Spirituality

Contemplation – Do Not Grow Old With The World

Contemplation – Do Not Grow Old With The World 940 788 SVDP USA

Both the Society and the church celebrate our long traditions and ancient texts; both the Gospels and the Rule govern our actions; we seek models in the Saints and Blesseds of our church and of our Vincentian family. But should this mean we must be set in all of our ways?

The question arises from time to time, as new servant leaders or new members suggest special works that our Councils and Conferences have never tried before. Certainly, new approaches or programs must remain within the limits set by our Rule, but often, we greet new ideas with resistance, for no other reason than that they are new.

Frédéric, who saw the Society grow from seven members to hundreds of Conferences around the world, celebrated the many innovations, especially those that served the particular needs of their localities. “I then favor innovations,” he wrote, explaining that “in human affairs, success is possible only by continual development, and that not to go forward is to fall back.” [Letter 80, to Pessonneaux, 1834]

Home visits will always remain the core work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. These visits are a spiritual practice before all else; serving Christ in the person of His poor, and offering them Christ’s love and hope. The home visit, along with the Conference meeting, is the rock on which we are built; our foundation, but not our limit. After all, “the Society constantly strives for renewal, adapting to changing world conditions.” [Rule, Part I, 1.6]

Even in the earliest days of the Society, special works such as apprenticeship programs and schools were established to help people move out of poverty, to address needs that were observed in the course of the friendships developed on home visits. The Society collaborated with other organizations in order to accomplish even more.

Among the many reasons to welcome new members is that they are often a source of new ideas, their “more ardent zeal, new ideas, and original insights prevent routine from setting in and the primitive fervor dying.” Conferences, Frédéric observed, have seasons, too, for “there is change in all human things.” [Letter 141 to Ballofet, 1837] His hope was that the Society, whose very foundation was unforeseen, would continue to prosper, and to be guided by providence.

The Society, like the church, is changing and unchanged, ever young; we are built on a rock, not set in stone. We don’t change for the sake of change alone, but to better fulfill God’s will, to love our neighbor, and to grow in holiness through our works.

“The religion of your forefathers,” Blessed Frédéric reminds us, “does not grow old with the world. Ever renewing itself, it keeps pace with progress, and it alone can lead to perfection.” [Baunard, 20]

Contemplate

Am I open to discerning God’s will, even when it means change from the familiar?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns

Contemplation – There is Always Much Love Where There is Much Faith

Contemplation – There is Always Much Love Where There is Much Faith 940 788 SVDP USA

Given that our Rule [Part I, 2.2] reminds us that our “ideal is to help relieve suffering for love alone,” it seems fair to say that the heart of our Vincentian vocation lies in … our hearts. How can our human hearts be filled with enough love? The answer perhaps begins with the Greatest Commandment, which calls us first to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart…”

Our hearts lead us very powerfully, filled with our hopes and our dreams, our joys and our fears. Left to their own devices, our hearts can become distracted, our worries can keep us from serving God fully, even when we truly believe we are serving His will. It is because of this that we must first “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely.”

As important as acts of virtue are, they are not complete unless they are both interior and exterior. In other words, if we seek to act “for the love of God,” [Catechism, 1822] we must seek first the love of God within us. This means letting go of the troubles of the day, giving them all to God, in order to make room for His love.

In his letters to St. Louise, who often struggled with anxieties, St. Vincent urged her to find peace in her heart, reminding her that “He will reign in you if your heart is at peace. So, be at peace, Mademoiselle, and you will honor in a sovereign way the God of peace and love.” [CCD I:111]

In this he echoed St. Augustine, who taught that “our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.”

We are taught to love, to trust, and to rest our hearts in the Lord! He assures us that “when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me…” What better way could there be to prepare to serve our neighbor than by giving our hearts first to God; by allowing His peace and His love to replace our desires and anxieties?

If we love God first and fully, if we love Him with all our hearts, they will be filled to overflowing with His love, and we will become His instruments to serve our neighbors in need.

