Formation

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule tells us that “All decisions are made by consensus after the necessary prayer, reflection and consultation.” [Rule Part I, 3.10] And that, “In rare circumstances, if consensus cannot be reached the decision may be put to a vote.” [Part III, Statute 16] Doesn’t that just drag things out? Isn’t it faster to vote?

These are the wrong questions! Our goal isn’t to reach the fastest decision, but to reach the right decision; the one that is aligned with God’s will.

The process of reaching consensus, then, is a concrete instance of discernment.

The foundation of consensus in our Conferences is for each of us to let go of our egos, “surrendering our own opinion,” as our original 1835 Rule put it, “without which surrender, no association is durable.”

This concept of surrender, of emptying ourselves, occurs throughout the Scriptures, and is a result of our Vincentian virtue of humility, which St. Vincent taught “causes us to empty ourselves of self so that God alone may be manifest, to whom glory may be given.” [CCD XII, 247] Even Christ “emptied himself” to better fulfill the Father’s will! [Ph 2: 6-8]

There is an old joke that voting is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. In a similar way, consensus is like a group of friends deciding where to go for dinner. We would never make our friend with the fish allergy go for seafood, and it is obviously better to skip the pizza if another friend just had that for lunch.

When we keep our friendship foremost, our consensus on a dinner destination becomes obvious. Our differing needs and opinions don’t block the road, they light the path.

Just so, in our Conferences, with the bond of our Vincentian friendship enabling us to listen and speak openly, the group’s wisdom and insights will soon distill, revealing to us God’s will in the form of our consensus. Rather than vote fellow members off the island, we all remain in the same boat.

St. Louise often advised that “following the example of the Blessed Trinity, we must have but one heart and act with one mind as do the three divine Persons.” [Correspondence, p.771, 1647]

The Divine life, in the example of the Holy Trinity, is a shared life, and our pathway to it also is shared; in service, in spirituality, in friendship, and in consensus.

Cor unum, et anima una!

Contemplate

When have I let my own strong opinions shut down other voices in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love – especially “Listening to God’s Word

Black History Month Series – Mother Mary Lange, OSP

Black History Month Series – Mother Mary Lange, OSP 191 264 SVDP USA

Racism is defined as systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another. Fortunately, this “pain of prejudice and racial hatred never blurred [the] vision” of Elizabeth Clarissa Lange, a free, French speaking, Black woman.  She walked into her vision around 1813, into Maryland from Santiago de Cuba (born circa 1794). Her arrival in Baltimore coincided with Sulpician priests, Haitian refugees, free blacks, and slaves escaping violence from the French Revolution. In Maryland, they found a haven and home to one of the country’s largest populations of Roman Catholics. Unfortunately, it was also a state that accommodated racism and institutional slavery.

Through the pain of racism, God opened Elizabeth’s heart and spirit to see children of immigrants, unsupervised, and uneducated; she became an eyewitness of injustice in America. Using her own funds and skills, with help from a few friends, she opened her home to educate and house orphaned immigrant children of color. In their collective devotion to intellectual, spiritual, and social development of students, she established the first Catholic School for children of color, providing instruction in a hostile, slave era. Later in 1828, Elizabeth founded the first and oldest, continuously operating school for Black students in the United States, St. Frances Academy.

Despite attitudes of the times, she continued to hear God’s voice and embraced another vision. In 1829, Elizabeth and three ladies (Magdaleine Balas, Rosine Boegue, and Almaide Duchemin), answered their calling, took their vows, under the spiritual direction of  Reverend James Hector Nicholas Joubert, SS (Founder), and became the first female religious order of African descent in the world. After prayerful consideration, they selected the name “oblate,” meaning “one who is specifically dedicated to God or God’s service,” and became the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Elizabeth took the name of Sister Mary (Foundress). They embraced their calling, spirituality, and African identity by including St. Benedict the Moor as one of four special patrons for their religious community.

From the beginning, the Oblate Sisters of Providence confronted the humiliation of racism. Whites avoided them by walking on opposite sides of streets. Sometimes they were forced to walk in muddy streets because whites would not share sidewalks with them. Once Sister Mary almost met death by being pushed into a moving carriage because of racial hatred. They were never called Sisters, but Girls.

