Spirituality

Contemplation — On Our Way

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One of the central activities of the Conferences and Councils of the Society is formation. Because we often use this word as a synonym for “training” we can begin to think of it as an isolated event, something to check off on a list when we join the Society or enter into specific positions. But formation is not a single event – it is a lifelong journey of becoming…of becoming what?

As Vincentians, we have chosen a specific way of being Catholic, and this way, this vocation, forms us. The Foundation Document on Vincentian Formation, adopted by the Society more than twenty years ago, suggests four different dimensions of formation, closely mirroring the areas outlined in Pastores dabo vobis, an apostolic exhortation on the formation of priests.

Our human formation, the basis for all formation, begins with our actions, which are shaped by our virtues. We become by doing, we build habits of virtue in order to become virtuous. For Vincentians, these include the Cardinal Virtues, the Theological Virtues, and our Vincentian Virtues.

Our spiritual formation has to do with the transcendent aspect of our nature; the aspect in which we are truly made in God’s image. Our spiritual formation reminds us that we are created to live in community. The model of the Holy Trinity reminds us that the eternal life is a shared life, and that our path to it is also shared. As Vincentians, we pray and reflect together often. Our spiritual reflections and prayers in each Conference meeting are a vital part of our ongoing formation. Our individual prayers, retreats, Mass – and prayers shared with the neighbor are all part of our spiritual formation. We journey together towards holiness. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Our training falls within our intellectual formation. The efforts we make to learn the practical aspects of our vocation, to learn about poverty, and about specific works and programs. But our intellectual formation also demands that we take the time to read about our heritage, the words and deeds of our saints and blessed, as well as to devote time to personal study of Holy Scripture.

Finally, ministerial formation comes from a commitment to our vocation as mission, accepting our service as a means to our growth, and remaining open to all ways to serve, including servant leadership.

Our particular way of being Catholic, our particular process of becoming, is our Vincentian vocation. We follow, in every part of our lives, our Vincentian pathway towards becoming what Christ calls us to be, “perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Contemplate

In what way was I formed today? How did I grow closer to holiness?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Contemplation — My God, I Give You My Heart

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Our Rule repeatedly emphasizes the importance of prayer to our vocation. We pray often, the Rule reminds us. We live “a life of prayer and reflection, both at the individual and community level,” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] Prayer is central to our lives and to our vocation. So, as in all things, we must ask: what does St. Vincent teach us about our life of prayer?

In a general audience in November 2020, Pope Francis expressed four characteristics of prayer, given to us through Christ’s example. [General Audience, 4 Nov 2020] The first of these is the primacy of prayer; prayer is “the first desire of the day.” We listen, we encounter God from our first moment of consciousness.

Similarly, St. Vincent de Paul urged that we should “always do whatever you can so that, prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX:29] Vincent himself began each day with “mental prayer,” interiorly seeking God’s guidance. The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission would later incorporate this practice for all the priests and brothers of the mission.

We are only human, and it is easy to seek coffee first – to try to physically jolt ourselves into the energy we need to get up and to get going. But how full are our hearts when we open them instead, first thing each day, to God? Caffeine may well make our hearts beat faster, but prayer will make them beat more insistently, more persistently, more patiently, and more purposefully.

Coffee doesn’t give us the empathy to understand the neighbor as we would a brother or sister. Coffee doesn’t help us to form relationships based on trust and friendship. [Rule, Part I, 1.9] Coffee is indeed a joyful way to help us greet the day, but coffee is only physical. It warms us from the outside in.

Prayer fills us from the inside out, from where God touches us most deeply so that His love may take root and grow to where we can share Him and His love with all those we encounter. But first, and to start each and every day, we must open our innermost hearts to Him.

On awaking, his biographer Joseph Guichard said, St. Vincent would begin each day by crossing himself and saying, “My God, I give You my heart.” May we follow his example, not only in our words, but in our devotion, our practice of prayer, and in our hearts – every day.

Contemplate

As a Vincentian, a Catholic, a Christian, how do I greet each day?

Recommended Reading

500 Little Prayers for Vincentians

A Week in Prayers November 21 – November 25

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Monday, November 21

Lord Jesus,
Help me to give of my time and myself,
To serve the neighbor in need;
To give from my poverty or from my wealth,
My two small coins, my second coat,
And the love of the Lord above.
Amen

Tuesday, November 22

Jesus, Son of Man,
Whose chose not power,
But poverty for Yourself,
Loving and serving the poor,
Help me to follow Your Way
In faith.

