Shortly before I left on my big Bulgarian adventure, I read this book. The main reason was because I had always heard a great deal about St. Vincent de Paul and the orders he founded, but I really didn’t know about their purposes or rules.
I must confess here that reading the book was somewhat of a disappointment for me. When reading the rules of other great orders (Benedictine, Dominican, Franciscan, Discalced Carmelite), I always founded that the founders were very interested in giving precise details about the times when the friars, nuns, or laypeople should pray, wash dishes, etc.
The Vincentian rules, however, were nothing like this. Rather than telling his priests and the Daughters of Charity what they should do and how they should do it, St. Vincent de Paul left the rules rather open ended. I’m not saying that he does not issue commands and does not ask for certain very difficult things, but he does this to a lesser degree than some of the other founders that I’ve encountered like St. Francis or St. Ignatius Loyola. I guess, if you want to look at it from a modern perspective, St. Vincent de Paul was not a control freak at all.
Of course, there is something to be said about all of this. The Fathers of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity were founded for two very specific purposes. The former to preach missions among the poor and the persons found in the country, the latter were the first nurses and worked in the hospital, orphanages, and leper colonies that the Order founded. Considering their work, it is understandable that their founder would not go through great lengths in delineating their rules of life. It is also understandable that he would give his children a great deal of freedom.
In thinking about rules of life, I have found that different rules suit certain people. There was a time in my life when I was very stringent with myself. I followed the Benedictine horarium to the letter for a number of months. In the beginning, I was very gung ho about it. I wanted to do it because it felt like the right thing to do, but then I started working and my schedule changed to the point where keeping a Benedictine rule was something that was impractical.
Now, I don’t really keep any kind of rule at all. Due to my teaching schedule, I pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin at flexible hours. Matins doesn’t always begin at six o’clock and Vespers sometimes doesn’t come until eight or nine, but I’m okay with this because I’m fulfilling what I believe to be God’s will for me at this particular point in my life.
However, there is another point to my encounter with these books that has nothing to do with rules, but with another important point: mission.
In “The Blue Brothers,” Elwood and Jakes Blues are sent on a mission to save an orphanage. They say that they are on a mission from God (or Gad, if you are John Belushi). Like them, we are also on a mission from God.
The thing is, though, that most of us don’t know what our mission is. For most of our lives, we kind of grope around in the dark looking for that purpose. We try different avenues, we enter different places thinking that that’s what God wants us to do. If you read this blog carefully, you will see that I’ve walked in circles many times over the years trying to ascertain exactly what my mission was and what it still is.
This searching is part of the process. Finding out God’s will is not something that can be accomplished over the course of a week or a month. It’s not something that we find out in a day. It takes years and years of discernment and prayer as well as reading to find the direction in which we’re supposed to go. To God, who doesn’t see time in the same way as we do, one day is as a thousand years and He will let us know what our purpose is in his own time rather than in ours.
Many years ago, I thought that becoming a teacher was something that I never wanted to be. It’s a familial profession and I wanted to do something different with my life. Through a chain of events, however, I found that teaching was my vocation and my mission.
Today, when I work in my classrooms, I feel an overwhelming desire to transmit to my students what I have learned and read over the course of many years about literature. I see the thirst for knowledge in their eyes and their longing for something that will give their lives meaning. Many of them remind me of the children that St. John Baptist de La Salle worked with when he first began his Order: children from poor and broken families whose desire was to learn to read and write.
It is with this intention in mind that I have forced myself to work as hard as I can for my students. Reaching them is my current mission and I am humbled by how accepting they are of the many thankless hours that I put into my work for them. Yet I am also thankful to God that He brought me back to the country of my birth so that I could finally see that my heart truly belongs in the classroom.
As I have said before, all of us are on a mission from God. As Mother Angelica once put it so well, “We are all called to be great saints. Don’t miss the opportunity!”
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!
St. Louis de Marillac, pray for us!