As people of color, they were required to sit in the rear of Church, and Holy Communion was offered to them from a different ciborium only after whites had received. Sister Mary knew God would provide, so she persevered, through prayer, to keep her new order vibrant, despite hatred among fellow Christians. Under the leadership of  Sister Mary (Mother Mary Lange), their faithfulness and numbers continued to flourish, and they provided an atmosphere of faith and hope to parents and children degraded by a slave society.

Unfortunately, racism continued to flourish in antebellum Baltimore, too. After the death of their founder, Fr. Joubert, financial hardships mounted. Although educated, with many skills, these Sisters never found opportunities to work beyond that of domestic workers. Also, housing became an issue for them: forced to move several times because of financial distresses; evicted because of their race; and uprooted abruptly for the City to run a street through their property to make them move (early days of gentrification). Unfortunately, their black lives made them vulnerable to unrelenting prejudice. Under the guidance of Mother Mary Lange, when people humiliated them, they prayed. When daily life tried to degrade them as a religious congregation, they served with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Catholic thinking of the day, considered them unworthy to wear veils, usually worn by white religious women, so they wore caps. All attempts to humiliate their religious community failed. Devoted to prayer, they worked hard to survive and gain respect for the Holy habit they did wear. Their habits made them visible, and their service made them indispensable in times of need. Requested to help during a Cholera pandemic that devastated the world in 1832, the Oblate Sisters of Providence chose to listen to God and served as nurses for victims of this disease. Again, God provided, and not one Sister lost their life because of that service. The Oblate Sisters adopted as their motto, “Providence will provide.” Yet the pain of prejudice never stopped.

In face of this relentless racism, many free black Baltimoreans of the times, protested, spoke out against racial discrimination, fought for organized schools and churches, built community institutions, criticized severely slavery, and advocated for emancipation, so did the Oblate Sisters of Providence. As foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, Mother Mary Lange became the first Superior of this religious community. At their pinnacle, membership included more than three hundred Sisters in the United States, Cuba, and Costa Rica. From the beginning of their founding, Providence enabled the Sisters to demonstrate leadership and divine daring in the face of poverty, racism, humiliations, and untold hardships. Documents attesting to the heroic life of virtues, self-empowerment, and works of charity of Mother Mary Lange were received by the Congregation of the Saints in Rome. As she awaits the final word for her beatification and canonization, we pray and remember that she was “endowed by God with humility, courage, holiness and an extraordinary sense of service to the poor and sick…the pain of prejudice and racial hatred never blurred that vision.”

References

spiritual twinning

Black History Month Series – Spiritual Twinning, Part 2

Black History Month Series – Spiritual Twinning, Part 2 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Throughout Black History Month, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s African American Task Force wants to stress the importance of Vincentians coming together and sharing our faith. In the second of a two-part series, National Director of Formation Tim Williams shares with us the experiences some of the Spiritual Twinning participants from Holy Name Conference in Minneapolis and Immaculate Conception-St Cecilia in Baltimore.

Missed Part 1? You can find it here.

In the Words of the Participants

Vera Moukam
Immaculate Conception-St. Cecilia Conference

My appreciation for our SVDP Spiritual Twinning retreat is based on my experience from the two sessions I attended. The very first one on race dynamics with respect to the George Floyd sad incident was deep, emotional but yet graceful. I learned about my own biases, struggles based on my experiences with race and prejudice. Most of all I had the opportunity to learn from others.

The second session was for me a fulfilling spiritual retreat that gave me an opportunity to examine where I am in my faith journey with serving the Lord in the poor and what I should do to be like Christ to others. Not yet there and thus the need for such spiritual exercises to awaken my lukewarm attitude.

Patti Klucas, Spiritual Advisor
Holy Name Conference

I was very impressed by the twinning experience. It made me feel connected to other Vincentians in a way that I hadn’t experienced. It was personal and caring. Oftentimes I feel overwhelmed and alone in our work, even as the spiritual advisor I find myself floundering in a feeling of lack of support from those who don’t really understand and lost in a way to express that spiritual strength that comes from community. This gave me a connection with what I thought might be a totally different group and made me realize that we all are floundering in our abilities to serve and to grow. It has been amazing to hear that we all have the same struggles. I looked forward to every meeting. We have decided to continue meeting quarterly. We don’t want to lose contact with that feeling that we are all community. The whole experience was well worth it and now I know I have friends in the East!