“That is because,” Bl. Frédéric wrote, “the human heart easily allows itself to be captured by love and there is always much love where there is much faith.” [Letter 145, to Velay, 1837]

Contemplate

Do I sometimes let my own anxieties push God to the side?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

Contemplation: Dove-like and Holy, Perfecting the Other Virtues

Contemplation: Dove-like and Holy, Perfecting the Other Virtues 940 788 SVDP USA

“Simplicity,” St. Vincent once said, “is the virtue I love most” [CCD I:265]  and our Rule lists it first among our five Essential Virtues. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] So what does the virtue of simplicity call upon us to do?

Simplicity, Vincent taught, is a virtue primarily concerned with God. In simplicity, we present ourselves, and our words, with absolutely no intent to mislead or evade; we are always straightforward. We do this, he said, for the love of God and for His greater glory, because God is Himself “pure act and a very simple being” and is “pleased with simple souls.” [CCD XII:246]

In serving the neighbor, it is especially important to act and to speak with simplicity. The world our neighbors must navigate has no shortage of false claims and promises, empty flattery and performative insults. As we seek to build relationships based on trust and friendship, then, we have to be very careful not to appear “wily, clever, [or] crafty.” [ibid]

There is something of a childlike nature in the virtue of simplicity. Indeed, St. Louise explained that it was Christ’s “simplicity and charity which led Him to come to us as a child so as to be more accessible to His creatures.” [Spiritual Writings, 718] Similarly, describing the childlike simplicity of one of his missioners, Vincent marveled that his “simplicity made him lovable and loved by everyone, but especially by God, who no doubt usually communicated with him in a special way, since cum simplicibus est sermocinatio ejus.(His discussion is with the simple.)” [CCD II:377]

Like all virtues, simplicity must be both external and internal. We seek, in our words and in our deeds, in our hearts and in our souls, the “simplicity of being” that Louise described, that allows God’s grace to act in us without obstacles. [Spiritual Writings, 818]

So, just as acting with simplicity means we do not deceive, and we do not exaggerate, it also means we must not be motivated by anything but the pure charity of our acts; we must do good only to do good, and because God wills it – never to simply make ourselves look good, or to gain favor.

Both Vincent and Louise used the image of a dove to describe the honesty, purity, and sincerity of the virtue of simplicity – the same symbol we use to represent the Holy Spirit. So perhaps when we open our Conference Meetings, asking the Holy Spirit to live within our lives, we might consider it a prayer for this virtue, that our simplicity may be like that of the missioner whom Vincent praised, “dove-like and holy, a simplicity that perfected his other virtues.” [CCD II:377]

Contemplate

Do I ever hide behind “it’s complicated” to explain away my failure to speak or to act directly?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons 2560 1920 SVDP USA

Speaking of pilgrimages, Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

For members of the Society, it is especially in Paris that God’s “grace has shown with particular splendor” on our patrons and founders. Twenty-three Vincentian Pilgrims recently returned from Paris, where together, they walked in the footsteps of those holy people. National Director of Formation Tim Williams generously shared these photos and captions with us, so that we can all share a part of the pilgrims’ journey.

History and Artifacts

The offices of the Council General International (CGI) of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul include a museum that is home to important historical artifacts, many of them donated by the family of Blessed Frédéric. Seen here are Ozanam’s academic robes, which he would have worn while teaching at the Sorbonne, and a portrait painted by Frédéric’s brother-in-law, Charles Soulacroix. This portrait was the basis for the Ozanam Mosaic installed at the National Basilica in 2020.

The CGI staff was very warm and welcoming. Pictured is Gonzague de Raulin, special advisor to the President General, showing us the museum.

Bust of Frederic Ozanam

 

 

 

 

 

During his short 40 years on this earth, Frédéric managed to travel quite extensively; including trips to Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and all around France, often visiting existing Conferences, and working to begin new ones, as he continued to do in Italy right up until weeks before his death. It was in this trunk that he packed for all of those journeys.

In the former motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission, the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the Chapelle Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, in the presence of Vincent’s body. Also in this building is a small museum containing is a number of artifacts from Saints Vincent, Louise, and Catherine Labouré. Our guide in the museum was Father Andrés Motto, CM, who serves as spiritual advisor to the Council General International (CGI,) and pilgrim Bob Loew acted as his translator for us.

Churches and Chapels

At the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Catherine Labouré had her visions of Mary and the Miraculous Medal in 1830. When St. Vincent’s remains were translated to Paris in April 1830, St. Catherine reported having a vision of his heart on three successive nights in the convent chapel, which she took to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper. His heart is in the Miraculous Medal Chapel today. The pilgrims celebrated Mass here and had time for individual prayer and meditation in the chapel. Outside the chapel, Sr. Paule Freeburg, DC, shares stories of the motherhouse, St. Louise, and St Catherine.

