Spirituality

Contemplation – The Opposite of Selfless is Self

Contemplation – The Opposite of Selfless is Self 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule informs us that the Vincentian virtue of selflessness is “dying to our ego with a life of self-sacrifice; members share their time, their possessions, their talents and themselves in a spirit of generosity.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] To share generously is surely virtuous behavior, but as St. Vincent always emphasized, it is the internalization of virtue that is most important.

True selflessness is more than simply sharing. As St. Louise explained, in order for our service to be pleasing to God, it must proceed from a good heart, with no thought to our own pleasure in giving, or to our own reputations. Without this self-denial, “our actions are empty noise. In them there is only self-love; and such self-love banishes the pure love of God…” [Sp.Writings, 536]

Bl. Frédéric echoed this notion of self-love driving out God’s love. He explained that there are two kinds of pride: to be overly satisfied with ourselves, and to be consumed with our own shortcomings, even to the point that we fail to act because we believe ourselves inadequate. “Thus,” he wrote, “love grows weak and self-love hides beneath this trumped-up austerity of our regrets.” [160 to Lallier, 1837]

Recall that our Rule says that selflessness begins with “dying to our ego.” Ego is the Latin word for I. We die to ourselves. As the Apostle declared: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

The opposite of selfless, then, is not selfish, but self!

Our success, our money, our comfort, however great or small, are God’s gifts to us. As the story of the rich young man illustrates, it can be devastatingly difficult to give them away; so difficult, in fact, that even Christ’s disciples wondered how anybody could make it to heaven.

But beyond our possessions, our very selves are also God’s gift, and also are meant to be given away. Selflessness, as St. Louise expressed it, is to give “Him my full consent to operate in me by His power whatever He willed to see accomplished.” [Sp. Writing, 270]

Virtue begins with doing but ends with being. By emptying ourselves of self, we empty ourselves also of the doubts that can keep us from doing God’s will. We cannot will ourselves into heaven. We can only seek to make God’s will our own, and for God all things are possible.

Contemplate

What am I hanging onto? What am I keeping to myself?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Contemplation – Behold, I Make All Things New

Contemplation – Behold, I Make All Things New 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians serve in hope! Not merely the hope of a paid light bill, but the hope of Christ’s promise, the hope of new life, and the hope of a church that “is ever renewing itself…” [Ozanam in Baunard, 20]

The neighbors we serve often lack hope – any kind of hope. Burdened with material needs, with worries for their children and for their future, it is difficult to offer eternal hope when, as Mahatma Ghandi once explained, “To them God can only appear as bread and butter.”

In our empathy for the neighbor, it can be all too easy for us at times to feel overwhelmed, burned out; to share the neighbor’s despair rather than the Savior’s hope. Our neighbor’s continuing struggles weigh us down, and we allow ourselves to forget the great power of love over even the greatest forms of deprivation.

Whatever resources our Conference has, however great or small, we offer freely and generously. And when we offer food to the neighbor who can only see God as bread, remember that Christ offers Himself to us as bread. All of the material assistance we give is foremost a sign of Christ’s love. In that love, we welcome the neighbor into communion with us, and with the God who sent us.

It is for love alone that we continue, through home visits, through special works, and through systemic change programs, to walk with people out of poverty. It is for love alone that we can say, “this relationship does not end when we pay the bill this week. You matter.”

There is never a need to be frustrated, or to wonder why the land will never lack for needy persons. As St. Vincent taught, it is through our humble devotion to God and our charity toward the neighbor that they might see the beauty and holiness of our faith. [CCD VIII:208] The needs we seek to alleviate may be of this earth, but the hope we bring is not.

We gather on our home visits in His name, and He, as He promised, is there. He is there in the suffering of the neighbor, and He is there also in the prayer and in the hope that we offer, wiping away all tears, saying “Behold, I make all things new.”

Contemplate

How can I better share hope?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

Contemplation – To Give and Receive with Joy

Contemplation – To Give and Receive with Joy 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old saying about gift-giving, that “it is the thought that counts.” In a similar way, the assistance, or gifts, that we offer to the neighbor must be more than “appeals from below,” but instead gifts of true love, of putting the needs of another before our own.

As so often is the case, Blessed Frédéric offers us a wonderful example. On New Year’s Day of 1852, Frédéric was unable to relax and enjoy the day with his family, unable even to eat the candies his beloved daughter Marie offered him. He couldn’t stop thinking of the young family that had sold their chest of drawers, the young mother’s treasured family heirloom, so that they could pay other bills.