Marie Wicks
Immaculate Conception-St. Cecilia Conference

What a blessing the Spiritual Twinning Retreat has been for our Conference, Immaculate Conception-St. Cecilia-Baltimore. In preparation for this retreat, we met several times, via conference call and Zoom, to discuss our thoughts on racial injustice and our role in serving people in need.  As conference in Baltimore City, where Freddie Gray was killed, we wanted to be sure that our feelings about being black in America did not interfere with getting to know this white Conference, Holy Name, serving in the neighborhood of George Floyd. Our Conference was ready.

Well, it worked, thanks to our moderator, Tim Williams, National Director of Formation. (The conversation was different from what we expected, no racial tension at all.) Using lessons and quotes from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s founders, the Rule, and Fratelli Tutti, he encouraged us to look inward first, examine our feelings, describe how we serve, and think about how we want to serve. Both conferences found themselves discussing their inner feelings related to faith and serving. Immaculate Conception-St. Cecilia Conference members left each session feeling grateful that we had discussed our thoughts and expressed all our hurt to each other before-hand because that enabled us to listen with our hearts. We weren’t disappointed in the topics because through them emotional and spiritual connections were revealed that opened the door for developing a friendship with Holy Name Conference. Our preparation enabled us to be present in the moment to truly listen and respond to one another from a God space.

Of course, there were moments to express personal thoughts, too. Those moments were different and shed light on how we react to events in our lives as parents, siblings, and friends. We heard the knowledge, compassion, and grace that sprang from those events and believe they influence our service as Vincentians greatly. In those discussions, we found so many similarities, which we will treasure.

Finally, we all agreed that what makes us stronger as Vincentians are our combined experiences in our faith walk and ministry of service. As we celebrate those conversations, we look forward to more interactions. Who knows where God will lead us in our growth as Vincentians, together or apart! Wherever it is, we will be ready to join the conversation with open minds and hearts.

Judy Aubert
Holy Name Conference

It was a privilege to participate in two twinning retreats with the SVdP conference from Baltimore. By answering questions presented by Tim Williams in regard to how we felt about different topics, we were able to get an idea of how we are alike and how we can learn from each other. It is obvious that the Baltimore Vincentians care about each other and they were very supportive of us and our feelings. I am looking forward to spending more time with them in the future.

Joan Scott, President
Immaculate Conception-St. Cecilia Conference

When our Conference, Immaculate Conception and St. Cecilia Catholic Churches, was asked about twinning with the SVdP Conference in Minneapolis, we were so thrilled.  We thought, “What a wonderful opportunity to speak with some of the people in Minneapolis who would have firsthand knowledge about the events surrounding George Floyd.” After conversing back and forth with some of the key players, we learned that the meetings, at first, would be along the lines of a spiritual retreat.  We always welcome the opportunity to sit back and focus on our Lord, so we agreed to begin the process.  Our first meeting, via Zoom, was mostly an introduction and a sharing of ideas on diversity and inclusiveness.  We shared ideas and agreed to meet again.   We have met several times and both conferences agreed that we would continue the Twinning experience.  We decided that it would be beneficial to share ideas about fundraising, recruiting new members, home visits during this pandemic, and other activities. 

Jim Sharpsteen
Holy Name Conference

I’ve been very pleased with the opportunity for Twinning with the conference in Baltimore and to see and hear their vision of Vincentian Spirituality in their own lives.  Each of the Twinning Retreats have helped me to get to know the Vincentians in Baltimore, and have helped me to gain new insights into how the Vincentian experience deepens our spiritual lives through our conferences’ missions, and helps us to grow closer to CHRIST and to each other in the Holy Spirit. 

Learn More About the African American Task Force

The African American Task Force seeks to promote the thriving of servant leaders in the Society as well as to embody an inclusive love and openness to all members in the spirit of the Gospel and Catholic social ethics.

To learn more about how to connect your Conference or Council with the AATF, please reach out to your regional representative. They are:

 

 

 

spiritual twinning

Black History Month Series – Spiritual Twinning, Part 1

Black History Month Series – Spiritual Twinning, Part 1 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Throughout Black History Month, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s African American Task Force wants to stress the importance of Vincentians coming together and sharing our faith.

