The founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul said that when the world rejects priests, lay people need to step up.
At times it is tempting to step back and complain about the corruption of society. Everything is falling apart and civilization is in shambles. Oddly enough this is not a new point of view, as people in every age of history have said similar things.
While there is always some truth to such statements, the key is to not sit idly by and watch the world crumble. Instead, let us learn from Bl. Frédéric Ozanam, a French layman of the 19th century who quietly changed the world through his Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
He viewed civilization in a similar vein of thought and was upset by the corruption he saw all around him. Ozanam wrote to a friend, “Are we not, like the Christians of those early times, thrown into the midst of a corrupt civilization and a society that is falling to pieces?”
Yet, he did something about it.
He goes on to explain that,
«Equal evils, therefore, demand an equal remedy; the world has grown cold, and it is for us Christians to rekindle the vital fire.»
In the same letter Ozanam illustrates the remedy that will heal a broken world by comparing it to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Humanity in our times is very much like the traveler in the Gospel: While journeying along the road traced out for it by Christ, it was seized upon by robbers, by wicked men, who despoiled it of all it possessed, the treasure of faith and love, and left it naked and moaning, lying by the wayside. The priests and the Levites passed, and this time, as they were true priests and Levites, they drew nigh to the sufferer whom they fain would have healed, but in his delirium he did not recognize them and thrust them from him.Let us in our turn, poor Samaritans that we are, weak and of little faith, draw near to the wounded man. Perhaps he will not take fright at us, being only what we are, but will let us try to probe his wounds and pour balm into them; let us breathe words of consolation and peace into his ear, and then, when his eyes are opened, we will place him in the hands of those whom God has constituted the guardians and physicians of souls, and who are, so to speak, our hosts on the road of our pilgrimage here below, since they feed our famished spirits with the word of life and the promise of a better world. This is the task that is before us, this is the divine vocation to which Providence calls us.
Ozanam changes the parable and explains how society today rejects priests and religious and pushes them away from healing their wounds. However, the kindness and generosity of a lay person can have the effect of lowering the guard of an individual and by doing so, that lay person can present them to the priest, who can further heal the wounds in their soul.
In other words, lay people have a unique vocation in the world to exercise charity towards their neighbor, and it is through that charity that they will slowly become open to God’s healing power.
When the world has becoming increasingly suspicious of clergy, the words of Ozanam appear to confirm what is needed at this time in history.