The inside of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes Church. It is beneath this church where Bl. Frédéric is buried, and the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the crypt.

In the courtyard outside, National President Ralph Middlecamp shares some of the history.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Saint-Laurent was the parish of St. Vincent and of St. Louise. Years later, during the sack of Saint-Lazare (home of the Congregation of the Mission) in the French Revolution, several revolutionaries who had found a reliquary of St. Vincent de Paul there brought it reverently to Saint-Laurent for safekeeping — then returned to their looting and pillaging. 

 

Famous for its stained glass, Sainte-Chappelle was originally built as a chapel for Louis IX and was consecrated in 1248.

The famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica sits on the highest point in Paris, Montmartre. It was built in no small part due to the work of the leaders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who promoted the “national vow” to build this church in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War.

First built in 1758, the Panthéon is and was a very distinctive landmark in Paris. Through France’s many revolutions, it has served alternately a Catholic Church or a civic monument, which it is today. 

 

Across from the Panthéon stands the Church of St. Étienne du Mont. While attending the nearby Sorbonne School of Law, this was Blessed Frédéric’s parish, and it was also home to the first Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Interior of the Church of St Étienne du Mont.

In nearly every church, there is at least one painting or statue of St. Vincent de Paul, who is beloved throughout France. Here, pilgrim Silvia Vargas lights a candle in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which was the Ozanam family parish. Frédéric’s funeral was here, and his daughter Maire would later marry in this church.

All Around Paris

Rue Mouffetard remains the same narrow street that it was in Frédéric and Rosalie’s day. Once a place of great poverty, it is today lined with shops and cafes, and filled with locals and tourists. The pilgrims walked with Blessed Rosalie’s words in our hearts: “Never have a I prayed so well as in the streets.”

Fifty thousand Parisians followed Blessed Rosalie Rendu’s funeral procession from St. Médard Church to this cemetery in 1856. To this day, fresh flowers are always placed upon her grave, and our pilgrims added a bouquet and prayed together on their visit. Known as “The Good Mother of All,” the inscription on her monument reads: “To Sister Rosalie from her friends, both rich and poor.”

The garden at the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.

The French government installed a small marker on the side of the building where the first Conference meeting took place on April 23, 1833. 

Currently a fire station, this building was the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity when Blessed Rosalie arrived in Paris.

This sign on the wall in the crypt reads (in Latin): “A.F. Ozanam, unselfish herald of truth and love. He lived 40 years, 4 months, and 16 days. Dedicated by Amélie to her husband with whom she lived for twelve years and by Marie to her father. Live in God and pray for our salvation.”

Parisian Views

A view of Paris from the steps of Sacré-Coeur.

Contemplation: Inspirations of the Heart

Contemplation: Inspirations of the Heart 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a beautiful spiritual document. Despite what its title may lead us to believe, it is not a set of detailed instructions, prescribing how we must act in all situations. Rather, it is a description of how we act, especially serving the neighbor, “in the Vincentian spirit.” [Rule, Part II, Statute 8] So, rather than ask, “what is the Rule telling me to do?” We should ask instead “does the Rule describe how I serve?”

The Apostle Paul explained that the new covenant is written on our hearts, not carved in stone. It is a “covenant not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.” Paul was not, of course, rejecting Scripture, but explaining we can only fulfill God’s will by opening our hearts to the Spirit, and allowing God’s work to be done through us.

Blessed Frédéric made a similar point when his friend Léonce Curnier, who was starting a new Conference at Nimes, asked for advice on how the Paris Conferences operated.

In our works of charity, Frédéric wrote, “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]

Rules and formulas are familiar to us, though! It can be comforting to know we can only do so much; our hands are tied; or we can’t help, because the bell rang.

But the more that we chisel in stone, the less we are guided by the spirit; the more we decide in advance, the less we hear the cry of the poor; the more we focus on calculations, the less we act for love alone. But how can I trust my own poor judgment?