When he told his wife Amélie of his desire to bring them the chest as a gift, she reminded him that the husband, suffering some health issues, might not be able to work in coming weeks, and it would be more practical to give them the money that would have purchased the chest in smaller amount in coming weeks.

Although he first agreed that this was indeed practical, he remained unconsoled, explaining to Amélie that even a fraction of what they’d spent on their own amusement and gifts could have brought true joy to that poor family. She agreed, and urged him to go.

Frédéric left his home, purchased the family’s chest, and along with a porter he’d brought with him, delivered it to them. When he returned home, all sadness had left him; his face was glowing with his own joy.

When we make our home visits, we often help the neighbor to prioritize needs, so that we can care for the most urgent of them first. Like Frédéric, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that the most urgent needs are not always material; that when we are refreshed by joy and by love, our burdens become lighter.

We are called to form relationships based on trust and friendship with the neighbors we serve; not coldly assess the books, but to seek their good, even before our own. In doing so, we will receive in joy exactly what we give.

It is truly better to give than to receive, and better still to be a cheerful giver. With joy we will drink the waters of salvation!

Contemplate

How can I bring not just assistance, but joy to the neighbor?

Recommended Reading

The Gospel of Luke

Contemplation – The Primitive Spirit

Contemplation – The Primitive Spirit 940 788 SVDP USA

”Ozanam is no longer with us to remind us of our primitive spirit,” remarked President-General Adolphe Baudon after Frédéric’s death in 1853. [Baunard, 407] Indeed, from the Society’s earliest days, Frédéric urged fellow members not to encumber themselves with restrictive or bureaucratic structures, nor to praise ourselves for our accomplishments, which might make us, he explained, “more eager to talk than to act… to forget the humble simplicity which has presided over our coming together from the beginning…” [310, to Amélie, 1841]

He urged his friends to imitate the life of our Patron Saint, “as he himself imitated the model of Jesus Christ.” [175, to Lallier, 1838] It is in imitating Christ that we capture the primitive spirit, the spirit that animated the early church. As Frédéric explained, “the faith, the charity of the first centuries … is not too much for our century.” [90, to Curnier, 1835]

Vincentians seek this primitive spirit by living our Vincentian Virtues, and especially the first three: simplicity, humility, and gentleness. These three, St. Vincent explained, come directly from Gospel teachings, and from the life of Christ. “The first,” he further explained, “concerns God; the second, ourselves; and the third, our neighbor.” [CCD XII:249]

Vincent often said that simplicity was his favorite virtue. In simplicity, we are dedicated to the truth, because God Himself is truth. In serving the truth, then, we serve both God and the neighbor. In serving the neighbor, Vincent taught, “how careful we must be not to appear wily, clever, crafty, and, above all, never to say a word that has a double meaning!” [CCD XII:246] Simplicity is faith, unencumbered.

Our humility reminds us that “all that God gives us is for others and that we can achieve nothing of eternal value without His grace.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] We act as God’s instruments in serving the neighbor, unconcerned with receiving any credit or reward, because all the glory goes to God. Humility is hope, unencumbered.

Finally, we act with gentleness; with a tender love for all of our neighbors, as well as our fellow Vincentians. Gentleness, in our hearts and in our acts, means being kind, being patient, taking no offense when others may return our patience with impatience, our courtesy with rudeness. Gentleness is love, unencumbered.

This simple, humble, gentleness embodies the primitive spirit of the church and of our Vincentian vocation, as it was in the beginning, unencumbered.

“For God is especially pleased,” Frédéric wrote, “to bless what is little and imperceptible: the tree in its seedling, man in his cradle, good works in the shyness of their beginnings.” [310, to Amélie, 1841]

Contemplate

How can I unencumber the primitive spirit in my service and in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

SVdP Daily Prayer Can Now Be Found on the Blog!

SVdP Daily Prayer Can Now Be Found on the Blog! 940 788 SVDP USA

Daily Prayer for Wednesday, December 15, 2021:

God in Heaven, God on earth,
From God I shall not part,
God Who comforts sorrows,
God within my heart,

God of endless glory,
God Whose Son was raised,
God, the Holy Spirit,
I gladly sing Your praise!

Amen

Written by National Vincentian Formation Director, Tim Williams.

Contemplation: A Conference in Heaven

Contemplation: A Conference in Heaven 940 788 SVDP USA

The Society is united by our three Essential Elements of spirituality, service, and friendship. [Rule, Part III, Statute 1] Frédéric once remarked that perhaps friendship was “the reason that in Paris we wished to found our little Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and it is also for this reason perhaps that heaven has seen fit to bless it.” [142, to Curnier, 1837] Like the Communion of Saints, bound together in baptism and in Christ, our Vincentian friendship, bound by charity and friendship, remains unbroken by death.