In the first of a two-part series, National Director of Formation Tim Williams shares with us the background of the Spiritual Twinning Retreats between two Vincentian Conferences: Holy Name Conference in Minneapolis and Immaculate Conception-St Cecilia in Baltimore.

Building One Society Through Spiritual Twinning

In an 1833 letter to his friend Ernest Falconnet, Blessed Frédéric described a group of young men walking through the streets of Paris late at night, carrying on a conversation. A policeman might cast an uneasy eye at them, he said; passersby would not understand their language. “But I would understand them,” he said, “For I would be with them.”

Last May, when the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis touched off nationwide demonstrations, many Americans, and many Vincentians, were suddenly struck by a feeling that we do not all speak the same language.

Holy Name Church in Minneapolis sits just blocks from the scene of George Floyd’s death. The members of the predominantly white Conference that serves this neighborhood were heartbroken, overwhelmed, and unsure how to even respond. Spiritual Advisor Patti Klucas felt that she was “floundering,” and “lost in a way to express that spiritual strength that comes from community.”

In Baltimore, which had experienced similar demonstrations following the death of Freddie Gray five years earlier, members of the predominantly African-American Conference at Immaculate Conception and St. Cecilia Churches, saw what seemed like history repeating itself, and found themselves hoping that this time, we might learn more from each other; that this time, it could be different.

At the invitation of Pamela Matambanadzo, who chaired the Society’s African American Task Force at the time, these two Conferences agreed to gather for a series of retreats that was titled “Spiritual Twinning” in the hope that they might all gain greater understanding, while growing in friendship, and deepening their spirituality.

Spiritual Twinning Retreats

Joan Scott, President of the Baltimore Conference, recounts that they were thrilled at this “wonderful opportunity to speak with some of the people in Minneapolis who would have firsthand knowledge about the events surrounding George Floyd.”

The series of retreats, conducted via Zoom, began by letting members get to know each other, listening to brief readings from our Vincentian Saints and Blesseds, and sharing some of their personal experiences – not just Vincentian experiences, but life experiences, including their experiences surrounding the death of George Floyd and finding ways to move forward.

As Marie Wicks from Baltimore said, “We heard the knowledge, compassion, and grace that sprang from those events and believe they influence our service as Vincentians greatly. In those discussions, we found so many similarities, which we will treasure.”

Drawing from the Gospels, letters of St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frédéric, the Rule, Catholic Social Teachings, Fratelli Tutti, and more, members contemplated and discussed:

  • Are there times you struggle to understand the neighbor’s “language?” Or struggle to be understood?
  • In thinking about your own Vincentian service, where is the Lord missing? Where is He most needed? Where do you look for Him, but do not see Him there?
  • Echoing Christ’s questions from Matthew 16: Who do you say that your neighbors in need are? And who do your neighbors say that you are?
  • Considering the Parable of the Weeds from Matthew 13: Have you tried to pull weeds (doubt, disappointment, and despair) from the wheat right away, or have you chosen to wait and deal with them later?
  • Thinking of Bishop Hying’s letter: How can I make losses in my life a sign of hope? How can I share my hope?
  • How can we listen and understand, as the Rule says, “with [our] hearts, beyond both words and appearances?”

“It made me feel connected to other Vincentians in a way that I hadn’t experienced. It was personal and caring,” said Patti Klucas. Judy Aubert felt that by answering questions on how they “felt about different topics, we were able to get an idea of how we are alike and how we can learn from each other.”

Vera Moukam reflected that “the very first one on race dynamics with respect to the George Floyd sad incident was deep, emotional but yet graceful. I learned about my own biases, struggles based on my experiences with race and prejudice. Most of all I had the opportunity to learn from others.”

Members of both Conferences expressed that they looked forward to these opportunities to share openly, as friends. As Jim Sharpsteen from Holy Name put it, they gained “new insights into how the Vincentian experience deepens our spiritual lives through our conferences’ missions, and helps us to grow closer to CHRIST and to each other in the Holy Spirit.”

The two Conferences plan to continue to meet regularly, as members of One Society, growing in holiness together, and speaking the same language, each understanding the other, because they are with them.

Please see Part 2 for testimonials from some of those who participated in this spiritual twinning endeavor.