St. Vincent taught that it is pleasing to God for us to “get in the habit of judging events and persons, always and in all circumstances, for the good. If an action has a hundred facets to it…always look at its best side. In the name of God, Monsieur, let us act in that way even though intelligence and human prudence tell us the contrary.” [CCD II:638]

No rule can tell us what to do on every home visit. But our Rule describes Vincentians as people who see the suffering Christ in the poor and are guided by the Holy Spirit. Vincentians serve in hope. [Rule, Part I, 1.2, 1.7-1.8]

Therefore, since we have such hope, we act very boldly.

Contemplate

Have I allowed prudence to make me too timid in serving the poor?

Recommended Reading

The Rule (especially Part I)

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 856 642 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I have just returned from the Heritage Pilgrimage to Paris, which was originally scheduled for last year as part of our 175th anniversary celebrations. In spite of some challenges, 23 Vincentians from all over the United States were able to walk together in the footsteps of our founders and patrons.

On our pilgrimage, we celebrated Mass at the tombs of Frédéric Ozanam, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Louise de Marillac. Our group prayed at and put flowers on the grave of Sister Rosalie Rendu. We visited the churches where they worshiped, walked the streets they walked, saw where they lived, and visited several small museums containing possessions of these holy people.

A pilgrimage is about more than visiting places. One source defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”

At our final dinner we all concluded that we are returning to our daily life enriched by the experience. An observation was made that these were ordinary people who struggled with life, just like we all do. But being attentive to God, what they did made the world a better place. Someone else shared that the reason we know about Vincent and Frédéric is that they inspired a long line of people who continued to dedicate themselves to carry on what they initiated.

You and I are in that chain of servants to the poor. We must provide leadership to our Conferences and Councils, and invite new members so that these efforts continue to witness to the love of God. Most Vincentians will not go on pilgrimage to Paris, but we all strive to walk in the footsteps of our founders and patrons by continuing the network of friends they inspired, a network which visits the poor in Christ’s name, providing them with material needs and friendship. Those we serve may never know who St. Vincent de Paul or Frédéric Ozanam are, but they know us.

After our Mass in Ozanam’s tomb, we prayed a prayer written by his wife Amelie in that same crypt. Aside from some changed gender roles referenced, it seemed she wrote the prayer specifically for us. The prayer has a timeless and universal message that gave me a deep appreciation of spirituality of the woman who was loved dearly by Frédéric Ozanam.

She prayed, “Dear Lord Jesus who came down from the heavens to this underground vault, to this humble altar, residing now in our hearts, hear our prayer, protect all that we hold most dear on this Earth and, at this time when the future of our country is in the balance, give strength and good judgment to those who wish for Good. Choose fair and measured men to govern us, free of the passions that can blind us, but full of the passion for justice. Have pity, oh Lord, on those who suffer. Relieve their pain and bring back to us that great Christian whom you wished to purify and who may serve you once again.

“Watch over our families, Lord, give our sons the desire to work, give them devotion, the very best guardian of their virtue. Make men of them, so that they may serve their country with honor and serve you with faith. Give our daughters the strength to raise their children well and to carry out their duties graciously. Bestow good health upon us and may none of the people close to our hearts abandon the faith of the Church.

“Oh you martyrs, illustrious prelates, virgin saints, and you my darling one, whose bodies are laid to rest together in this place, pray, pray for us that our wishes be granted, and while we wait for the day when we shall be reunited, fill our souls with strength, peace and love.”

It is a fitting prayer for all Vincentian pilgrims on our journey toward holiness.

Serviens in spe,

Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

More Photos from the 2021 National Assembly

More Photos from the 2021 National Assembly 2550 1700 SVDP USA

You asked for them, and here they are! Another round of photos from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s 2021 National Assembly in Houston, Texas.

If you missed the first round of photos, they can be found here.

To watch a recording of any of the available sessions, click here.

Contemplation: Damascus, Emmaus, and the Vincentian Pathway

Contemplation: Damascus, Emmaus, and the Vincentian Pathway 940 788 SVDP USA

One of the central tenets of our Vincentian spirituality is our call to see the face of Christ in those we serve. It seems so simple, and yet at times we lose our focus and lose sight of Him during our Home Visits. It is easy to allow ourselves to think ahead to the “solution” before we even learn the problem. We let tomorrow blind us to the present.

