The charism of St. Augustine is continued through the Vincentians
It is quite remarkable! The arrival of the Vincentians fitted perfectly with the history of Ramsgate, as this was where the first preaching took place, and where the first retreat was made for the English. The charism of St Augustine lives on through the ministry of the Vincentian congregation, their preaching, and charitable works. As the centre continues to flourish, it is evident that they have started the third spring of revival in the UK.
As visualized by St. Vincent, the Vincentian preaching ministry was to be aimed at renewing the lives of the people in a deep and living experience of the Sacraments of the Church. The seven Sacraments are the holy means through which the saving power of God is upon everyone. It is through the power of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that one experiences a radical turning away from sin and looks to God in repentance. This offer of salvation was the first preaching of Jesus Christ as well: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” (Mt.4:17). The Kingdom of God, as St. Paul explains, is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). In the experience of the Sacrament of Confession, retreatants are convinced of their sin by the Holy Spirit (Jn16:8), forgiven of their sins in the power of same Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Church (Jn.20:22-23), and given a share in the victory of Jesus over sin (Jn16:11). From this deep experience of radical conversion, the people are led to a total self-surrender that results in an intimate union with Jesus in the Holy Spirit, as experienced in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn.6:56). In this intimacy, the love of God is “poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom.5:5). In this overwhelming experience, the heart gets opened up to love and inspired to forgive. This intense experience of love heals all wounds and soothes all strains in family relationships. The bond of marriage is renewed as a Sacrament of grace is incorporated into the spousal relationship between Christ and the Church. The Charism of healing is exercised in the context of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Healing is understood not in the narrow sense of bodily well-being, but as the love of God flowing into all the brokenness of man to make him whole. The leadership given by the priests in preaching and the exercise of the Sacraments manifests the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Order. All the charisms of the lay leaders, such as counselling, preaching, service and so on, are directed, harmoniously blended and channelized under the Sacramental authority of the priests. The retreats end with the renewal of the Sacramental vows of Baptism and a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit as experienced in the Sacrament of Confirmation. This all-transforming experience of the anointing of the Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of the promise of Jesus: “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts1:8). This empowering of the Holy Spirit is accepted as a special grace to withstand the temptation of the evil one and to defend and spread the faith by word and action, confessing Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of mankind. The grace of these seven Sacraments, instituted by Christ as signs of salvation and entrusted to the Church, is experienced afresh in the action of the Holy Spirit for the renewal of Christian commitment, and the Sacraments ultimately become effective signs of salvation. The Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist were given prime importance by St. Vincent in his renewal movement. He writes, “when we conduct Popular Mission retreats, our main task is to prepare the people for the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Confession and Holy Eucharist”. The saint explained that the Sacrament of Confession would lead the people to a radical spiritual conversion and the Holy Eucharist to an intimate union with Jesus Christ. By receiving these two Sacraments frequently, the faithful would be able to live out their Christian commitment in their everyday life. By the end of 1976, a wave of Charismatic retreats came over Kerala. The preachers of the Popular Mission gladly took part in these retreats. They were greatly enriched in their own spiritual life and retreat ministry by the Charismatic experience. The role and activity of the Holy Spirit in Christian Spirituality were better understood, appreciated and articulated. This Charismatic experience of the Vincentian preachers became a matter of intense prayer, serious study and wide discussions. As a result, there was an agreement to adopt certain Charismatic insights and elements into Vincentian preaching. However, the aim and structure of the retreats continued to be moulded in Sacramental spirituality, giving greater emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit in and through the Sacraments. Vincentian retreats start with the joyous proclamation of the offer of forgiveness and salvation from the Heavenly Father, who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn.3:6).