Contemplation — Our Universal Mission

Contemplation — Our Universal Mission 1080 1080 SVDP USA

At the heart of Vincent’s charism was a deep passion for the universal mission of the church. It was, after all, his taking of the general confession of the old man at Gannes, followed by his homily at Folleville which marked the beginning of the Congregation of the Mission. That, and every mission that followed, was designed to feed both body and soul, to nourish both individuals and communities.

With the founding of the Confraternities of Charity, the missions also included the foundation of a new Confraternity in each town visited, involving the laity in both the initial, and more importantly, the ongoing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The people, rich and poor, could live their faith through their actions, and to encounter Christ in each other.

Vincent’s zeal drew him to offer the priests of the Mission to the church’s service not only in France, but in far flung lands where Christ’s word was yet unknown. The Vincentians not only ministered to the slaves of the Barbary pirates in North Africa but ransomed the freedom of twelve hundred of them, all the while showing the church’s beauty through their humble prayers and actions.

Vincent’s special zeal for these foreign lands was partly driven by his fear that “that God might gradually do away with {the church] … because of our depraved morals, those new opinions’ which are spreading more and more, and the general state of affairs in another hundred years we may lose the Church entirely in Europe.” [CCD III:40-41]

Two hundred years later, young Frédéric Ozanam and his friends faced a world which, in his words, had “grown cold”, and it called “us Catholics to revive the vital beat to restore it, it is for us to begin over again the great work of regeneration…” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835]

This is the “good of the Church” that the founders were challenged to show, and their answer was not a debating response, not merely words, but actions, not merely actions but a way of living; of living their faith in every part of their lives, bearing witness to Christ’s love in their actions, and “by showing the vitality of their faith, affirm its truth.” [Baunard, 65]

This work was, and is, at the heart of the “new evangelization” Pope Saint John Paul II describes in Redmptoris Missio, reviving, as in Frédéric’s time, “a living sense of the faith.” Like the communities Vincent visited 400 hundred years ago, it is we who are first evangelized when we encounter Christ’s suffering in the neighbor. May they in turn see His love not in the bread we offer, but in its bringing; not in our works, but in our love; not in our presence alone, but in the presence of Him who is among us on each home visit, as He promised, when we gather in His name.


Will they know we are Christians by our love?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

Contemplation — In the Vincentian Spirit

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Because it is the heart of our vocation, and our primary means of serving the neighbor, Conferences and Councils offer training for the Home Visit. As important as this training is, it really comes down to one thing. As our Rule puts it “visits to the poor are made in a Vincentian spirit.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8]

It is important to note that the statute quoted above doesn’t actually say “Home Visit,” it only says “visits to the poor,.” This is important to keep in mind, because as central and indispensable as the Home Visit remains, there always have been other Vincentian encounters. And just as the Home Visit is the source of all of our other works (systemic change, special works, advocacy, and more) the spirit, and spirituality of the Home Visit must be a part of every Vincentian encounter.

We cannot visit the homeless in a home, yet we bring the same humble, kind, patient deference to the encounter that we would when entering a neighbor’s home. When people visit our food pantries, we are not clerks in a store, but servants of Christ, who is hungry. When shoppers, rich or poor, patronize our Thrift Stores, we offer more than retail “best practices,” we offer our hearts.

While it may be only Active or Associate Members who go on Home Visits, volunteers and staff of the Society also encounter the neighbor in the course of our many works. They often are the only face of the Society some people will ever see. This is why we do not jealously hold onto the word “Vincentian” only for Active Members. All of us who do the work of the Society are serving Christ in serving the neighbor. All of us are Vincentians.

From the earliest days of the Vincentian Family, the priests of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, and the Confraternities of Charity sought out the poor wherever they were – in hospitals, in the streets, rowing the galleys, or in prisons. To serve them, they enlisted help from others throughout society. Indeed, this was the origin of the Daughters of Charity, formed from poor farm girls who assisted the mostly upper-class Ladies of Charity.

Just as Members bring our Vincentian spirit to every Home Visit, our Vincentian spirit grows as a result of them. The Vincentian spirit animates everything we do, every encounter we have; it is meant to be shared not only with the neighbor, but with each other. Not all volunteers will become Members, not all employees will join Conferences, but then again, not all Members will become Popes or Saints… but John Paul II did.

Our Vincentian Pathway has many starting points, and many routes, but on each of them we will find Vincentian encounters, and all of them lead us to Christ.


