If St. Vincent Pallotti was speaking to you this evening he might begin the talk like this:
As we gather tonight we thank you God for your presence among us.
Help all of us in the Pallottine family to be grateful for all the ways in which we are blessed by your presence. May we become more and more like your son Jesus who, by his words and actions, showed your unconditional love for all people. May we learn to be like him, trusting in God and reaching out to those around us.
May your Holy Spirit be the source of inspiration and wisdom as we journey together in faith.
Lord Jesus, You came among us as a teacher, to share with us the Good News of the Father’s infinite love. In sharing your compassion and wisdom you opened the eyes of the blind and unblocked the ears of the deaf. May we who are also privileged to be your followers and members of the UAC learn from your compassion and wisdom, so that we too may encourage every one we encounter in hearing and heeding the truth that will set them free. As members of the UAC may we be willing to learn from your example of gentle service. May we become sources of hope and enthusiasm in our Church and in our parishes. May our work always be guided by the inspiration of your Spirit.
There is much that can be said about the Union that St Vincent set up and much is written in his diaries and commented on by those who have studied the life of our founder, far better than me so I will not delve into that body of knowledge too much. Also I am talking to you as a lay member of the Union so I may be coming at it from a different perspective and may even be using language that is less churchy for want of a better word. In doing so I am encouraged by the simplicity and down to earth language used by Pope Francis.
St Vincent Pallotti is clear about the work we should be doing; First we are to try to rekindle faith wherever and when ever we can. Second we are to engage in charitable action that will make visible the reality of God in our world and be the face of Christ to all we encounter. Third we must acknowledge the power of prayer and be committed to the apostolate of prayer so that our mission will always remain the very mission of Christ himself. St Vincent may well have had the words of St.Teresa of Avila in mind when he wrote the statutes for the apostolate: It is always good to remind ourselves of this lovely prayer and to ponder the implications it has for us all.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
When I ask myself how do I carry out the work that St Vincent Pallotti so ardently desired the apostolate to engage in, I am compelled to look at my own attitude first and see is this what I want or is it what God wants. Allow me to borrow from the world of literature to help me explain my approach. Steinbeck’s novel ‘Cannery Row’ is set in Monteray, in California. The character in the novel casts a cold eye on the town and its inhabitants. He sees nothing but robbers, pimps and rogues of every description not to mention what he calls the womenfolk of the town. His conclusion a thunderbolt from heaven is needed to bring them to their senses.
But the author suggests that had he looked though a different lense he might have seen saints and angels in the making and holy men making their way into the Kingdom and he would be describing the same scene. The point being it is all in the act of seeing and our own attitude towards our fellow pilgrims. In trying to bring this concept of seeing from the world of literature into the world of theology permit me to paraphrase St. Augustine who advised his monks that if you go looking for what is good in the world and it’s people you may be rewarded by finding God, but if you search for the bad in everyone you will be punished by finding it. So my first point is that a possitive, prayerful, charitable but truthful approach is necessary in trying to meet the objectives of the Apostolate as set out by St. Vincent Pallotti. I hear an echo of St Vincent in What pope Francis said about our sinful world. He states ‘that sin properly assumed is the privileged place of personally finding Jesus Christ our Saviour, of rediscovering the deep meaning that he has for me. In short it is the possibility to live the wonder of having been saved’ It might be a good idea for us all to take a few minutes every day to ponder on the immensity of God’s mercy that is implicit in the pope’s message and on the sheer immensity of God’s love and mercy contained in the writings of St Vincent Pallotti.
My second point is that St. Vincent wanted an Apostolate formed in love rather than in duty and I think there is a clear message here for how we conduct our weekly/ monthly meetings. We need to come not just to fulfil the commitment we took at Knock but to help form the apostolate by our presence. St Vincent knew how much more can be achieved when priests lay and religious work together with a common objective.
