Contemplation — Our Sublime Vocation

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As members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we are not simply “volunteers.” Rather, ours is a vocation. A vocation is more than a simple set of activities, or membership in a club. The word itself is from the Latin root vocāre, meaning to call. Our vocation is a call from God, a sacred invitation to follow a pathway towards the perfection that He wishes for us. It is subordinate to the vocation shared by all lay Catholics; the call to order all of our temporal affairs according to the plan of God. [Lumen Gentium, 31]

The Vincentian vocation, then, is more than the sum of the actions we take, but that we taken them for love alone. It is more than Conference meetings, and more than Home Visits. It is “a vocation for every moment of our lives.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] It is the means by which we pursue the integration of life that Pope Saint John Paul II describes. [Christifidelis Laici, 59]

If you are a Vincentian, it is because God called you here. You may not have recognized His voice at the time; His words may have come to you from another Vincentian. But it was God who called you here, the same God who calls, again and again, asking for your help; asking for a rent payment, an electric bill, a listening ear, and an open heart. You may not recognize His voice every time, but when He calls you, you answer, and you in turn pass along His call to the neighbor by your wordless witness in living your faith, and loving the neighbor as yourself.

When the tasks seem daunting, we follow St. Vincent’s advice, remembering that in responding to our vocation, “our Lord will be [our] guidance and [our] guide and [we] can do all things with Him.” [CCD I:589]

This is, as Frédéric put it, “the sublime vocation God has given us.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] It is the vocation to which God has called us, the vocation in which we are blessed to encounter Him, the vocation that each and every one of us should be offering to “to all those who seek to live their faith loving and committing themselves to their neighbor in need.” [Rule, Part I, 3.1]

It is certainly true that all of our actions as Vincentians are voluntary, but volunteering is something one does; Vincentian is something we are by virtue of our sublime vocation.


When recruiting new members, do I focus only on the work, or consciously share God’s call?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat

A Week in Prayers May 15 – May 19

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Monday, May 15

Your blessings, Lord,
Are right before my eyes,
As if silhouetted
In golden rays on the horizon
In the sun’s setting or its rising.
Help me to see all your children
Whether hidden in shadows,
Or shabby clothes,
Or behind unwelcoming faces,
Throughout the busy day,
In that same brilliant light.

Tuesday, May 16

Lord help me fulfill Your plan.
Because there is hunger,
May I feed the hungry;
Because there is thirst,
Lead me to water;
Because there is suffering,
Teach me to comfort;
Because of Your justice,
Help me serve.

Wednesday, May 17

You carry me, Lord, on the pathway
When I am too tired to walk.
You hear me, O Lord, in my weakness,
When I am too weary to talk.
You lift me, O Lord, when I’ve fallen,
You heal me, Lord, with Your touch.
On this journey, O Lord, You are with me,
And my burdens are never too much.

Thursday, May 18

Help me to see Your face, O Lord,
So that I do not turn away,
Or presume to cast my judgment
Upon You.

Help me to see Your needs, O Lord,
So that I break out of my comfort
And shed my second coat
For You.

Friday, May 19

Lead me, O Lord, to charity,
So your love becomes all I desire
To share from a heart overflowing
Like the song of a heavenly choir.

Lord, play me the music of heaven
In the angels’ harmonious notes.
Lead me, O Lord, then to justice,
For I am the one with two coats.

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

Contemplation — The Grace of God

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“There but for the grace of God go I.” We tend to share this idiom most often when a peer, a friend, or a colleague suffers a misfortune – somebody whose shoes we imagine to be pretty close to our own size, familiar characters who have made the same mistakes we’ve made. Yet it captures both the empathy that is expected of Vincentian home visitors, and the unmerited nature of God’s grace.

Our Rule says that we refrain from judging the neighbor because we are always aware of our own weakness, and that we “seek to understand them as [we] would a brother or sister.” [Rule, Part I, 1.9] That isn’t always easy when the neighbor comes from a very different background than we do; when we don’t quite feel like we can relate; when their mistakes are different than ours.