Do I welcome volunteers and staff to prayer, reflection, and training with the Members?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns

A Week in Prayers September 18 – September 22

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Monday, September 18

I sit silently, Lord, in Your presence,
My mind and my spirit kept still.
Speak to my soul if You wish it.
I seek only to do Your will.

Tuesday, September 19

Unburden me, Lord, of my worries.
Free me, O Lord, from my cares.
Wash away all the sorrows,
And all of the pride,
That crowd You out from
My mind and heart.
Fill me, O Lord, with Your Spirit.
I am Yours.

Wednesday, September 20

Help me to see You, Lord,
In the shivering neighbor,
Created in Your image,
Created by Your hand.
Help me to give, O Lord,
My time, my possessions, myself;
Given to me to share, Lord,
Given from Your hand.

Thursday, September 21

Lord, in my heart,
Lord, in my mind,
Lord, in my soul I love You.
Lord, in my words,
Lord, in my thoughts,
Lord, in my acts I love You.
Lord, in my family,
Lord, in my friends,
Lord, in the neighbor I love You.

Friday, September 22

Help me to walk the narrow path, Lord,
My eyes upon Your kingdom.
Help me to walk in faith.
Ease my concerns and worries, Lord,
About all the things of this world.
Help me to see with hope.
Help me to make more room for You, Lord,
Fill my heart ‘til it overflows.
Help me to share Your love.

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

Contemplation — Let Us Open Our Hearts

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When we think about the meaning of friendship, particularly as one of our three Essential Elements, we could hardly have a better role model than Blessed Frédéric Ozanam. Friendship was so central to his life, and to the founding of the Society, that two of his biographers chose to highlight this in the titles of their books: The Great Friend, by Albert Schimberg, and My Friend Ozanam, by Pere Lacordaire.

Shimberg says of Frédéric that he “had a genius for friendship, which was for him a communion of spirits, a meeting of minds. He poured out his heart in letters to his friends, was happy when they were happy, shared their disappointments and griefs, let them share his joys and sorrows, gave them counsel and asked for theirs. Above all, his friendship was an apostolate. He prayed with his friends; in life and after death he asked for their prayers.” [Shimberg, 313]

In Frédéric’s words and actions we see friendship’s intimate connection to both service and spirituality, and it is through this connection that it becomes essential – the essence of the Society. In addition to praying for and with one another, he wrote, “the strongest tie, the principle of a true friendship, is charity, and charity could not exist in the hearts of many without sweetening itself from outside. It is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

This particular character of friendship in the Society is the means by which we arrive at consensus in our decision-making. We trust one another enough to be honest – to speak with simplicity. Indeed, honest disagreement between friends can only strengthen the friendship. “Let us dare to contradict each other sometimes: truth and concord will end up by banishing strife,” Frédéric wrote to Auguste Materne. “Let us open our hearts and discuss things with wisdom. Our friendship will only become firmer.” [Letter 11 to Materne 1830]

And so it always should be in our Conference meetings. No member should ever feel unable to express disagreement, and no other member should take disagreement as an affront. We are joined together with the common purpose of growing in holiness by serving Christ in the neighbor. It is through the simplicity born of friendship that we reach consensus and alter our plans for the better. Without spirituality, our service is merely work. Without friendship, we won’t “journey together towards holiness…” [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

It was in all three essential elements that Frédéric wished us to grow. May we share in his hope that “as each of us grows older, may we also grow in friendship, piety, and zeal for good!” [Letter 157, to Le Taillandier, 1837]


Is having and being a friend always at the center of my Vincentian service and spirituality?

Recommended Reading

The Frédéric Ozanam Story

A Week in Prayers September 11 – September 15

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Monday, September 11

Heavenly Father,
Your gifts to me are abundant:
Beauty enough to overwhelm my senses,
Joy enough to fill my heart,
Love enough to lead me to You.
All of this within the people,
Each made in Your image,
Who surround me every day.

Tuesday, September 12

Lord Jesus, joy in my suffering.
Christ Jesus, comfort in pain.
You sit on the throne of the kingdom,
The cross and the nails remain.
You suffered and died for my sins, Lord.
You arose and await me above.
No cross is too heavy, no nail too strong,
To bear for the sake of Your love.

Wednesday, September 13

For all that You have given me,
Lord, I am filled with gratitude.
For all that You have promised,
Lord, I am filled with hope.
In all my prayers and actions,
Lord, I offer You my heart.

Thursday, September 14

When storm winds arise,
Or when danger is near,
I am calmed by Your presence,
For, God, You are here.
In the face of the neighbor,
In sadness and cheer,
In daylight and darkness,
O God, you are here.
You whisper in silence
Your words in my ear.
You lift up my spirit.
My God, You are here.

