Ordinary Time 14, Year C-2010
- The Lord had done great things for us; Oh how happy we were (Ps. 126:3)
In today’s collect prayer, one of two things we ask the Father to do is to “bring us the joy that lasts forever.”
And this joy that lies before us requires, as Heb. 12:13 teaches, that we do as did Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith on whom our eyes should be fixed. “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.”
Clearly, joy, happiness, is inextricably linked with the cross, with suffering, with poverty. This is clear not just in the above-cited passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but also in Jesus’ own teaching that happy are the poor, the hungry and thirsty, those who mourn, those who are hated, excluded, insulted, denounced, persecuted, all on account of the Son of Man and for the sake of righteousness (Mt. 5:3 -12; Lk. 6:20-23). We read, too, in 1 Pt. 4:13: “But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” And it was an instruction that was embodied, since the apostles did rejoice after being imprisoned, tried before the Sanhedrin and subsequently flogged; “they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts. 5:41).
St. Vincent de Paul kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, of course, as evidenced by his holy life and works. Undoubtedly, therefore, he got the Christian message regarding the necessary link between joy and the cross. His teaching too attests to his grasp and embrace of the cross as the guarantee of joy (cf. Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “The Cross in Vincentian Spirituality,” He Hears the Cry of the Poor [Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 1995] 30-41). In a letter to St. Louise de Marillac, St. Vincent tells her (as cited in ibid., 38): “Well, you are a daughter of the cross. Oh! what a happiness!” Seeing the cross as part of God’s providence, St. Vincent made sure to include in the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, II, 13: “If divine providence ever allows a house or a member of the Congregation of the Mission, or the Congregation itself, to be subjected to, or tested by, slander or persecution … we should ever praise and bless God, and joyfully thank him for it as opportunity for great good, coming down from the Father of lights” (as cited in ibid., 39). St. Vincent’s joy in the cross and his trust in divine providence left him convinced there were no insurmountable barriers. As can be gathered from, “Oh Hope of Israel,” the traditional prayer for vocations in the Congregation of the Mission, St. Vincent surely prayed to the master of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest; but he did not see quantity as an issue. He was confident that the hard work of the few would make up for the lack of numbers and that the Lord’s work would be done not so much by a large number of workers but rather by the faithfulness of the small number of hard workers called by the Lord (cf. ; P. Coste, XI, 40). St. Vincent was well aware of the apostle Paul’s “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). He was poor as was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, proclaiming God’s tremendous deeds, God’s favor to those sowing in tears (Ps. 126:5), rejoicing in poverty, glorying in the cross of the Lord, rejoicing not so much in possessing some form or other of power but rather in being marked down for heaven for bearing the marks of Jesus.
Sadly, what St. Vincent and the other saints grasped and embraced is a reason for shock and scandal for not a few (1 Cor. 1:18-25). I wonder if I am on side of those who are ready to stay, confessing: “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:22-71). Could it be I am one of those who find hard and unacceptable Jesus’ saying and murmur and quarrel accordingly, complaining, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”