Is Our Vincentian History Repeating Itself?
“In 1818 Fr. Felix De Andreis, CM described the situation of Catholics in the US. There were a small number of Catholic Americans and English, but most of the population were “Protestants of a thousand different sects,” he wrote in a letter. There were also self-professed Nullifidians: people who claimed to have no religion at all. Yes, this dearth of faith struck Fr. De Andreis as deeply as the bitter winter (in which the Precious Blood froze in his chalice).” (History and Current Ministry of Hearts on Fire)
Nullifidians! My Latin background served me well. (Thank you Father “Pop” Brady who taught me Latin in the seminary 60 years ago.) But what really struck me immediately was the similarity with the rise of the “nones’’ in our culture today.
The rise of the “Nones”
According to a 2015 Pew Foundation Research Report, “Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.) And the increase only seems to have accelerated.
Of course, these trends raise a series of questions: When respondents say they don’t believe in God, what are they rejecting? Are they rejecting belief in any higher power or spiritual force in the universe? Or are they rejecting only a traditional Christian idea of God – perhaps recalling images of a bearded man in the sky? Conversely, when respondents say they do believe in God, what do they believe in – God as described in the Bible, or some other spiritual force or supreme being? (Pew Foundation 2018)
What is the Vincentian response today?
Walking in the Footsteps of St. Vincent Yesterday and Today
St. Vincent de Paul founded the Congregation of the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor, to help priests acquire the knowledge and virtues they needed to live up to their vocation, and to strive for their own perfection by persistently practicing the virtues Jesus taught.
These counsels guided the first American Vincentians in every facet of their lives. They traveled endlessly throughout the region hearing Confessions, preaching, visiting the sick, performing Baptisms, and offering Mass. Oftentimes, the families they visited were so poor they couldn’t offer lodging or food to the priests, so at the end of the day, exhausted by their work and travel, the Vincentians would beg for their meals. They did so humbly, without complaint, in imitation of Jesus. And, Fr. De Andreis wrote that all of “the sweat, the money, the fatigues, the study, the pains” would be worth it “were they but to save a single soul or prevent one sin.”
Today that mission is continued right here in the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission. We hope you will consider joining in that mission with your time, talent or treasure.