26 OT September 28, 2014 – A Change of Mind
Yesterday many members of our faith community participated in the second annual initiative “St. Vincent’s on a Mission.” We visited several places in the Capital District to make a small but valuable difference for plenty of other people.
I surmise that those of us who went on the mission also benefitted from our experience. I did. It changed my mind. In the brief time I joined other parishioners at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore I kept thinking of all those people who can only afford to buy second hand furnishings and appliances if at all. I wondered what more could I do to help them.
This parish is active in social justice issues. St. Vincent’s on Mission is designed in part to emphasize the connection we have with the life of our patron St. Vincent de Paul. He was raised on a farm in southwest France by peasant parents. He dreamt only of getting a secure job that would provide a good income for his family and him.
Educated in Toulouse, he became a priest, received an inheritance, was robbed and thrown into slavery. After his release he served the wealthy Countess de Gondi who endowed missionaries to work with tenant farmers. She wanted Vincent to lead the effort. He first said no. Then something happened to him.
Legend tells us, after hearing a confession of a dying peasant, a household servant, Vincent had a metanoia. It was a deep spiritual experience that prompted him to change his mind. Along with a wealthy widow, Louise de Marillac, he organized charities throughout 17th c. France to provide health and social services for others.
What experiences do we have from time to time that can change our minds? Today’s biblical texts address this question. Ezekiel was a prophet who insisted that individuals accept responsibility for their actions. For him corporate responsibility for problems affecting others grows out of a spirit of personal responsibility.
The second reading for today, Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is an ethical exhortation. Do nothing out of selfishness, he wrote. Do not look after your self interests only but also those of others.  This is clearly our Christian agenda.
Last week Betsy Rowe-Manning  reminded us that we are a sacramental church; that we mirror the mission and message of Jesus of Nazareth. Everything we do can make a difference not only in our lives but the lives of others. As Christians we join other faith traditions and cultural groups in doing so. Here are a couple of examples.
Last Sunday Sisters Marion Honors and Honora Kinny [Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet] participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City. Sister Marion told me she found that being part of a crowd of 400,000 “accessible hearts” was deeply inspiring. She said she was moved by the collective concerns about how “to draw the earth back from the profound losses and suffering caused by climate change.”
Closer to home Sister Cathy Encarnacion from our sister parish in Darien will be speaking later today about ecology, creation spirituality and the ongoing destruction of the fresh water wetlands in Darien. That crisis is caused by the illegal drainage of those wetlands by the Panamanian government to benefit the rice plantation of a major Colombian company.
I did not walk in the climate march in New York City last Sunday but I did attend the closing ritual in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Religious leaders from many cultural and faith traditions spoke. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, said that our list of most other social justice issues is disrupted, altered, by climate change.
Any efforts to care for human beings with food, water and shelter, for example, will not matter if we do not care for the earth. Wallis said, peacemakers do not merely respond to consequences caused by difficulties. They try to fix what causes those problems.
The gospel story puts more pressure on you and me. One son said “Yah, I will go to work” but then did not. The other son said I will not go to work but then changed his mind. You and I are left to decide which son did the right thing. St. Vincent’s on a Mission does not have to be a once a year effort to spread our wings in the larger community.
1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006, 166-68
2 Betsy Rowe-Manning is the Parish Life Director the Church of St. Vincent de Paul