It becomes easy, at times, to feel as if we truly know better because we haven’t allowed ourselves to make the mistakes we perceive in the neighbor’s story. We sometimes struggle to remind ourselves to, as Bl. Rosalie put it, “love those who are poor, don’t blame them too much. The world says, ‘It’s their fault… If we had suffered as they have… we would be far from their equal.” [Sullivan, 211]

The neighbors that call us often have no place else to turn for help; theirs are calls of desperation. Have they made unforced choices that led them to this? Oftentimes, yes. But just as paramedics don’t pause to figure out who caused the accident before working to treat the wounds, Vincentians don’t, as Bl. Frédéric once put it, “render the suffering classes responsible for their misery” nor ”fancy themselves exonerated from helping the poor man when they have proved his wrong-doing…” [O’Meara, 324]

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

God’s grace is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us.” [CCC, 1996] Undeserved. We, also, are undeserving, just like “The Undeserving Poor” in Bishop Untener’s essay. [SiH IV] Maybe this can help remind us that putting ourselves in the neighbor’s place means sharing their suffering, not imagining how we’d have made better choices.

Yet, it is also we who are called to be God’s hands, His eyes, His ears, and His loving heart; to love the neighbor as ourselves for the love of God; to serve for love alone. We go to the poor not to judge them but to serve them as the embodiment of Christ, exactly as he taught us. We go in simplicity, humility, gentleness, selflessness, and zeal in witness to our Vincentian charism.

And a charism, our church teaches us, is a very special grace from God. [CCC, 2003] So, while it may be the grace of God that saved us from the neighbors’ circumstances, it is at least equally the grace of God that sends us to sit with them, listen to them, pray with them, and love them – unconditionally.


Do I always put myself in the neighbor’s place first?

Recommended Reading

Serving in Hope, Module IV (especially “The Undeserving Poor”)

A Week in Prayers May 8 — May 12

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Monday, May 8

Throughout the hours and works of the day,
And whatever I think I’ve achieved,
Before You, Father, I place all my needs,
And the needs of the neighbor I serve.
I knock on Your door, I ask for Your mercy,
But Your will, not mine, be done.

Tuesday, May 9

How would my prayer be different, Lord,
How would I call out Your name,
If I had all the things I would otherwise ask,
Would my prayer to You still be the same?

How would I pray from a foxhole, Lord?
How would I pray in the rain?
How would I pray in my desperation?
How would I pray in my pain?

How would I pray when I have all I want?
Would my prayer still be shouted out loud?
Or would I sit satisfied here in my pew,
And just mumble along with the crowd?

For all that I have, and all I have not,
May I sing out in praise of Your name!
Fill me with love and with gratitude, Lord,
So that all of my prayers are the same.

Wednesday, May 10

Help me to love You more, Lord Jesus,
To give You my heart and soul,
To serve in Your name and for Your sake,
To bear my cross and follow You.

Thursday, May 11

All that I have is Yours, O Lord,
My time, my possessions, my talents,
And even my life is Yours,
Given to me only to share.
And the gift of Your love
Which I share without limit
Still fills me to overflowing.

Friday, May 12

Christ my Lord and Savior,
I raise my eyes
And raise my prayers to You.
My feet are firmly planted,
As I work in Your Holy Name,
But my eyes are not cast downward
For my hope does not lie
In the things of this world.

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

Contemplation — Just Prayer

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“The needs were overwhelming,” the Home Visit team recalled, “And they were beyond what we could provide. So we just prayed.” Have you heard an account like this before? The emotions were high, the needs were great, there was nothing we could do, so…we just prayed.

It’s easy to feel as though we’ve let down the neighbor sometimes. We are the ones who return their calls. We are the ones who listen and understand. And we are the ones who, more often than not, are able to help with that overdue bill, or groceries, or rent, so when we can’t, or when the problem isn’t really a matter of material assistance, it can seem as if we’ve fallen short. Instead of offering our alms, we share in their suffering.

And we just pray.

Yet no matter the need, no matter the outcome of our Home Visit, we always pray. It isn’t an afterthought, or a rote exercise, or something we fall back on only when things seem hopeless! Our prayers are the most important thing we have to offer.

After all, why do we offer them for each other, or for our friends and family? Vincentians are people of “prayer and action.” [Rule, Part I, 3.3] Bl. Frédéric calls us to “do all the good we can and trust to God for the rest.” [Baunard, 81] However great or little our efforts or our material offerings, our work is never complete without prayer.

