Fr. John Freund, CM

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Signing a Blank Check

I was asked to reflect on what it means to me to be a Vincentian priest. As I thought about it, I realized that at one level, it means that same thing to me today that it did some 65 years ago. Signing a blank check!

At the time, one of the most influential people in my life as a young teenager was Fr. Fred Gaulin, CM. He took the time to listen to a young teenager trying to make sense of the world. Somehow, he sensed that part of me was wondering about becoming priest like him. In one of our conversations, he shared his own insights into being a Vincentian priest. He was able to sum it up in just a few words. It was signing a blank check and handing it to God.

I write this on the feast of the Annunciation celebrating another young teenager. Her name was Mary. Some 2000 years ago she signed a blank check to her God. In the language of her day… ”Be it done unto me as you wish.”

So this year celebrating the feast of the Annunciation is so much richer. I realize I am doing what Mary, the “first disciple,” did.

While that has been a constant I also realize how much has changed.

So many times I thought I knew what being a Vincentian meant when:

  • In 1955 when I entered our college seminary
  • In 1959 when I made my first vows
  • In 1965 when I was ordained
  • In 1990 when I celebrated my 25th anniversary

Then in 1993 I had a severe automobile accident and I discovered even more. I reached a much deeper level of understanding my vows while lying in intensive care for 10 days. My family was told, “He’s in a big ocean. If he is a good swimmer, he will make it.”

Despite the fog of two weeks in intensive care, I remember desperately wanting to be transferred to another hospital where I would receive what I thought would be better care. I did not appreciate that I was at the time already in a Level I Trauma facility receiving the most advanced treatment that saved my life.

In a life-changing insight, I remember thinking that who was I to demand a better level of care. After all, the poor don’t get to choose. Looking back, I now think it was the second time I took vows as a Vincentian. It was more profound than when I read the words at the completion of my novitiate. It was God’s way of waking me up to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Vincentian.

Each of these events brought with it deeper realizations of what I means to me to be a Vincentian priest. I should also add the emphasis has shifted from being a priest to being a VINCENTIAN priest

Now, each year I appreciate more the words of an 81-year-old Benedictine monk, Bede Griffith. “I learned more in the last year than in my previous 80.” He kept waking up to more of reality he had committed himself to.

PS There are some others in the Vincentian Family who thought they knew the details of the blank check they were signing.

Vincent de Paul thought he knew what he wanted from life – security and the ability to care for his parents. Events of Chatillon and Follevile woke him up to the reality of spiritual abandonment and physical misery of those on the margins. But, the insights of Chatillon and Folleville took him a lifetime to unpack. In his later years, he spoke often of his constant amazement as he unpacked the connection with subsequent events.

Louise de Marillac had hoped to spend her life in a convent but was refused. Then she thought she might find what she was looking for in her marriage and her children. Finally, she woke up to the needs of the world around her and became the principle formator of the generous young peasant women who wanted to serve their less fortunate sisters and brothers.

Frederic Ozanam began using his intellect as a staunch defender of the faith until he was challenged by an atheist. As a result of his exposure to those on the margins as he accompanied Sr. Rosalie on her rounds, he became the champion of the marginalized of his day.

Elizabeth Ann Seton had it all – privilege, security and a loving marriage. She then lost it all … but went on to discover the Eucharist. She found so much more and on the way to sanctity, laid the foundations for the Catholic school system, and the Daughters of Charity in the United States.

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