Jesus, Son of God,
You followed the Will
Of the Father,
Even unto death.
Help me see the Truth
With hope.

Jesus, Lord and Savior,
Whose love is everlasting!
Through the cross
And resurrection,
You lead me to new Life
In love.
Amen

Wednesday, November 23

Father, forgive me,
Show me Your mercy,
Send me Your spirit of love.
Your grace makes me whole,
And with all of creation,
I rejoice like the angels above.
Amen

Thursday, November 24

In the quiet of the morning, Lord,
As day slips out of night,
Your blessings fall upon me
Like the slowly growing light.

I thank you for my talents, Lord,
I thank you for my faults,
For all I thought I should have had
But am better off without

More gifts you’ve given me, O Lord,
Than one alone could bear,
But all that I’ve received, O Lord,
You’ve given me to share.
Amen

Friday, November 25

In Your name, O Lord,
I offer prayers of thanks.
For all that I am, all that I have,
And all I will ever be.
I am humbled
By Your great love for me,
That brings such peace
To my heart.
Amen

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

Contemplation — Our Long-Term Vision

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Our Manual explains that Vincentians “trust in Providence” in our works and in our lives. [Manual, p. 63] We understand this to mean, as Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, that we should not worry about tomorrow, that we should let the day’s own troubles be enough. [Matthew 6:25-34] But how do we live this belief in our Conferences?

In one sense, it would seem that trust in Providence is a call to passivity – just sit back and let God take care of it! Yet neither Jesus, St. Vincent, nor Bl. Frédéric suggest anything of the kind. While assuring us that God knows of our needs and will provide, Jesus reminds us to “seek first the Kingdom”, which he contrasts to the flowers God cares for, though “they do not work nor spin.” [Ibid]

St. Vincent was a man of action, who famously called his followers to love God with the strength of their arms and the sweat of their brows! [CCD XI:32] We begin with discerning the will of God, then acting upon it, trusting in Him to provide us with what we need. We already know that serving the poor is the direct, expressed will of Jesus Christ. Waiting to act on that, when you think about it is, at least to a degree, a failure of trust.

Similarly, writing extensive and detailed assistance guidelines meant to cover all circumstances is an example of “treading on the heels of Providence” to use one of Vincent’s often-used phrases. Rather, we should be guided by Frédéric’s teaching, that in works of charity “it is necessary to give yourself up to the inspirations of the heart rather than the calculations of the mind. Providence gives its own counsel through the circumstances around you, and the ideas it bestows on you. I believe you would do well to follow them freely and not tie yourselves down with rules and formulas.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

Trusting in Providence means trusting that when we seek to do God’s will, the outcome of our works also will be His will. God provides, but he also knows what we need, even when we do not. We can and should plan ahead – fundraising is part of that – but God calls us first to provide for the neighbor before us, for the troubles of their day, not for our treasury balance tomorrow.

Trust in Providence presents us with one of the ironies of our vocation. Letting today’s troubles suffice, without a thought to tomorrow, would seem to be very short-sighted. Yet by doing this, we fulfill God’s will, seeking His eternal kingdom, which is the longest-term vision we can possibly have.

Contemplate

Do I sometimes let my worries for the future drown out the cry of the poor today?

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Meditations II

A Week in Prayers November 14 – November 18

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Monday, November 14

Lord Jesus,
You are the light of the world.
Lead me from darkness,
Fill me with the light of Your love
Let it shine forth from me
In all that I do in Your name.
Amen

Tuesday, November 15

Light of the World, fall upon me,
Awaken me from my slumber.
As sure as the flowers
Unfold in the sun
My heart is turned toward You
Amen

Wednesday, November 16

O Lord these gifts You have given me,
My time, my talents, myself,
And even my worldly possessions,
Remain mine and even grow
Only as I give them away,
In Your name and for Your sake.
Amen

Thursday, November 17

O God, Creator of all,
I seek to do Your will.
Speak to me, Lord,
Through the people I meet,
Through events before me,
Through a tiny whisper in the storm.
Your servant is listening
With an open heart.
Amen

Friday, November 18

How will I love the neighbor, Lord?
With the same love I give to You.
From the depths of my soul,
With all of my heart,
And with all the work that I do.
Amen

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

Contemplation — Practice Makes Perfect

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When we become Vincentians, whether as active or associate members, one of the things we promise is to live our Rule. This is, of course, a promise we should make only after reading it! Although our Rule is relatively brief, it’s still a little long to memorize. So, in order to live it, we need to reread it from time to time, by ourselves and with our Conferences. It seems like a tall order to live by some lengthy set of instructions, and few people are naturally inclined to try to do that. But the Rule, in its essence, is not a lengthy set of instructions at all. There are some specific instructions, such as how to elect a president, and how long the term of office is, but the Rule is primarily a spiritual document.