We always pray; we never just pray. The final balance between our action and our prayer is up to God alone. As St. Vincent reminds us, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205]

In our prayers, we place the needs of the neighbors before God in order to assure them that they are not forgotten, that this, too, shall pass. We add our voices to theirs, knowing that God has placed us n the presence for this reason, that He, too, is present on our Home Visit, and that the hope we offer is not merely the hope of a light bill payment.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great taught that to give what is ours to the neighbor is charity; to give them what is theirs is justice. [P.R., Bk III] In this sense, at least, they are all just prayers.


If I approach each home visit as if I have only prayer to offer, how would I pray differently?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

A Week in Prayers May 1 — May 5

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Monday, May 1

Open my heart, Lord Jesus,
Empty me of myself.
Take away all that worries me,
And all that troubles my mind.
Take away all of my triumphs,
And all victories of this world.
Empty me of myself, O Lord,
That You may live in me,
And I may live in You.

Tuesday, May 2

Heavenly Father,
Your love is like the dewfall,
Covering the earth like a blanket
During each night’s darkness,
And rising in the growing light
To be the very air I breathe.
On this path, O Lord,
May Your light guide me
And Your truth lead me,
As I seek to follow Your way.

Wednesday, May 3

In everything I do, O Lord,
In everything I say,
Let me be Your instrument.
Do not let my own hesitation,
Selfishness, or worry
Stand in the way of Your love
Shining forth through my smile
My manner,
And my actions.

Thursday, May 4

Lord, help me to bear wordless witness;
To proclaim Your truth by living my faith.
May my neighbor come to know You
Through my acts of mercy and love,
In the name of Your son Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 5

O my Jesus, forgive me.
In Your mercy, make me whole.
Measure out Your mercy,
As I have measured mine,
Knowing, as I do, that it is You
I serve in the neighbor.

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

Contemplation — Cheerful Givers

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God loves a cheerful giver,” the Apostle reminds us, and so, we might observe, does every person made in His image. Who wants a guest at their birthday party to grudgingly hand over a gift, sighing under the weight of all the stress of shopping for it? Thankfully, there are few such guests. Instead, the great anticipation of the recipient’s joy at seeing the gift often makes us impatient to see it opened.

The beauty of gifts given freely to friends is that they are given completely unconditionally; we don’t consider for a moment whether a friend deserves a birthday present, or whether they will repay it. Our goal is only to find the perfect gift. When we receive gifts, we can hardly help but be happy.

If by chance, the shirt is the wrong size or color, or we’ve already read that book, we always know that it’s the thought that counts; it’s the friendship and love that accompanies the gift that we really celebrate. In the same way, St. Vincent teaches, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] It is not the gift, but the giving that matters.

We bring gifts to each neighbor we visit, and giving them unconditionally, and never “taking the attitude that …recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, Ch 2] Those gifts might include help with a bill, or food, or rent, or “any form of help that alleviates suffering or deprivation and promotes human dignity and personal integrity in all their dimensions.” [Rule, Part I, 1.3]

Most importantly, though, we “never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14] What makes a birthday gift so special is the thought and care and love that goes into finding it, wrapping it, and giving it. What makes our gift of time and self to the neighbor so special is thought and care and love that goes into answering their calls, visiting them cheerfully, and always helping in the best way that we can.

When we knock on the neighbor’s door it should be with the same joyful anticipation with which we arrive at a party, with gift in hand. Every home visit is an opportunity to remind the neighbor that God has not abandoned them; to bring them the gift of love – the love of God.

Home visits should never be approached as a chore. They are a special grace from God, given to us so that we might see Him, serve Him, and make ourselves the instruments of His boundless love. It is more blessed to give than to receive.


“Why,” St. Louise asked, “are our souls not in a continuous state of joy and happiness?” [SWLM, A.14B]

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

A Week in Prayers April 24 – April 28

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Monday, April 24

Heavenly Father, hear my prayer,
Offered to You in faith.
Holy Spirit, live within me,
Strengthen me with hope.
Show me, Jesus, the Way and Truth,
Fill my heart with love.

