolerance with theories of discipleship. He was concerned with the effects and the practical considerations in helping the poor effectively. That was why he was insistent on the need to develop virtues that are necessary for evangelization to happen. We cannot communicate the gospel if we do not learn how to manage our anger, if we cannot forgive, if we lack integrity and honesty. Formation of virtues in Christ is necessary for the work of evangelization. Doing good alone is not sufficient unless we do it well. Hence, developing good virtues like discipline, perseverance, humility, empathy and detachment are necessary for the work of being a good disciple. For St Vincent, Christian discipleship is not just an intellectual formation but it must be manifested in real life and in practical service.
Today, if we choose to follow St Vincent De Paul, who followed the Lord, then we too will share in the joy of living a life of freedom. To be free for love, free for God and free for others requires that we be free from ourselves. This freedom is found primarily in our love for the Lord and from Him flows all our freedom because in Christ, we are set free from anxiety, fear and low self-esteem. With Christ as our security and freedom, we can, as St Paul tells us, also touch God when we serve the poor and the needy. Thus, celebrating the feast of St Vincent De Paul reminds us that we cannot be truly active in service if we do not balance our action with our prayer life. Only when we are focused on God first, can we joyfully, freely and prayerfully bring the Good News to all.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.