Westminster Cathedral - image ICN
As we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the deaths of St Vincent and St Louise in this beautiful Cathedral, we draw upon the rich heritage of their lives.
St Louise de Marillac was a mother, a widow, a foundress and a mystic but sadness and disappointment were her life companions. She lost her father at 13 years, she was marginalised by the family and denied the opportunity to explore a vocation to religious life. She then experienced the death of her husband, followed by the struggle of raising her son single-handed.
Yet, she retained a deep desire to serve the poor in a new form of religious life. This dream of Louise' was slowly unwrapped to become a reality, confirmed by her spiritual experience of Pentecost 1623 with the light of the Spirit renewing her desire for religious life.
Vincent de Paul - son of a peasant farmer, teacher, priest, spiritual guide in search of fulfilment in his life. In his early years this fulfilment was career centred but in the second part of his life his fulfilment and freedom was seeing the presence of the Son of God in each poor person.
He discovered in his own emptiness the capacity to embrace the Mercy of God. His journey to the poor was his journey to freedom. This new-found freedom opened Vincent to the Mystery of God in each person and in each event. In an era where a heavenly spirituality was prominent, Vincent believed in an incarnational spirituality, seeing the hand of the Son of God in people and in events.
The friendship between Vincent and Louise began with Vincent as her Spiritual Director. Their friendship was one of mutual discovery. Vincent saw a transformation from her years of sadness, as she became a sensitive, compassionate and focused woman, developing a love for those in need. Louise saw in Vincent a simple man, a holy priest with a deep love for the poor.
Through the mystery of charity they became partners in mission that saw their spirituality and mission in action through Confraternities of Charity, the Daughters of Charity and the Vincentians - the Congregation of the Mission. Both were mystics of the presence of Christ in the poor, they were people aware of their own need of salvation and their own need of the love of God the Father sending his Son to the least of all. Vincent and Louise believed that God led them to the poor and the poor led them back to God.
Their lives become that temple of God's love: "God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in them." 1 John
Today we speak of a Vincentian Family consisting of more than 260 groups, institutes and movements sharing in the spirit and mission of St Vincent and St Louise:
87% are societies of apostolic life
9% are lay organisations
3% Anglican Congregations
The Vincentian Millennium Partnership is the parent group of all groups sharing in the charism of Vincent and Louise in the UK.
Today the members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul re-dedicate themselves in their service of the poor. Your own Founder, Bl Frederic Ozanam brought a society of teaching and social service to a Church that focused on intellectual debate. Frederic chose St Vincent, the Apostle of Charity, as the Patron of the Society. You are the living presence of this charism as we celebrate the jubilee of the deaths of St Vincent and St Louise. You are the Church in service in the city and in the village, you walk those streets in sunshine and in rain, for many you are the weekly visitor to listen, to support and, through your collective experiences, you are the advocate of the poor to the statutory agencies, you are the Good Samaritans of the Gospel in your quiet and humble way.
As we embrace the great heritage of the past 350 years we are also entrusted with the responsibility to nurture it and bring its vision and spirit into a new era and into a changing society.
What guidelines are Vincent and Louise offering us:
All ministry is a sharing in the Ministry of Jesus in the Gospels - Reflecting on the poor Christ/the poor person
Be positive, start from the present moment, systemic change comes from small beginnings
Focus upon the individual, not on systems - person to person, heart to heart
Develop networks, the power of shared vision and collaboration
Develop awareness of emerging poverties and be creative in your response Be open to the Mystery of God's love like Vincent and Louise
Seek the intercession of Vincent and Louise at this time of Jubilee:
St Vincent de Paul - pray for us
St Louise de Marillac - pray for us
Bl Frederic Ozanam - pray for us
And, as we join in the joy of all Catholics in the UK, we seek the intercession of our newly beatified:
Bl John Henry Newman - pray for us