The very first Rule explained that the Society’s unity “will be cited as a model of Christian friendship, of a friendship stronger than death, for we will often remember in our prayers to God the brothers who have been taken from us.” [Introduction, Rule, 1835] We continue to honor this tradition, praying at every Conference meeting for our departed Vincentian Brothers and Sisters.

Our primary purpose is to “journey together towards holiness… perfect union with Christ…” [Rule, Part 1, 2.2] so we have good reason to hope that our departed Vincentians continue to pray for us, as well!

Indeed, while trying to establish a new Conference in Siena shortly before his own death, Frédéric wrote to the pastor, telling him of the many Conferences that had been established around the world, adding also that “we have certainly one in Heaven, for more than a thousand of our Brothers have, during the twenty years of our existence, gone to the better life.” [Baunard, 394]

We should never forget that one of the corporal works of mercy, alongside feeding the hungry and giving alms to the poor, is to bury the dead. When our fellow Vincentians depart this earth, we should always offer comfort to their families, while also celebrating their entrance into “the better life.” Our Vincentian Celebrations book includes several ceremonies to help plan these occasions.

We serve in hope! Not merely the hope for material comforts, but the eternal hope that we may be united with Christ and with each other in heaven. And so, we pray with and for each other, including, always, the departed. As confident as Blessed Frédéric’s assurance of a Conference in heaven may have been, he asked his fellow Vincentians, in a will written on his 40th birthday, not to cease in their prayers for his own salvation, saying:

“Do not allow yourselves to be stopped by those who will say to you, he is in Heaven. Pray always for him who loves you dearly, for him who has greatly sinned. If I am assured of these prayers, I quit this earth with less fear. I hope firmly that we are not being separated, and that I may remain with you until you will come to me.” [Baunard, 386-7]

May we honor our founder with our own unceasing prayers for all our Vincentian brothers and sisters!

Contemplate

Do I pray regularly for departed Vincentians, and ask their prayers for me?

Recommended Reading

Book of the Sick

Contemplation – True Charity is Always Poor

Contemplation – True Charity is Always Poor 940 788 SVDP USA

Conferences, following the example of St. Vincent de Paul, are expected to keep detailed and accurate records of contributions, donors, and assistance provided to neighbors in need, and to report them periodically to their Councils. There can be a temptation, looking back on the numbers, to puff up our chests about all the good that we’ve done, but these reports are only a testament to accountability; they are not a measure of the success, much less the value, of our works.

Writing about the loss of the earliest records of the first Conference in 1835, Bl. Frédéric mused that while those records might have been a source of pride, “God, who wishes that the left hand not know what the right hand has given, permitted us to lose title to what might serve only to bestow on us ridiculous vanity.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835]

“Charity,” he continued, “must never look behind it, but always before, because the number of its past benefits is always very small, and the present and future misery it solaces is infinite.”

In his Circular Letter of 1837, Secretary-General François Lallier (one of the Society’s founders, and a close friend of Frédéric’s) sounded a similar note, describing those that “throw at random a few handfuls of money that the poor despise as mere crumbs and are of no avail.” [VHJ, Vol 36, Iss 1]

Works of charity are works of love; we measure their value first in our own transformation; our growing closer to Christ. Through this, we also hope to draw others closer to Christ; “to stir up irresistible questions” by our witness, as Pope St. Paul VI said. “Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them?” [Evangelii nuntiandi, 21]

Christ Himself recognized that the smallest of material contributions can be the very largest when they are the most that we can give. And as Our Rule teaches, “our tender interest, our very manner, will give to our alms a value which they do not possess in themselves.” [Rule, 1835 Intro]

Our Conference Annual Reports, of course, are vital documents. They represent our commitment to accountability – to each other, to our donors, to tax laws, and most importantly to God Himself, who calls us to this ministry. But the totals at the bottom of the page, whether they are large or small, represent only our circumstance, not the degree of our success.

As Lallier explained, we “offer very little, because we are little and because true charity is always poor like those whom it relieves. But we have the charity of the heart that can multiply our mite a hundredfold, and the poor who feel such things welcome us with honour.” [VHJ, Vol 36, Iss 1]

Contemplate

Do I ever feel ashamed when I can’t “do more?” Am I tempted to boast about how much we’ve “spent?”

