By Mary Frances Jaster, MISEVI – U.S.A
What do the Vincentian charism and Vatican II have in common? Empowering the laity to share in the mission of Christ. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, states that it is our responsibility as baptized persons to exercise the baptismal call as priest, prophet and children of the kingdom of God. We are each commissioned to respond to the mission of the Gospel by virtue of our baptism. In that same spirit, the Vincentian charism similarly states this mission. Thomas McKenna, in his book praying with Vincent DePaul, says, “God is encountered in the very act of sharing the Gospel. While evangelizing, God sends the energy and power of grace. In giving, the evangelizer is evangelized.” (p. 54) MISEVI is a direct result of this connection to mission.
As a branch of the Vincentian Family, MISEVI (MIsioneros SEglares VIcencianos – Lay Vincentian Missionaries) was birthed in Spain and is now active in eleven countries, with several other countries in the process of creating statutes for active participation.
The Vatican II Documents call us to holiness and to mission. As lay Vincentians, MISEVI is responding to that call. “The laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and equipped to produce in themselves ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit…Thus, as worshippers whose every deed is holy, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” (Chapter IV #34, The Documents of Vatican II) It is heartwarming to witness these holy deeds performed by lay missionaries all over the world. Such is the work of missionaries Virginia, Cristina and Guillermina, who, as MISEVI participants from Spain, develop initiatives in Angola that allow the improvement of the quality of life of the people and local communities involved. (https://www.MISEVI.es/mision-angola/) There are hundreds of other MISEVI members on 4 continents also consecrating the world itself to God. The Vatican II Documents go on to say, “Therefore, let the laity strive skillfully to acquire a more profound grasp of revealed truth and insistently beg of God the gift of wisdom.” (Chapter IV #35) Vincent and Louise both encouraged the participation of lay people in the life of the church and supported them through organizing groups to which they could belong. They were, it seems to me, ahead of their time in recognizing that all are called to respond to the Gospel; all, religious and lay alike, are called to holiness. MISEVI strives to support this search for wisdom through a formation process that prepares individuals to understand the virtues of the Vincentian way: humility, zeal, simplicity, mortification, and meekness.
This Vincentian way is the mission of Jesus Christ, and for centuries, much of the work of the Church’s mission was relegated to religious communities and to clerics. But Vatican II (and Vincent and Louise) reminds us that by the nature of our baptism, we are all called to that same mission. “In the various types and duties of life, one and the same holiness is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father, worshiping God the Father in spirit and in truth. These souls follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ, in order to be made worthy of being partakers in His glory.” (Chapter V, #41) As lay missionaries encounter Christ in the one who is poor, they experience a transformation that is vital to the mission. As lay missionaries encounter those who are marginalized, they learn how to take that experience and to encounter others with new eyes. Lynne shared this reflection after completing a year with Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, part of MISEVI– USA.
Thank you for inspiring me and helping me discover so much about the poor and all the things they have to teach us. Among the things I learned from our border pilgrimage (annual pilgrimage to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico) and our weekly reflections is that we are asked to open ourselves to these genuine encounters with others, no matter how wounded, dirty, or different they may seem. I hope to approach the marginalized people in this world with dignity and humility, free of the mindset that I’m the one who is needed and “helping.” For when I crossed the road this past February with CVV, with no intention except to listen, to learn and to be present, I had the most real encounters possible. It is worth the discomfort and fear that comes from stepping through boundaries, perceptions, and divisions we have constructed in our minds and in our society, for through these authentic encounters, I believe true grace and transformation can be shared.
Vatican II and the Vincentian charism challenge us as lay people to live the mission of the Gospel. The Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation of the Mission list characteristics that directly relate to this transformative experience: “readiness to go to any part of the world, and striving to live in a state of continuous conversion both on the part of each individual member and on the part of the whole Congregation.” (p. 32-33) MISEVI creates a network of collaboration that supports that life as persons of mission, some of whom go to any part of the world and some who share the Gospel in their home countries. MISEVI also hopes to continue to grow, expanding to new countries, grounding the work that already is being done by lay Vincentians, offering support and challenge to lay missionaries who share the Vincentian charism.
“For the Lord wishes to spread His kingdom by means of the laity also, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” (Chapter IV #36)