With faithfulness and justice.

September 27, 1999 -- feast of St. Vincent de Paul

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Readings: Zechariah 8, 1-8 + Luke 9, 46-50

The apostles were arguing: "Who would be the greatest in the kingdom?" To answer them, Jesus showed them a child. In the late 20th century, this seems entirely fitting, or at least, pious. But let's hop into the old Wayback Machine and head back to the 1st century AD, where we find that a child was a person without any rights or status. Jesus emphasizes his point: the one who is least among you is the greatest.

Luke thought that was important enough to record in his Gospel. It was before winning through intimidation and power lunches became the norm.

Zechariah is speaking to a defeated and conquered people, recently returned to Jerusalem. God promises to reunite all the people of Israel, and He will be their God -- "with faithfulness and justice."

Contrast this messianic promise with the reality of human political leadership. Where is the faithfulness? Where is the justice? It's hard to see, hidden and confused by focus groups and political action committees, bribes paid for favors received, punished enemies, rewarded friends. You can get as much justice these days as you can afford to pay for.

Today is also the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, who together with St. Louise Marillac founded the Vincentian family of religious orders and lay apostolates, which today unite millions of people in four great institutions: the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, International Association of Charity, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. After graduating from seminary, St. Vincent de Paul followed a standard upscale career path for his era, becoming a chaplain and favored priest of the wealthy aristocracy in 17th century France. But in the middle of his life, he was called to hear the deathbed confession of a peasant on an estate. The man thanked him, telling him that if the priest had not come, he might have died in a state of mortal sin.

St. Vincent was greatly affected by this experience, and his conversion to service of the poor was total. He had a thousand irons in the fire at any one time, and did not hesitate to knock on the doors of the rich and powerful he had come to know in order to beg money for his apostolates. He brought them to not only give money, but also to give of their time and talents in service to the poor.

Today's readings are a blessing on the feast of this great saint. St. Vincent de Paul modeled the faithfulness and justice of God in his service to the poor and disenfranchised of his era. He became great by living the "preferential option for the poor," long before it was formally articulated as a theological doctrine. May his charism be for us an inspiration and a source of evangelism and catechesis.

Thoughts on orthopraxis:

Is our preference for the rich or the poor? Do we help the rich oppress the poor, or do we deliver the poor from the hand of the oppressor? Are we afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable -- or comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? If we hear the cry of the poor, will we leave the rich to be with the poor?

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