Friday, September 15

In Your presence, in Your sight,
Seeking heaven’s holy light,
As I knock upon the door.
Seeing now Your face,
And the Father’s joyful grace,
When greeted by the poor.
To serve is but to start
The transformation of my heart
To live in You forevermore.

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

Contemplation — Our Eucharistic Home Visit

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The evangelical model of the Home Visit may be likened to the Last Supper, with Christ as the visitor, and the disciples – and ourselves – as the neighbors. Hungry, the disciples greeted Christ, who first demonstrated His love by humbly serving them, washing their feet, then by breaking their bread, and pouring their wine.

And then He prayed for them, that the Father might welcome them as He welcomes His own Son. In a way, we might say that He saw Himself in us, just as we are called to see Him in the neighbor.

On the Home Visit, the first act of evangelization occurs when the neighbors open their door, “because, in them, Vincentians see the face of Christ.” [Manual, 48] The poor are our evangelists, not by their own intent, but by God’s design. They call us, they invite us in.

We, in turn, evangelize first by serving humbly, in the model of our Savior. As St. Vincent instructed the missioners going to serve even the most anti-Catholic people, we seek to be “more reserved in their presence, more humble and devout toward God, and more charitable toward your neighbor so that they may see the beauty and holiness of our religion and be moved to return to it.” [CCD VIII:209]

The visited, as well as the visitors, edify one another,” as Bl. Frédéric explained, “living in the unity and under the shelter of the mantle of St. Vincent de Paul.” [Baunard, 123]

We evangelize first and always through our “wordless witness.” Each visit, each act of service, is a washing of the feet, which asks the neighbor to receive Christ as servant. When we move to words, they are the words of prayer, offering the needs of the neighbor to God, and asking for His blessings upon them, just as Christ prayed for us to be welcomed into the kingdom.

Jesus calls each of us to take up our cross and follow Him. In the Eucharist he gives us a model to follow. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Because His love was “inventive to infinity” [CCD XI:131] Jesus becomes the bread that feeds us in the Eucharist. On our Home Visits, we are blessed in turn to share Him with the neighbor in the form of our bread, our time, our service, and ourselves.


In sharing the “bread” of assistance, do I seek always to truly share myself?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation — This Gentle Word

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One of the four permanent principles of our Catholic Social Doctrine is solidarity. [CSDC, 160] This word is often used in secular contexts to signify shared interests or goals within a group, for example among workers as in a labor union. It is also used to signify common interests between different groups, united on a particular interest or goal. For us as Catholics, this captures one sense of the term, but in a much narrower way than we are called to understand and live the principle of solidarity.

Our church’s social teaching begins with our foundational belief in the dignity of the human person, each us of made in God’s image, unique and unrepeatable. We are called by Jesus to pray to “Our Father” just as He does, uniting us as a human family; not symbolically, but truly as sisters and brothers, children of the one God.

And while our principle of solidarity, like the more commonly used phrase, does indeed refer to shared interests and goals, it is our interests and goals that distinguish solidarity in the Catholic view. Our common interest is our common origin as God’s precious creations, and our shared goal is our shared calling towards union with God in eternal life, and we share these interests with all people.

Our solidarity then, as Pope St. John Paul II explains, must be more than “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far”, and instead calls us to complete commitment to the good of all, and of each individual, “because we are all really responsible for all.” [Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 38] When any member of our family suffers, we suffer.

Solidarity calls us to truly love the neighbor, “even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her.”[Ibid, 40] In this, as in all things, we have Christ’s example, as St. Vincent once explained: “‘Friend,’ He said to Judas, who handed Him over to His enemies. Oh, what a friend! He saw him coming a hundred paces away, then twenty paces; but even more, He had seen this traitor every day since his conception, and He goes to meet him with this gentle word, ‘Friend.’” [CCD XII:159]

Solidarity calls us to follow Christ’s example fully, to “be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one’s life for the brethren,” even if an enemy. [Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 38]

This is a call we are not likely to face with the neighbors we serve, but we are called, as Bl Frédéric once said, not to give our lives all at once, but in all of our actions, a little bit each day, to “smoke night and day like perfume on the altar.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] May our sacrifice be known by “this gentle word, Friend.”


Do I see my service in the Society as a willing sacrifice?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

A Week in Prayer August 28 – September 1

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Monday, August 28

Lord Jesus, walk with me.
Catch me when I stumble,
Lead me when I am lost,
Make light my burden,
And keep me on the path
To the kingdom.