Like the rules of various religious orders, it is meant less to prescribe a long list of actions and behaviors, but to describe what a Vincentian looks like. For example, the Rule tells us that Conferences meet “in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity, and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8] That’s it. One sentence. It doesn’t go on to describe the specific steps we must take to live this part of the Rule, so how do we know if we are living it? One way to measure this is to ask ourselves whether a visitor to our Conference write the words above to describe our meetings. Would we describe our own Conference meetings with these words?

To live our Rule means not only to do the things, such as our home visits and other person to person service, but to truly internalize our spirituality, our traditions, and our virtues. If I have to remind myself from time to time, to be patient, gentle, kind, and understanding, that’s okay. At some point, I will no longer just be acting gently, but I will be gentle; I will no longer be doing Vincentian things, I will be Vincentian.

We promise to live our Rule, and Vincentians keep their promises! We can only do this fully by reviewing that Rule from time to time, and asking ourselves, “Do these words describe the way I act as a Vincentian? Do they describe my Conference?”

Do I “serve the poor cheerfully”? Do I “form relationships based on trust and friendship”? Do I help the neighbor “to feel and recover their own dignity”? Do I “never forget the many blessings I receive from those I visit”? [Rule, Part I, 1.8ff] We reread to remind ourselves, so that we can practice, and become better.

To be a Vincentian is to have a particular way of living our faith, and to pursue our primary calling as Christians, as Catholics, and as Vincentians: to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. And we all know the old saying: practice makes perfect.

Contemplate

What parts of the Rule describe me and my Conference? What parts do not?

Recommended Reading

The Rule (especially Part I)

A Week in Prayers November 7 – November 11

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Monday, November 7

This is the day You have made, O Lord,
No greater joy could I have!
All that I see, each person I meet,
Is a gift from Your loving hands.
Amen

Tuesday, November 8

My Lord and my God,
Creator of all,
Thank you all Your gifts:
My talents, my successes,
My possessions,
My frailties, my faults,
And my weaknesses.
To serve You and the neighbor,
All these are enough.
Amen

Wednesday, November 9

O Lord, grant Your blessings
On all whom I serve,
Whose troubles have brought them to me.
Give me ears that hear them,
Eyes that see them,
Hands that serve them,
And a heart that loves them.
Let them know Your love
And Your promise
Through my works.
Amen

Thursday, November 10

Lord Jesus, the vine,
From Whom I shall grow,
As a one of many branches,
Through the strength of my arms,
And the light of the Spirit,
May my works bring forth
Your fruit.
Amen

Friday, November 11

Lord God, animate me,
Open me up to Your will.
Fill my heart with the Holy Spirit,
Give me the mind of Jesus.
Your servant is listening, Lord,
And seeks only to serve You.
Amen

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

Contemplation — He’s Right Over There

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Vincentians are people of prayer – it is central to our vocation. Equal to it, though, is our commitment to go out and do. In the doing, we receive God’s transformational grace; we grow closer to perfect union with Christ by serving Him exactly as he has asked us to do, in the person of the poor.

St. Vincent once offered an interesting analogy for the balance between contemplation and action, likening it to the dove that eats its fill, then chews more food only in order to feed it to the little birds. In the same way, he said, we “gather light and strength for our soul in meditation, reading, and solitude on the one hand, and then to go out and share this spiritual nourishment with others.” [CCD XI:33]

Yet we also acknowledge the truth that it is really we who receive. And so, our person-to-person service becomes mutual, as Frédéric taught that it must be. From us, the neighbor receives not only some material relief, but the assurance that God has not abandoned or forgotten them; that He loves them so much he sends us to listen and to pray with them. We, in turn, receive a true revelation and a conversion of our hearts.

In the life of St. Vincent, we note several important moments of conversion, transforming him from the young, ambitious priest seeking benefices and connections, to the humble servant of the poor. In 1617 especially, when he received the confession of the poor farmer in Gannes, and later that year encountering the poor farming family in Châtillon. Like most of us, he was not converted in a blinding flash on the road to Damascus. Instead, through a series of experiences, some of which he may not have even noticed at the time, his heart was turned fully towards Christ.