 

Contemplation – The Smallness of Our Alms

Contemplation – The Smallness of Our Alms 940 788 SVDP USA

At times it can be frustrating to think that the assistance we give to a neighbor in need will not only be insufficient to lift them from poverty, but may not be enough even to get them through the next week.

The efficient and plentiful distribution of goods and services isn’t our primary purpose, though. As the original edition of The Rule in 1835 explained, “we must never be ashamed of the smallness of our alms.” Rather, for each neighbor we assist, it is “our tender interest – our very manner, [that gives] to our alms a value which they do not possess in themselves.”

Our primary purpose since the beginning has been to grow in holiness, and our secondary purpose to bring our neighbors closer to God. Our service, in the form of the Home Visit, is the primary means towards both of those purposes.

No work of charity should be regarded as foreign to the Society,” that 1835 Rule continues, “although its special object is to visit poor families.”

It is only through this special ministry of person-to-person service that “our tender interest” attaches to “the smallness of our alms.” What may appear small to the wealthy, is large in the eyes of the poor. More importantly, it is when we serve those in need personally, following the example and teaching of Christ, that we may also bring Christ to those in need.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” [MT 18:20]

Mahatma Ghandi once said, that “there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” The bread we offer, the bill we pay, the prayer we offer, can be the light of God when offered for love alone. It can begin to relieve the greatest poverty – the feeling that one is forgotten, or unworthy.

Our offerings to the poor, Christ assures us, will be received as if given to Himself. Our service to the poor is not about demanding a result, but about offering Christ’s love, and ours, in a spirit of selflessness and humility. It is about giving, not achieving.

Our charity would be less meritorious, and might expose us to vainglory, if we saw it always crowned with success.” [The Rule, 1835, as reprinted 1906, Superior Council, NY]

Contemplate: What result do I seek in my Home Visits?

Recommended Reading: The Rule, Part I

Black History Month Series – Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God

Black History Month Series – Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God 204 254 SVDP USA

“I like to tell folks that I have a little black nun inside of me,” Brother Mickey McGrath said in the introduction to his book This Little Light: Lessons in Living from Sister Thea Bowman. Brother Mickey, an artist, and a 50+ year old Irish American member of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, did not get to meet Sister Thea before she died. That didn’t stop her from transforming his life. He experienced Sister Thea through research and conversations with people that knew her. Before ending that same introduction, Brother Mickey stated “I think that God, weary and hoarse from trying, just gave up and sent the unforgettable, indefatigable Sr. Thea Bowman to teach me a thing or two.”

An interview with Sister Gail Trippett revealed that Sister Thea had been her professor while completing her master’s in theology from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans. Not only was Sister Gail one of her students but she was also one of two nuns invited to share Sister Thea’s Mississippi home once school was completed. One of the most meaningful remembrances from that time spent with Sister Thea was expressed by Sister Gail’s pronouncement “she wanted everyone to find the God inside themselves…She pushed the limits to help people find all they were capable of (doing).”

Sister Gail repeated to me Sister Thea’s testimony about a hometown experience that may have spearheaded her advocacy for people. In Sister Thea’s hometown of Canton, Mississippi there was an elderly black neighbor that walked to mass every single morning. This gentleman had to walk past a white Catholic church to get to the black Catholic church. One morning he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t feel he could make it to the black church. So, he stepped inside the white church to sit down in the back to pray until he could make it back home. The parishioners immediately called the police.  The elderly black man was arrested.

Sister Thea was so upset that she contacted the Bishop to get this man freed from jail. Sister Gail believes this was one of the moments that helped Sister Thea realize that we all have the opportunity to use our voice for others. There were a series of things like that. “Sister Thea knew if God gave her the ability to have a voice that others listened to in such a way that they would change – that’s what she was going to do. What she lived for was to be a servant to God’s plan for her life.” As a child she couldn’t have known that even after death people would listen to her words with both ears — whether they were children, elders, men, women, nuns, priests, bishops, Catholic, or non-Catholic.

Sister Thea Bowman’s address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) included a quote from Malcolm X in which he stated “My folks, most of ‘em didn’t come over here on the Mayflower, they came over here on slave ships in chains.” Sister Thea pointed out that these folks were “proud, strong men and women – artists, teachers, healers, warriors, and dream-makers, inventors and builders, administrators, like yourselves; politicians, priests – they came to these shores in the slave trade. Those who survived the indignity of the Middle Passage came to the American continent bringing treasures of African heritage, African spiritual and cultural gifts – wisdom, faith and faithfulness, art and drama…” She told every person attending the USCCB Conference, “It means that I come to my church fully functioning. I bring myself, my black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song, and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gifts to the church.”

