Contemplation — Just Vincentian Enough

Contemplation — Just Vincentian Enough 1080 1080 SVDP USA

“Well,” we sometimes admonish ourselves when an idea we’re discussing doesn’t seem quite right, “that’s not very Vincentian.” The phrase is a simple reminder of who we are, and how we act. It needs no further explanation. After all, our Rule finds it sufficient to say that “Visits to the Poor are made in a Vincentian Spirit.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8] The very word Vincentian carries with it a depth of meaning that conveys so much more to Members than it does to anybody outside the Society.

It isn’t that the Rule never explains what it is to be Vincentian. Throughout it, we read things such as “Vincentians feel called to pray together,” “Vincentians strive to seek out and find those in need,” “Vincentians serve the poor cheerfully,” “Vincentians endeavor to establish relationships based on trust and friendship,” “Vincentians never forget the many blessings they receive from those they visit,” and, of course, “Vincentians serve in hope.”

It turns out that our little word, Vincentian, is a very big thing. So big that if we were to make a list of all the characteristics and actions of Vincentians from our Rule and Manual, and treat as a list of instructions, it would be overwhelming.

In a similar way, if we were to make a list of all the times Jesus says things like “go and do likewise”, “as I have done for you, you should also do,” “do this and you will live,” “love your enemies,” or “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” we would have an even longer list!

The good news is that these lists are not in conflict; Vincentian spirituality is Catholic spirituality. To be Catholic, and to be Vincentian, is not to carry these lists only in our books, but in our hearts, and in our actions. We know that to be Vincentian is always to err on the side of compassion, even though those words are not in the Rule.

Challenged by the Pharisees to pick out the greatest of the commandments, Jesus responded with an entirely new commandment, in two parts: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He was not dismissing the Ten Commandments, but was instead answering the “why” of those commandments.

Few Vincentians have the Rule memorized, and although we try to live it fully, most of us will fall short from time to time. That doesn’t make us any less Vincentian, as long as we remember the “why”. Our “ideal is to help relieve suffering for love alone,” and that is just Vincentian enough.


In serving, is my foremost motive always love of God and neighbor?

Recommended Reading

The Spirituality of the Home Visit

A Week in Prayers March 20 – March 24

A Week in Prayers March 20 – March 24 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Monday, March 20

To do Your will at all times, Lord,
To serve You in the poor,
To let You in to dine
When you knock upon the door.

To see You and to serve You,
With zeal and without fear,
My efforts do not tire me,
My heart is filled with cheer!

Tuesday, March 21

Help me, Lord,
To trust in Your providence,
Abandoning my own will,
Desiring nothing
But to do Your will.
Help me to become holy.

Wednesday, March 22

I will go and serve, Lord,
In Your name and for Your sake.
Outside of my home and comfort,
Outside of my selfish desires,
Outside of myself, my God.
For the love of the neighbor,
In the name of my Savior,
I will go and serve.

Thursday, March 23

Let me be Your light, Lord,
Let me be Your hands.
For thine is the kingdom,
And mine is the mission
To serve for Your love alone.

Friday, March 24

Lord, in my sadness,
Grant me Your comfort.
Lord, in my comfort,
Grant me Your joy.
Lord, in my joy,
Grant me Your peace.
Lord in my peace,
Teach me to comfort.
As You have comforted me.

Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director.

Contemplation — The Journey Together

Contemplation — The Journey Together 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Vincentians,” the Rule reminds us, “are called to journey together towards holiness.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] We repeat this often among ourselves, perhaps sometimes at the risk of it becoming a mere slogan. It is good to consider more deeply from time to time exactly what we are saying, and more importantly to ask ourselves: What is holiness? In what special way are Vincentians called to it?

Our church, of course, teaches that all of us are called to holiness, not just a few of us, not just the clergy or other religious – all of us, whatever our state in life. [LG, Ch V] Because of the great variety of gifts and talents we are given, we may walk different paths towards the perfection to which Christ calls us, and for members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, this vocation is our special way of being Catholic, our special pathway to holiness.

But what, exactly, is holiness? The Church officially declares the holiness of men and women through beatification and canonization. These blessed people stand for us as role models and intercessors. Yet part of these ecclesiastical processes is a requirement for performing miracles. Does the “universal call to holiness” then require each of us to perform miracles? That would seem to be a fairly high bar!

