Memorial of Saint Vincent DePaul
Follow the Ways of Your Heart
At the end of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians the author encourages the community with these words: "…Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good." Those thoughts might astonish us, but they are similar to the opening of today’s first reading, "Rejoice, O young man, while you are young and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart."
I don’t know about you, and those who coached you through your formative years, but my novice master never once instructed us to "test everything, keep what’s good," or "follow the ways of your heart!" Yet, Sacred Scripture is replete with these pithy statements, stirring God’s people into trusting the profundity of their own human experience.
Whether you are a parent, or a pastor, a principal or president, those in leadership roles soon realize that to love someone means to empower them. We would like to shield others from failure and suffering, but sooner or later those in our custody will have to "follow the ways of their hearts."
Jesus offers a series of metaphors for the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s later chapters, and my favorite is the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Mt 25:1-13). It, too, includes the admonition to trust your experience. If you recall, five of the bridesmaids were wise and five foolish. Because the foolish ones failed to bring any extra oil for their lamps, when the groom was late, their lamps had gone out. Initially we might think that the five "wise" virgins should not have been so stingy! But this isn’t a lesson on generosity, it’s a narrative about wisdom, and that wisdom only comes from the precious oil of human experience. We come to understand that there are some things we cannot borrow, we must get our own. We cannot live vicariously, because the Gospel is not about virtual reality! To mature in our faith we must know the experience of failure in a job, or betrayal in a love-relationship. That is why Jesus tells his disciples in today’s Gospel that he must be handed over. Other people cannot insulate us from that pain. Like today’s saint, Vincent De Paul, who was renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and known as the "Great Apostle of Charity", we, too, must follow the ways of our hearts.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.