Has St.Vincent given us an impossible mission? He knew it was not going to be easy when he wrote ‘the harder the ground the harder we must dig’. He sets two ideals before the members of the apostolate. First God wills all people to be saved and the only reason for our creation is to make our way through time until we reach his blissful eternity. Second God has willed that all people should be saved by other people. We have been entrusted by God with a mission which rightfully belongs to God himself. We are back to Teresa of Avila. For St Vincent the realisation that God gives us the riches of his only Son’s redemption should further our cooperation with God as though we were his associates. In short we are making the reality of God visible in our world when we co operate fully with the presence of he Risen Christ that is in each one of us.
The only way that I can get my head around this deep understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation, is to start my day with the following prayer. O Jesus through the most pure heart of Mary I offer you myself this day so that you can pour your love and charity, your compassion and mercy, into my heart. Help me to make visible. your love and charity, your compassion and mercy, to everyone I encounter this day. So my third point is that we have to create the space in ourselves to let God speak through us and the the best way to do this is through prayer.
All of us are called by God but it is important to recognise the different kinds of call. St. Vincent Pallotti saw the role of the priest as that of another Christ and to have the same thirst for souls as Christ had. He saw the role of the religious sisters and brothers as being able to increase vocations, convert sinners and spread the faith by living holy and prayerful lives. He saw that the laity through their vocation can reach people in their homes, through their relatives, in conversation with friends and companions in the market square or in the shop, in the bank or in their professions, in art, hotels, colleges and universities. In other words, we are to bloom where ever we are planted. In this way Christ was brought into the market place of the world. This is a true apostolate, our daily good example, actions, material help and especially our prayers can become powerful means of spreading the faith and saving one’s neighbour.
To conclude I have chosen two pieces of scripture and a Blessing, which I think can help us to prepare for our apostolate in the way Jesus would want us to. Jesus revealed who He was and how the Kingdom was near through His words, His actions and His table fellowship. The first piece of scripture is based on the sower, with which you all are very familiar. This parable is about God’s Word and if my words are to become God’s Word, I need to take on board the main images in this parable. The soil is our heart therefore I must look at what is in my heart. Are there weeds, rocks, thorns there preventing the seed from taking root. If so I will have to remove them in order to to give Christ the voice that St Teresa spoke of in her prayer.
The second parable is the story of Zacchaeus. In this parable I am placing myself in the crowd following Jesus. I must ask myself how would I have reacted when Jesus went and invited Zacchaeus to come down and join Him for dinner. Would I have been one of the mumerers questioning the wisdom of God. In this parable Jesus reveals the reality of God in Him by His words, actions and table fellowship. He invites a man despised by the crowd to come down and they will have dinner together. The fact that Zacchaeus responds, shows that no matter we have strayed, the seed planted by God in all of us at our creation Can be nurturted back to life. This is precisely what Jesus was showing us through this act of table fellowship. St Vincent was deeply aware of the importance of this approach to evangelisation and he put hospitality at the heart of Pallottine spirituality and our endeavours to rekindle faith and Christian Charity.
I have taken this blessing from Anna Burke’s book ‘where blessings flow’ and it is my new year wish to all our UAC groups here in Ireland and around the world.
I bless your search with the Light of Christ.
May it burn eternally in your life.
I bless your journey with the Sign of Christ.
May it protect you at every moment.
I bless your struggle with the Water of Christ.
May it wash away your sins.
I bless your footstep with the Oil of Christ.
May it strengthen your purpose.
I bless your days with the Holiness of Christ.
May it sanctify your decisions.
I bless your speaking with the Mind of Christ.
May it soften your responses.
I bless your hearing with the Heart of Christ.
May it open your understanding.
I bless your loving with the Blood of Christ.
May it deepen your promise.
I bless your working with the Hand of Christ.
May it ease your burden.
I bless your playing with the Laughter of Christ.
May it rest your spirit.
I bless your thinking with the Gentleness of Christ.
May it unlock your insight.
I bless your fearing with the Calmness of Christ.
May it heal your anxiety.
I bless your hoping with the Victory of Christ.
May it lead you to your destiny.
Pat Maguire is President of the UAC in Ireland