Spiritually, he had been influenced strongly by the teaching of several mystics, especially Benet of Canfield, whose Rule of Perfection would be echoed fifty years later in the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission. Yet he could be somewhat dismissive, at times, of mystic visions of God.

What Vincent came to understand viscerally through his own encounters with the poor is that if you wish to have a vision of Christ, well, he’s right over there! He is asking for food, or shelter. He is begging to be seen. If you want a revelation of His will, listen; listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart to the cry of the poor.

We give our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves; we serve the will of God and of the poor in providing material assistance and prayer. When we do so, two or three of us together, the Christ who sent us is, as He promised, there with us, making every encounter a moment of revelation and conversion if we seek it.

Contemplate

When did I last see Christ, and what did He reveal to me?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

The Week in Prayers October 31 – November 4

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Monday, October 31

Lord Jesus,
I praise Your name!
Grant Your blessing to all those in need.
Make me Your instrument
To ease their suffering,
So they may draw closer to You
Amen

Tuesday, November 1

O God, I am bound to You
Body and soul
By a faith that never dies

O Jesus, I serve You
In the neighbor
Sharing the hope of eternal life

Holy Spirit, I am on fire,
My heart you have set aflame
With the love of God for all.
Amen

Wednesday, November 2

O Lord, through my baptism,
I was born to the cross.
I bear it lightly
In the knowledge and faith
Of its redemptive power,
For I join with You also
In the Eucharist.
I live and serve in hope.
Amen

Thursday, November 3

Though burdens weigh me down at times,
Though I may wander and become lost,
Though my spirit may be restless,
I will find my rest in You, O Lord.

In my prayers and in my hopes,
In my works and in my neighbor,
My eyes upon the kingdom,
I will find my rest in You.
Amen

Friday, November 4

Lord, let every moment
Be a moment of conversion.
Help me to see You
In the experiences of the day
And the people I encounter.
Little by little,
Or all at once,
Transform my heart.
Amen

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

Contemplation — Something of the Glory of God

Contemplation — Something of the Glory of God 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule tells us that our “journey together towards holiness” is made primarily in four ways: visiting the poor, attending our Conference meetings, praying, individually and communally, and transforming our concern into action. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Our visits to the poor are the central and founding activity of the Society; the activity that defines our particular way of being Christian. We don’t make our visits alone. Yet the visit itself is not our primary purpose. As Blessed Frédéric explained, “visiting the poor should be the means and not the end of our association.” [Letter 182, to Lallier, 1838] Our calling to see Christ’s face in the poor whom we visit is not a practical tool to facilitate material assistance, it is a reminder of Christ’s own teaching.

Few Conferences are small enough or busy enough that every single member has the opportunity to visit the poor every week, but that doesn’t mean growth in holiness is limited only to the home visitors! Instead, this is one reason that “Conferences meet regularly and consistently, usually weekly, but at least every fortnight (twice a month).” [Rule, Part I, 3.3.1] By meeting to share our encounters with the poor, we enable all the members of our Conferences to grow closer to Christ at every meeting.

We open and close our meetings with prayer, share in spiritual reflection, and support each other in our work. Our meetings ”are held in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4] Beyond the Conference meetings, we also seek to live individual lives of prayer, believing, as St. Vincent taught, that beginning our days with prayer, our “mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX, 29] We pray the rosary together, and celebrate Mass together, especially on our Vincentian Feast Days.

Finally, true to the spirit of our Patron Saint, we seek to transform our prayer into action, our contemplation into effective love. This commitment is the fruit of the relationships we form with the neighbor and with each other. It is the zeal with which we pray for, and work for “the full flourishing and eternal happiness of every person.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1]

We journey together towards holiness because God creates us as social beings, whose relationship with God is reflected in our own social relationships. [CSDC, 110] United with each other and the poor, we recognize that “something of the glory of God shines on the face of every person”. [CSDC, 144]

The four aspects of our shared Vincentian journey are not separable. Through them, “we strive to develop a three-fold relationship with God, the poor and one another”. [Rule, Part III, St. 5]

Contemplate

To which of these four things (visits, meetings, prayer, action) can I seek to more fully dedicate myself?

Recommended Reading

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Chapter 3

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