Pope Francis assures us that there are “saints next door”. Perhaps you have met a few of those gentle souls whose kindness seems almost to touch you physically when you are in their presence. Perhaps this example of the virtue of gentleness is a small glimpse of the “heroic virtue” the church recognizes in our martyrs and saints. Can we journey towards holiness by living our virtues “heroically”? Can we be role models?

Yet, there is another aspect of holiness, and an important one, which is that “no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.” Indeed, we “are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people.” [GetE, 6] We not only are made to live in community, but to lead each other to holiness through community. This is why we understand our Conferences to be “genuine communities of faith and love, of prayer and action.” [Rule, Part I, 3.3] We grow in holiness not only by sharing one another’s presence and prayers, but by sharing the work, and reflecting together on God’s presence in the poor.

This, perhaps, is the special call to holiness the Society helps us to follow – that we may not only lead each other to holiness, but, through our works and our love, help to all welcome people to God’s saving plan, one person, one neighborhood, one community at a time.


How do I grow in holiness within my Conference? Within my larger community?

Recommended Reading

Gaudete et Exsultate

A Week in Prayers March 13 — March 17

A Week in Prayers March 13 — March 17 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Monday, March 13

Holy Spirit, live within me
Fill me with the breath of God
So that every movement is for You
Every moment is for You

Tuesday, March 14

Grant me mercy, Lord,
Mercy enough to share.
Help me to forgive fully,
In my heart and in my actions,
Even as I ask Your forgiveness.

Wednesday, March 15

Lord Jesus,
Lord in the street
On the park bench
In the doorway
In the rain
I will find You, Lord
And serve You
As You asked.

Thursday, March 16

Help me to see You, Lord,
Even in angry faces.
Help me to greet them
With love, with patience,
And with understanding.
Help me to share Your peace.

Friday, March 17

Bless me with the faith, O Lord,
To know and do Your will,
Unspoiled by worldly desire,
Not only desire of wealth
Or achievement,
But even desire for health,
Or for freedom from pain
In body and heart.
All this shall pass, and I sing
In the hope of union with You
Desiring only what You desire
Even when I do not fully understand.

Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director.

Contemplation — What’s the Difference?

Contemplation — What’s the Difference? 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Speaking about the home visit in 1834, Blessed Frédéric said that it “is one of the best rendered charities and one that produces the best results, above all, in these times when help is generally dispensed with such culpable indifference...” [Unpubished] It’s useful to recall that the home visit was not the first or the only form of assistance to the poor in Frédéric’s time, just as it is not the only form of assistance in our own time.

Take a number. Have a seat. Fill out this form. Let’s see if you qualify. I’ll ask the committee for approval. These impersonal words and actions accompany so much of the material assistance available to our neighbors in need from various agencies they approach, hat in hand, sometimes taking time off work that they can hardly afford to take.

St. Vincent once mused that “there is great charity, but it is badly organized.” [VHJ 26.1] In our day, this observation seems at times to have been turned on its head, as the poor are drowned in “organization” when seeking whatever assistance may be available. As John Boyle O’Reilly so memorably put it in his 1886 poem, In Bohemia: The organized charity, scrimped and iced, In the name of a cautious, statistical Christ.

Under the guise of being politically correct or ideologically fashionable,” Pope Francis says, “we look at those who suffer without touching them.” [FT, 76] Material assistance doled out impersonally, or indifferently as Frédéric put it, is like exercise on a treadmill. Your body may be served, but you will not have gotten anywhere.

The Home Visit brings with it the understanding of a friend, the welcoming smile, and “to the bread that nourishes, it adds the visit that consoles.” [O’Meara, 229] Far from “culpable indifference,” we “must never take the attitude of merely getting the task done.” [SWLM, 773] Instead, as our Rule demands of us, we give generously of our time, our talents, our possessions and ourselves. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1]

We’re not called only to write checks. We’re called to love our neighbor. That’s the difference.


Are my Home Visits more like an interviews, or conversations?

Recommended Reading

Serving in Hope, Module VII (with your Conference!)

A Week in Prayers March 6 – March 10

A Week in Prayers March 6 – March 10 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Monday, March 6

Lord be with me
For all my days
Hear my voice
Hear my heart
Calling out to You
Grant me Your peace, O Lord

Tuesday, March 7

Lord Jesus, I will follow,
In Your footsteps I will walk,
Humble, not exalted,
A servant, as You taught.