Tuesday, April 25

Dear Lord Jesus,
Risen and scarred,
Light of eternal life.
Show me Your hands, O Lord.
Not so that I may believe,
But so that I remember
This, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, April 26

Lord in heaven
In Your name,
I will seek to serve.
Jesus Savior,
For Your sake,
I will give myself.
Holy Spirit,
With Your love,
I will light hearts on fire.

Thursday, April 27

Watch over me in this valley, Lord,
And I will have no fear.
Though trials and troubles surround me,
I know that You are near.

Await me on the mountain, Lord,
And call me from above.
Your fire within me, I will climb,
To join with You in love.

Friday, April 28

Fill me, Lord,
With the love that is ever-giving,
That multiplies as it is given,
The love that can only be a gift,
The gift that can only be gratuitous,
Patient, kind, and true.
Fill me, Lord, to overflowing.
Send Your love through me.

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

Contemplation — From Day to Day

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One of the most treasured tenets of our Vincentian spirituality is trust in Providence. When our treasuries run low, we trust in Providence to refill them. When we are not sure of the path to take, we trust in Providence to guide us. But Providence is more than simply a generous donor, or a wise friend, and our trust demands much more from us than simply expecting things to work out well.

In our households and our businesses, we prudently set aside money for “rainy days” rather than spend it all on payday, because we have obligations – bills – that will remain, even if our income does not. But what about the works of the Conference, particularly the assistance we give to neighbors in need? These are not, strictly speaking, obligations, and there is no amount of saving up that will assure we can meet them. As an earlier edition of the Rule explains, our works, “being entirely optional, should be from day to day; besides, nothing is more Christian than to trust one’s self to Providence and to count upon its inexhaustible care when the work is undertaken for God. To make a reserve, to have before us a disposable capital which we never touch, to lay out beforehand a budget as in a relief association, are proceedings essentially contrary to the spirit of our Society.” [Rule, 1898, 87]

Our tradition seems almost to defy common sense. Surely it is better to set aside money for those neighbors who will certainly call us next week than to give it all out today! Or, perhaps, giving all we have to meet today’s needs makes the most sense. After all, if a homeless shelter had three vacant beds, who would ever turn away a mom with two kids just to keep those beds open for tomorrow?

The needs presented to us are as unique and unrepeatable as the images of God who present them, and we can never know in advance the best way to help. This is why we are called to “assess each home visit as a unique encounter and … not set predefined limitations on the amount of help to be given or the type of help to be given or the number of times to help someone.”

This apparent conflict between prudence and Providence is as old as the Society. As Bl. Frédéric once explained, “in such a work 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]

To trust in Providence means to abandon ourselves completely to the will of God, and it is from Providence that both donations and the needs of the neighbor are placed before us. If we have the means, we give generously. When we are poor ourselves, we give what little we have. Money can be saved in a bank, but it isn’t money we are trying to save.


Are there times I let worry about tomorrow’s funds obscure the needs before me today?

Recommended Reading

The Manual

A Week in Prayers April 17 – April 21

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Monday, April 17

Lord when I see Your face
How can I help but smile?
The face of hunger, the face of joy,
The face of need, the face of love,
The face of the neighbor,
Unique and unrepeatable.
Open my eyes to see You, Lord,
Open my heart to smile.

Tuesday, April 18

Lord Jesus, Your bore Your cross for me
Up the rocky path, buckling under its weight.
Open my eyes to see the struggling neighbor
Bending low under the weight of a cross.
Give my heart the strength to share the burden
And the love to wipe the neighbor’s brow.
Lead me on the way of the cross.

Wednesday, April 19

Father in heaven,
Hear my prayer;
Hear the groanings
Of my heart.
Hear me, Lord,
In the silence.
Answer me, Lord,
In Your mercy.
Answer me, Lord,
In Your love.
Answer me, Lord,
In the silence.

Thursday, April 20

I am in Your hands, O Lord,
Carry me where You will.
Lift me up from darkness,
Give me rest when I am weary,
And when my neighbor is in need,
Lord, let me lend Your hand.

Friday, April 21

Lord Jesus,
Help me guard against the false humility
That shows empty hands to the needy
Because I believe what I have to offer
Is not enough.
Teach me instead to find abundance
In five loaves and two fish.
Help me to share
My time, my possessions, and myself
With all who hunger.

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

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