Tuesday, August 29

Send me, Lord, to knock on the door,
To feed the hungry, to serve the poor,
To comfort those who mourn and weep,
Your life to follow, Your word to keep.
When I am weak, Lord, double my might.
When I stumble in darkness, Lord, be my light.
I share all I have, and from You receive more.
Through You, and with You, and in You, Lord.

Wednesday, August 30

Glory to You, O Lord,
Above all things.
Without fear, I walk beside You.
Without sorrow, I open my heart.
In faith, I stand before You.
In hope, I bow before You.
In love, I kneel before You.

Thursday, August 31

Lord, show me Your face
In the hungry, the poor;
Show me Your face in the weary.
Show me the face
Of Your suffering
In all of the neighbors I serve.
Show, then, Your face of salvation,
And light from heaven above.
Through me, share Your face
With the neighbor
Of hope and of limitless love.

Friday, September 1

I close my eyes in the gentle breeze
With the warmth of the sun on my face.
My thoughts are calmed by Your infinite peace,
And my heart is filled with Your grace.
Your power and glory, the sun and the wind,
Wash away all my worries and strife.
Thank You, my Lord, for this moment.
Thank You, my Lord, for my life.

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

Contemplation – From This Day Forward

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On milestone anniversaries, married couples sometimes renew their vows, not as a way to atone for falling short of them, but as a way to celebrate their fidelity by refounding their marriage, beginning anew in different circumstances, but with the same commitment. In a similar way, Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are called to “annually renew their promise of service to the members and to the poor.” [Rule, Part III, St. 4] It only makes sense that we would so celebrate our “relationships based on trust and friendship” with the poor. [Rule, Part I, 1.9]

And so, individually and collectively, we begin anew once every year, celebrating what has gone before, and recommitting ourselves to serve not only as we have, but in new ways, “striv[ing] for renewal, adapting to changing world conditions.” [Rule, Part I, 1.6] This has always been the way of the Society.

In 1848, following a revolution, a second failed revolution, and in the midst of a cholera epidemic, the Society faced greater needs among the poor than ever before, and along with the poor, faced new societal challenges. Addressing his fellow Vincentians, Bl. Frédéric asked “Is it enough to continue to do the little which we have been accustomed to do? When the hardships of the time are inventing new forms of suffering, can we rest satisfied with old remedies?” [Baunard, 274]

By no means was he advocating throwing out tradition. On the contrary, he was calling on the members to do all they had done before and more: to be more inventive, to seek out even the poor who did not call for help. In the wake of a failed revolution, after all, there were many who didn’t wish to draw any sort of attention to themselves. Our Rule continues to call us to this very commitment, not to simply wait for the phone to ring, but “to seek out and find those in need and the forgotten, the victims of exclusion or adversity.” [Rule, Part I, 1.5]

Our annual recommitment, like a renewal of marriage vows, is first a celebration of our growing closer to Christ, of serving Him exactly as He calls us to serve – in the poor, the sick, the lonely, the least among us. With great joy, we acknowledge, as our regular Conference Meeting prayers remind us, “the many blessings which we receive from those whom we visit.”

Second, again like the married couple renewing their vows, we promise not to take our spouse for granted, but instead to proactively seek new ways to serve the neighbor, not for our own sake, but for love alone.

After all, we, the church, are Christ’s spouse, and the poor, to us, are Christ.


How can I better serve and better love the neighbor?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns

A Week in Prayer August 21 – August 25

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Monday, August 21

My heart is restless, Lord,
Seeking comfort, seeking peace.
Lead me in my actions, Lord,
Lead me in my words.
Lead me, through the neighbor,
To the One True Peace in You.

Tuesday, August 22

Lord, lead me to riches
But not of this earth.
Instead, in Your kingdom,
Lord, give me new birth.
Grant me the riches
That eye cannot see,
For thine is the kingdom,
The glory, and me.

Wednesday, August 23

Lord, You bless me with Your presence
In the sick, in the healthy,
In the rich, in the poor,
In the young, in the old,
In my neighbor;
The image of your infinite glory,
Present in our humble humanity,
So that when I greet You,
I can look in the eyes of God
And smile.

Thursday, August 24

Lord Jesus, You gave me Your body.
You paid for my sins with Your blood.
You call me to enter Your kingdom.
Lord Jesus, I give You my heart.

Friday, August 25

You speak to me, Lord, through my neighbor,
Through the one that I love for Your sake.
You are present in all the events of my life
And through all of the actions I take.
I seek, Lord, the path to the Kingdom,
To the love that the eye cannot see.
My pathway to You is made shorter, O Lord,
For I know that You first came to me.

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

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