Wednesday, March 8

God of my fathers
Create me anew
Like the rays of the sunrise

Live within me, Lord Jesus,
Replacing myself,
With the life
And the light of the world.

Thursday, March 9

Lord I pray for those alone and outside,
Without comfort, without food,
With their lives entirely in Your hands.
Help me to see them and to know them.
Embolden and soften my heart.
Let me be Your hands.

Friday, March 10

My Lord and my God,
Light of the world,
Shine upon me in Your mercy.
In all that I do,
In all that I am,
Shine upon me in Your love.

Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director.

Contemplation — Accompanied by Justice

Contemplation — Accompanied by Justice 1080 1080 SVDP USA

There is no act of charity,” St. Vincent once wrote, “that is not accompanied by justice…” [CCD II:68] We so often see the words “charity” and “justice” used together that we perhaps don’t often think enough about what these words mean, and what they mean for us to do in practice.

We know that charity, the greatest of the theological virtues, is love, and that our acts of charity are in turn the means by which we express and live this virtue: loving God and neighbor. [CCC, 1822]  But justice seems like a harder word, doesn’t it?

Our human justice, the legal system, seems focused mainly on punishment, and when we think of God’s justice we may think mainly of the Final Judgment. Yet it should be clear that St. Vincent is not asking us to pass judgment on anybody, much less to punish them. Nor is Frédéric, when he calls upon us to “to make charity accomplish what justice alone cannot do.” [Letter 136, to Lallier, 1836]

Taken in context, Vincent’s letter was to a missioner regarding a large donation that had been sent to him to support the religious, reminding hm to “use none of it for any other purpose under any pretext of charity whatsoever.” [CCD II:68] In other words, taking what belongs to somebody else, even to help the poor, cannot be an act of charity because it is unjust.

In a similar way, Frédéric was calling to “to make equality as operative as is possible among men; to make voluntary community replace imposition and brute force; to make charity accomplish what justice alone cannot do.” [Letter 136, to Lallier, 1836] It’s the Christian duty, in other words, for those who have much to give it away of their own accord. It is not our duty to try to force them. And if what each of us can spare is not enough, then we dig deeper, beyond what we think we can spare.

We sometimes say of convicted criminals that “they got what they deserved!” That is justice, but all persons deserve certain things. After all, God did not place us on the earth, living in community, so that some of us might starve. As John the Baptist preached, for the man who has two coats, one belongs to him, and the other belongs to the man with no coat. Having “two coats” was a sign of wealth 2000 years ago, but each of us can ask ourselves today “what is my second coat? To whom does it belong?”

As Pope Saint Gregory the Great explained, when we give “necessaries of any kind to the indigent, we do not bestow our own, but render them what is theirs; we rather pay a debt of justice…” [P.R., Bk III] Giving our time and ourselves is charity. Treating the poor with dignity is justice. Assisting them with money donated for that purpose is justice. That is why “Conference members should never adopt the attitude that the money is theirs, or that the recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, 23]


What is my “second coat”? To whom does it belong?

Recommended Reading

Serving in Hope, Module IV – Our Vincentian Mission

A Week in Prayers February 27 – March 3

A Week in Prayers February 27 – March 3 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Monday, February 27

Lord, help me to see You
In the hungry
In the poor
In the stranger
Help me to serve You
Help me to know You

Tuesday, February 28

Father in heaven,
You know my innermost needs.
Help me to have a forgiving heart.
Fill me with the love
That embraces and welcomes
The neighbor into Your kingdom.

Wednesday, March 1

Lord, look within my heart,
A heart that is humble and contrite,
Seeking but not deserving Your grace.
Open my heart, fill it with Your love.
Fill me to overflowing,
So that in the love I share
Others may know and come to You.

Thursday, March 2

Lord, help me to hear
The cry of the poor
Knocking at my door
Asking for help
Just as You, Lord,
Hear my prayers
Offered and repeated
In faith
Fill my heart with the love
That answers.

Friday, March 3

Lord open my eyes to see You
On the cross and in the poor
As You knock upon my door

Lord open my ears to hear You
Like the wind upon the deep
That calls me from my sleep

Lord lift me from my slumber
I in You, and You in me
That I may live, and move, and be.

Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director.