But we are called to be present – to be both here and now for the neighbors we serve. Listening is not thinking ahead to our own answer, but listening as if to Christ Himself, looking in His eyes and hearing His voice.

On the very day of Christ’s resurrection, two of His followers walked along the road to Emmaus, discussing all that had happened, including the account of the empty tomb, when “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”

Christ was right there with them, in the flesh, and they could not recognize His face. They looked but couldn’t see. They walked and listened but did not recognize Him until He broke the bread with them at supper that evening! In speaking about Christ behind them, they were blinded to Christ before them.

This was not the only time the apostles lost sight of Christ’s face. As Bl. Frédéric pointed out, “The fault of many Christians is to hope little…. They are apostles in the boat during the storm: they forget that the Savior is in the midst of them.” [Ramson, Put Your Hands into Hers, 14] Like the apostles in the boat, we also sometimes allow our “troubles of the day” to overwhelm our senses, and to blind us to the true hope – the hope in which we are called to serve.

Saul of Tarsus, feared oppressor of the early Christians, was converted with great drama on the road to Damascus. Struck blind by a flash of great light, he did not see Christ’s face that day, but heard His voice. Only after three days was his sight restored, as he became Paul, Christ’s apostle, who would later teach, “at present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face…

Our moments of conversion tend to be less dramatic than Paul’s, but we, too, are on a journey. Ours may not be the road to Damascus, or even to Emmaus, but Christ awaits us along our Vincentian pathway. We will see Him when we act with patience, when we follow St. Vincent’s admonition to “not tread on the heels of Providence…

He may not always seem obvious, and we may see Him only indistinctly, but we are called to see and to serve Him, even if we have to squint a little, and even if we have to slow down.

Contemplate

Have I looked past Him, or through Him in my hurry to be someplace else?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paulespecially 3. Jesus Christ, the Center

09-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 232 327 SVDP USA

Dear brothers and sisters,

May the grace and peace of Jesus be always with us!

The month of September is called the Vincentian month because we, members of the worldwide Vincentian Family, prepare to celebrate together the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul with beautifully prepared Eucharists, liturgies of the Word, or other prayer encounters, engaging all the branches of the Vincentian Family in a given parish, village, city, region, or country. We also prepare to celebrate the feast with concrete acts of corporal and spiritual charity toward our Lords and Masters.

I would like to thank deeply and congratulate each branch of the Vincentian Family for the incredible inventiveness, engagement, and service it has shown from the outset of the pandemic through today to alleviate the suffering brought to the world by Covid-19, which, as always, hit hardest the Poor, the most vulnerable. We all hope and pray that the worst of the pandemic slowly is getting behind us, although that is true in some countries more than in others. We still live with much uncertainty as to what might come next.

More and more, we are learning to use new tools to keep in touch with each other through social media, Zoom, and other platforms at our disposition. These are excellent means to grow in interconnectedness and collaboration. Nevertheless, we are experiencing, with even greater urgency, the need to resume personal encounters, meetings, and gatherings that we had before the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world. After experiencing so long a period of isolation, distancing, and prohibition of meetings, it is our heart’s desire to make personal encounters, meetings, and gatherings even more numerous.

While Vincent wrote more than 30,000 letters, the primary form of “remote” communication of his time, his days were filled with meetings with individuals and groups, and he clearly valued repetitions of prayer and conferences that brought together the confreres and the sisters.

Speaking of growth in interconnectedness, I would like to highlight three areas that I already discussed in the past. There have been big improvements in all of them, but there is still much to do to achieve the goals we set for ourselves in these spheres. Therefore, I am returning to them in this year’s letter, convinced that if we succeed in intensifying interconnectedness and collaboration and in fulfilling the objectives we set for ourselves in these specific areas, the other areas will follow almost automatically, and it will be much easier to bring the 160 branches together for any new initiative that we may begin in the future.

1. National Councils of the Vincentian Family in all 162 countries where the Vincentian Family is present today.

The Vincentian Family Office (VFO) is working very hard to help to reach the following goal: by next year, 2022, all 162 countries will have a National Council of the Vincentian Family.

Who should be part of the National Council? The representatives of all the branches in a given country. No branch should be left out, but all, large or small, should feel part of the same Family. If the country is big, there could be Regional Vincentian Family Councils, as well as Local Councils in large cities, as is already the case in some countries. All of these always would be interconnected among themselves and coordinated by the National Council.