Sister Thea Bowman truly described herself when she told Mike Wallace during her 1987 60 Minutes interview, “I think the difference between me, and some people, is that I’m content to do my little bit. Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But, if each one would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light.”

She died from cancer at the age of 52. New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, whose motto was, ‘There can be no love without justice’, was among the many who saluted her in print. In his diocesan newspaper column, he wrote, “Friedrich Nietzsche said: ‘The world no longer believes because believers no longer sing.’ He didn’t know Sister Thea Bowman, dark nightingale. I am grateful that I did.” He called her a “quintessential woman,” a “quintessential religious,” a “quintessential black…never a whit self-conscious… When Sister Thea talked ‘soul,’ I knew that most of what I had listened to before had been stereotype. For her, ‘soul’ was all the misery of the crucifixion and all the glory of the resurrection.” He said he suspected that no one had a “deeper understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ…Sister Thea was quintessentially a Church-woman.” That’s why, he said, the “Bishops of the United States listened to her so raptly…There was a quiet in her suffering, a dignity, a nobility that never made light of pain, but never treated it as an impossible burden. “That he compared to the crucifixion, which, he said, she accepted,” as a gift beyond measure.

Sister Thea’s father’s father was a slave who achieved a 2nd grade education. Her mother’s mother was a teacher for which the Greenville, Mississippi school she founded carries her name. Theron, her father, was a physician. Her mom, Esther, was a teacher. Sister Thea’s parents named her Bertha. Born in Yazoo, she grew up in Canton, Mississippi. She was brought up in the Methodist church but converted to Catholicism as a pre-teen, as a result of ‘evangelization through education.’ She knew quite early that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the educators (Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration) at Holy Child Jesus School. So, at the age of fifteen, Bertha headed to St. Rose Convent, the La Crosse, Wisconsin motherhouse of the Franciscan sisters. To honor her father, Bertha took the religious name “Thea”, which means “of God”.

Sister Thea Bowman was an Educator, Evangelist, Singer, Writer, Missionary Disciple, Advocate for Cultural Awareness and Racial Harmony, and Civil Rights Advocate. She received a B.A. in English, Speech, and Drama (1965) from Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Sister Thea received her M.A. in English (1969) and her PH.D. in English Language, Literature, and Linguistics  (1972) from Catholic University of America. She was a co-founder of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, and the first African American woman to be awarded an honorary Doctorate in Religion by Boston College in Massachusetts (1989). Sister Thea Bowman was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) and when she was endorsed for sainthood, Sister Thea was still recognized as the first and only African American member of her order. Sister Thea wrote one of the three Prefaces to the African American Catholic Hymnal Lead Me, Guide Me (copyright 1987). Just to reiterate her reference to Malcolm X’s words about African spiritual and cultural gifts being brought to the American continent, the back cover of the American Mass Program says, “During its first two years of use, not a single note of An American Mass Program was written down. Father Rivers had composed the melodies originally for his own inspiration and enjoyment, but later used them to develop a program of active participation in the Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, Cincinnati.” Talk about gifts to the church!

Her prayer card includes the sentence, “Her prophetic witness continues to inspire us to share the Good News with those whom we encounter; most especially the poor, oppressed…”

Sister Thea’s FSPA community instructed her, “If you get, give—if you learn, teach.”

June 1, 2018 Sister Thea Bowman was declared Servant of God.

– Domoni Rouse
St. Rita Conference
Indianapolis, IN

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think about our Vincentian virtue of humility, it seems sometimes that it may act against the interest of the poor if it results in fewer people donating to the Society. But this confuses humility with secrecy, a point Bl. Frédéric often discussed!

Indeed, while celebrating the rapid expansion of the Society across France in its early years, he noted that “we love obscurity without cultivating secrecy” [Letter 310, 1841]

He emphasized that “humility obliges associations as much as individuals.” [Letter 160, 1837] We must maintain the humble spirit of our founding, just as Vincent once admonished a priest of the mission for referring to it as “our holy company.” Vincentians, like all Christians, seek holiness, we do not proclaim it for ourselves!