Contemplation — Between Vincent and Francis

Contemplation — Between Vincent and Francis 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Writing to his friend Auguste Materne, a 17-year-old Frédéric Ozanam tried to sum up his good points and his bad points. The bad side he reduced to “four predominant faults: pride, impatience, weakness, and an extreme meticulousness” which he went on to explain in more detail, then closed with an odd self-assessment: “Add to these faults that of despising the neighbor a little too easily and you have my bad side.” [Letter 12, to Materne, 1830] Less than three years before founding the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, whose members are dedicated to loving and serving our neighbors, this man, this role model of holiness, admitted to “despising the neighbor a little too easily”?

The younger Frédéric recognized his own pride and impatience, which sometimes led him to intolerance. He concluded that he thought he “could become either a very wicked or a very virtuous man.” Ozanam’s frankness may be a reminder that each of us has a saint within us, struggling to be set free from our human weaknesses, whatever they may be, and in order to achieve the holiness we seek, we all need help. As our Rule puts it, “Vincentians are aware of their own brokenness and need for God’s grace.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Frédéric, whose beatification attests to the holiness he ultimately attained, found the grace to go beyond his own brokenness in the very place that we may find it, too – in the Society he founded for this very purpose. Indeed, only nine years after delineating his own weaknesses, he would write to Father Lacordaire, saying “I greatly fear to lose in useless efforts time I could more modestly and surely employ for my salvation and the service of the neighbor.” [Letter 211, to Lacordaire, 1839] His impatience had reversed itself, and he now urgently sought to serve the neighbor.

Each of us, Frédéric wrote, “carries within his heart a seed of sanctity”. [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1837] It is in the poor that we see God, and are able to serve Him and thus grow closer to Him; to nurture that seed. This is both the lesson of Frédéric’s life, and the example he leaves for us; an example of holiness attained, but more importantly, an example of growth in holiness.

Beyond even that, Frédéric shows us how to grow in holiness together, asking his fellow Vincentians to “not allow yourselves to be stopped by those who will say to you, ‘He is in Heaven.’ Pray always for him who loves you dearly, for him who has greatly sinned. If I am assured of these prayers, I quit this earth with less fear.” [Baunard, 386] In return, Léonce Curnier would say after his lifelong friend’s death that “I never think of Frédéric without an inclination to invoke his assistance… I seem to see him in Heaven between St. Vincent de Paul and St. Francis de Sales, whose faithful disciple he was.” [Ibid, 406]

May we continue to serve Christ, and to pray for each other’s salvation. Pray for us Blessed Frédéric!


Do I always pray for my fellow Vincentians, living and dead, and ask also for their prayers?

Recommended Reading

15 Days of Prayer with Blessed Frédéric Ozanam

Contemplation — Hearts Filled with Joy

Contemplation — Hearts Filled with Joy 1080 1080 SVDP USA

The primary purpose of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the spiritual growth of its members. We seek, by serving the poor, to see His suffering and to grow closer to Him and welcoming the neighbor into His love. All this suffering serves a purpose in God’s plan, but that does not mean we serve in sadness!

Vincentians receive many dimensions of God’s grace as a result of our home visits, but perhaps the most important dimension is joyful grace. We are like children who have just cleaned up their rooms without being asked, racing to tell our parents what we have done! We are bursting with pride not only because know this will please our parents, but because in the course of our cleaning we saw for ourselves that it was good.

Similarly, we have sat in the pew and listened to the words of Gospel of Matthew many times, and many times we have nodded along as Christ explains the Judgment of Nations. It all makes sense – serve the least among us, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger…probably most of us can recite it by heart. But as Army General Norman Schwartzkopf once said, “You almost always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

And so we are filled with joy as we fulfill God’s will through our works. But our hearts are doubly filled with this joyful grace of God as we realize that we have encountered Christ Himself – exactly as he told us we would.

We go to the homes of the poor and, as Vincent explains, we “find God there!” [CCD IX:199] This is a source of wonder not because it is so surprising, but precisely because it is not. Christ’s word is fulfilled through our actions and our hearts are filled with joy!

When we think about finding new members to join with us in our Conferences, or to form new Conferences, extending this worldwide network of charity, no “recruiting pitch” should be necessary. We have been in the presence of a loving God and have in turn shared His love with others. This joyful grace fills us to overflowing – why would we not want that for all of our friends? Why would we not invite them to share in our joy? Why would we keep it to ourselves?


Do I hesitate to share this great joy of God’s grace with my friends?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

    Skip to content