I would like to call upon the branches in a given country, region, or city that have been there longer and have more experience than other branches in the field of organization to help bring the different representatives of the Family together. They are well positioned to invite branches and organize the Councils, in which every single branch will take part, in order to plan together different initiatives, projects, and encounters throughout the year. I encourage the National Councils not to limit encounters to once a year, but a few times a year, to develop and intensify collaboration and interconnection that will bring the Family together regularly.

To insist upon the importance of collaborating in initiatives begun by others and in line with the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission, Vincent imagined objections its members might make. “Someone in the Company may say, ‘Monsieur, I’m in the world to evangelize the poor, and you want me to work in seminaries’[1]; “It’s fine for us to do that, Monsieur, but why should we be serving the Daughters of Charity?[2]; “But the Foundlings, why burden ourselves with that? Don’t we have enough things to do?[3] Vincent says that those who would turn away from such collaborative ministries are “people who have only a narrow outlook, confining their perspective and plans to a certain circumference within which they shut themselves away, so to speak, in one spot; they don’t want to leave it, and if they’re shown something outside it and go near to have a look, they immediately go back to their center, like snails into their shells.[4]

I invite you to do everything possible so that these encounters, projects, and initiatives will not be limited to two or three branches in a given country, region, or city, but include literally all the branches. Once one or another branch brings up an initiative and invites the other branches to collaborate, they certainly will follow.

2. Response to natural disasters, wars, and other calamities, as a whole Vincentian Family.

Within the Vincentian Family, we need to come up with a system on the international, national, regional, and local levels to respond as efficiently and quickly as we can to natural disasters, wars, and other calamities, not as a single branch, but together as the whole Vincentian Family. In fact, we already started to reflect and act in this area on the level of the Vincentian Family Executive Committee (VFEC).

Last year, we came together as an International Family to help the people affected by Covid-19, as well as the tragic explosion in the port of Beirut. The VFEC launched a campaign with the Committee of the Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) to assist the hundreds of thousands of homeless in the Lebanese capital, through the Vincentian Family National Council in Lebanon, coordinated by its national president. During the plague that struck Marseilles in 1649, Vincent, learning of the death of Father Brunet and of his lay collaborator, the Chevalier de la Coste, described a rapid response to the crisis. He wrote Antoine Portail, “The Duchesse d’Aguillon is supposed to be sending you five hundred livres… If you need more money, let me know; we shall send some immediately and, if need be, we shall sell our crosses and chalices to assist you.”[5]

By forming and strengthening the National Councils of the Vincentian Family in all 162 countries where we are present, we will have grassroots coordinating teams in collaboration with the Vincentian Family on the international level, which become a force on which the world’s poor can count. Every single branch, whether large or small, is an invaluable part of the wonderful mosaic that makes up the Vincentian Family.

3. Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) with its 13 Houses Campaign.

The FHA with the 13 Houses Campaign is an initiative in the area of charity that brings the Vincentian Family together and, thus, needs to be promoted within the Vincentian Family to reach each member’s heart so that everyone becomes involved. The FHA is our unique common project. Therefore, it must be promoted, introduced, and extended in all 162 countries where the Vincentian Family is present so that no Congregation or Association remains outside it, but all take an active part in the initiative in every corner of the world where we live and serve.

So far, 44 branches of the Vincentian Family have engaged actively in the FHA and the 13 Houses Campaign. It is now present in 44 countries; 1826 houses have been built, and 6628 people have been helped. We hoped that by last year’s Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul we would get many more additional branches, Congregations and lay Associations, to take part in one way or another in the FHA, but that goal was not reached. There is still a long way to go.

Unfortunately, the numbers of people who live on the streets, refugees who are displaced from their homes, and people living in substandard housing are increasing drastically all around the world as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. A united response to these overwhelming needs is more necessary than ever.