Secrecy does not serve the work, or the poor. We work in obscurity, not as servants of an unworthy or illicit cause, but as what Bl. Frédéric called “weak Samaritans,” and what St. Vincent called “unprofitable servants.” Our work is worthwhile because it is truly the work of God!

What robs the poor is when we take personal credit for the God’s work; when we see ourselves as the cause. Our humility as a Society, Frédéric explained, “must exclude that collective pride which so often disguises itself under the name of esprit de corps…”[Letter 160, 1837]

We seek to do God’s will, and we should not be silent about the good that results, but any success we achieve is His alone.

Why wouldn’t we tell that story? Why wouldn’t we want to share this great gift we receive with everybody we know? It is a great story exactly because it is not about us.

There is much pleasure in telling of the humble origin of great things. It is so wonderful thus to reveal the secret work of God.” [Letter 460, 1842]

Contemplate: How can I share our story?

Recommended Reading: ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple by Fr. Robert Maloney

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old expression that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and I suspect most of us can confirm this from our own personal experience. Nobody wants advice from a sourpuss; many will even decline a helping hand offered from beneath a furrowed brow. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in her poem Solitude:

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.

It turns out that cheerfulness is not simply a nice thing to offer but is a necessary component of our Vincentian virtue of gentleness.

It is true that some people, as St. Vincent de Paul once explained, are gifted by God with a “cordial, gentle, happy manner, by which they seem to offer you their heart and ask for yours in return,” while others, “boorish persons like [himself,] present themselves with a stern, gloomy, or forbidding expression…” [CCD XII:156]

But a virtue, our Catechism tells us, is “habitual and firm disposition to do good.” [Catechism:1833] Habits, good and bad, can be changed, and our disposition towards cheerfulness can be natural, or it can be acquired.

St. Vincent reminded his missioners of Christ’s great gentleness through His own sorrows, His own suffering. Throughout His passion “no angry word escaped Him,” and even at the moment of His betrayal He greeted Judas as “friend.” [CCD XII:159]

As in all things, we seek to follow Christ’s example, to accept our own suffering, as Vincent once said, “as a divine state,” confident that our true hope lies in doing His will. And if we truly seek to “serve in hope,” our very countenances should shine with confidence, hope, and good cheer – especially so every time we are blessed to serve Christ in the person of His poor.

As Vincent reminded Louise: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84]

Contemplate: What is keeping me from smiling, and how can I surrender it to God?

Recommended Reading: Vincentian Meditations

Contemplation – Our Gifts to God

Contemplation – Our Gifts to God 940 788 SVDP USA

We often use the term “charism” when describing our Vincentian Spirituality. During this week in which we celebrated the 404th anniversary of Vincent’s homily at Folleville on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, which marked the first mission. it seems like an appropriate time to examine our shared Vincentian charism.

We sometimes simplify the meaning of charism to talents we may have, and surely our talents are gifts. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit run deeper.

The Church defines charisms as “graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church…” [Catechism: 799] Like the word grace itself, the root of the word charism comes from a Greek word referring to gifts or favors. These gifts are given to all of us freely and gratuitously.

If we think of our charisms as the seeds in the parable of the sower, we should seek to become the rich soil that yielded a hundredfold what was sown. [Mk 4:1-20] The gifts themselves are our calling – how we use them in the service of God and His Church is our answer.

Or to paraphrase the late writer and motivational speaker, Leo Buscaglia, “Your [charisms] are God’s gift to you. What you do with them is your gift back to God.”

We also recognize special charisms given to individuals or groups that inspire the founding of religious families within the church, such as the Congregation of the Mission, which dates its founding to that 1617 mission in Folleville.

At that time, and even more so as he contemplated it in his memories, St Vincent discerned the special charism that had been given to him, and that he freely shared with all who sought – and seek – to follow his way.

The Vincentian charism calls us to “love God with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows;” to trust in God’s providence; and to follow Christ’s teaching to see and serve Him in the person of the poor. This is the specific way in which we, as Vincentians, seek to live the Gospel daily.

These things are not instructions, or burdens – they are gifts to us!

What we do with them, is our gift to God.

Contemplate: What personal charism do I try to return to the church “one hundredfold?”

Recommended Reading: Praying with Vincent de Paul

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