Our time recalls the situation Vincent faced during the Fronde when he mobilized Vincentian and other ecclesial groups and individuals to assist displaced persons. He could report to his confrere in Poland, “About eight hundred refugee girls have been placed in private houses, where they are taken care of and instructed. You can imagine how much harm would have been done if they had been left wandering around. We have a hundred of them in one house in the faubourg Saint-Denis; we are going to rescue from the same danger the nuns from the country, whom the armies have thrown into Paris. Some are on the streets, some are living in questionable places, and others are staying with relatives. Since, however, they are all in a state of dissipation and danger, it was felt that enclosing them in a monastery, under the care of the Daughters of Sainte-Marie, would be a service most pleasing to God.[6]

As I have written in a previous letter, we need to come quickly to the point where homelessness will not be tackled alone as an individual person or an individual branch, but together as a Family on the local, national, and international levels. Each branch, by bringing its long history of service to the homeless, its expertise, professionalism, and resources, helps to build up a wonderful force that becomes much more effective in helping the Poor.

To this end, I would like to invite any of the 160 branches of the Vincentian Family, which have yet to do so, to become active collaborators in the Famvin Homeless Alliance initiative by contacting the FHA coordinating committee member Mrs. Yasmine Cajuste: (fha.info@famvin.org) to receive information and materials. You also can visit the FHA website: vfhomelessalliance.org.

I wish every single member of the worldwide Vincentian Family in the widest sense of the word a deep experience of grace as we celebrate the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul in all corners of the world. May Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Saint Vincent de Paul, and all the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family continue interceding for us and inspiring us on the path to globalize Charity!

Your brother in Saint Vincent,
Tomaž Mavrič, CM

*To view and download this letter, or download in another language, click here.

[1] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translated and edited by Jacqueline Kilar, DC; and Marie Poole, DC; et al; annotated by John W. Carven, CM; New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2014; volume XII, page 75; conference 195, “Purpose of the Congregation of the Mission.” Future references to this work will be indicated using the initials CCD, followed by the volume number, then the page number, for example, CCD XII, 75.

[2] Ibid., 76.

[3] Ibid., 78.

[4] Ibid., 81.

[5] CCD III, 465-466; L. 1125, “To Antoine Portail, in Marseilles,” 6 August 1649.

[6] CCD IV, 399; L. 1511 “To Lambert aux Couteaux, Superior, in Warsaw,” 11 June 1652.

 

Contemplation: According To How We Use It

Contemplation: According To How We Use It 940 788 SVDP USA

Formation is not a single thing we do; it is a lifelong process of becoming. In all that we read, in all that we contemplate, in all those we meet, and in all that we do, we are being formed. We can allow ourselves to be formed passively – consuming the pop culture, feeding our appetites – or we can form ourselves deliberately, with a specific end in mind.

In other words, as Blessed Frédéric once wrote, “Life is despicable if we consider it according to how we use it, but not if we recognize how we could use it, if we consider it as the most perfect work of the Creator…” [Letter 136, to Lallier, 1836]

Aristotle proposed that we become by doing: if you want to become a builder, you build. By extension, he argued, if you wish to become virtuous, you do virtuous things; you practice the virtues. [Nichomachean Ethics] St. Vincent echoed this idea when he taught that “the will has to act, and not just the understanding; for all our reasons are fruitless if we don’t go on to [actions.]” [CCD XI:175]

And so, from our earliest days, following the guidance of our families and churches, we learn through our actions how to be better. Our actions form us, and they can form us for better or worse, and this is the core of what we call the Human Dimension of Formation. As Vincentians, we choose our actions more deliberately, more specifically. We choose to serve our neighbors, exactly as Christ asks us to do. If it is really that simple, why does it take a lifetime?

It would be wonderfully easy if our Christian formation could be completed with a single home visit, wouldn’t it? It also would be wonderfully easy if a single trip to the gym would make us fit and slender for life! Simple, it turns out, does not always mean easy. After all, even a clearly marked path may be narrow, or steep.

Each time we serve the neighbor and do so for love alone, we seek to do His will. Our actions bring us closer to God, a little bit at a time. Our actions form us, and transform us, but not all at once.

The Lord tells us, in the Book of Leviticus, to be holy, for He is holy. Christ tells us, in the Gospel of Matthew, to be perfect, just as the Father is perfect. The word “holy” comes from the Old English hāl, meaning “whole” or “complete.” The word “perfect” comes from the Latin perficere, meaning “to complete.”

Christ is the light and the life; He is perfect; He is complete. The rest of us continue in our formation, our lifelong process of becoming.

Contemplate

How was I formed today? What drew me closer to God?

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Formation, A Foundation Document

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