Recommended Reading

The Rule – especially Part I

Contemplation – The Soul of Our Souls

Contemplation – The Soul of Our Souls 940 788 SVDP USA

Bl. Frédéric’s wife Amelie once said that she had never seen him wake up or fall asleep without making the sign of the cross and praying. In fact, “he never did anything serious without praying.” [Manual, p.65] Following his example, Vincentians are people of prayer.

St. Vincent taught that prayer is a “lifting of the mind to God … to go to seek God in himself. It’s a conversation of the soul with God, a mutual communication in which God tells the soul interiorly what He wants it to know and do.” [CCD IX:329] But prayer is not a monolog. As much as we may feel we have to tell Him, or ask Him, prayer is also a time to listen.

Vincent explained that there are two forms of prayer: vocal and mental. Vincentians certainly pray aloud and together often: during the opening and closing prayers at meetings; prayers with the neighbor on Home Visits; and of course, while attending Mass together.

“In every Conference throughout the world and in their personal lives, Vincentians raise their prayers to God, united with the prayer of Christ, on behalf of one another and their masters the poor, whose suffering they wish to share.” [Rule, Part I, 2.3]

But we are also called to pray in the second form, mental prayer; silent meditation or contemplation. This mental prayer, St. Vincent explained, can take place in two ways. First, by listening to His word in scripture and seeking to understand its meaning and inspiration for us. Second, through contemplation, in which “the soul, in the presence of God, does nothing but receive what He gives… God himself inspires it with everything it may be seeking, and much more.” [CCD IX:330]

We are beggars before God, the Catechism teaches, but also reminds us that “prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.” [CCC:2559-2560] God thirsts for us! He seeks us first and offers us in return the living water.

Through our “life of prayer and reflection,” then, we not only seek God, but He seeks us. He touches our hearts and feeds our souls, and just as our souls give life to our bodies, our prayers give life to our souls.

That is why St. Vincent said that “prayer is the soul of our souls.” [CCD IX:327]

Contemplate

Be silent, looks towards heaven, open your heart, and listen.

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

Contemplation – Trust to God for the Rest

Contemplation – Trust to God for the Rest 940 788 SVDP USA

If we truly trust in providence, truly abandon ourselves to the will of God, does that mean we are called to simply let things happen? On the contrary, Frédéric taught, our “detachment from the world must not be turned into discouragement about our duties… We must think as if we were to quit the earth tomorrow, and we must work as if we were never to leave it.” [Baunard, 423]

God expresses His will to us through His word in the Scriptures. For Vincentians, there are several specific teachings that stand out, not least of which is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, Christ recounts the mercy shown by a passing Samaritan to the victim of a robbery and assault. Importantly, he concludes by telling us to “go and do likewise.”

He does not say “wait for my signal,” or “stay tuned for further instructions,” but “go and do likewise.”

Go. Act. Do.

Similarly, he tells us that our corporal works of mercy – feeding, clothing, and comforting those in need – will be judged as if done to Himself.

Feed. Clothe. Be merciful.

In neither instance does Christ demand that we achieve a particular earthly end. As St. Vincent said, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] And charity, the Catechism says, is to love our neighbor as ourselves not for the sake of paying the bill, or preparing the meal, but for the love of God. [CCC, 1822]

When Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, He still was nailed to the cross, in accordance with God’s will. But Veronica did all the good she could do, with mercy and with love.

Trust in providence, then, begins with doing God’s will as best we can discern it, and then trusting that the outcome also will be His will. In other words, we should not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. “The will of God,” Blessed Frédéric writes, “is fulfilled from day to day.” [Baunard, 81]

If we confined ourselves to doing only those things whose outcomes we can assure, how limited our charity would be! We would become quickly overwhelmed into inaction, realizing that the poor will always be with us. But Christ, too, is with us always! We are called to hear Him in the cry of the poor; in them, to see His suffering.

Let us, then, as Frédéric taught, “do all the good we can, and trust to God for the rest.” [Baunard, 81]

Contemplate

Have I ever hesitated to help, because “they’ll only need more help tomorrow?”

Recommended Reading

Serving in Hope II: Our Vincentian Spirituality

Contemplation – Our Participation In The Divine Light

Contemplation – Our Participation In The Divine Light 940 788 SVDP USA

It is perhaps the central irony of our Vincentian vocation that while our “ideal is to help relieve suffering for love alone, without thinking of any reward or advantage for [ourselves]” it is also true that we do this for ourselves, as a necessary step towards our growth in holiness. [Rule, Part I, 2.2] So how do we reconcile what seems to be both self-serving and selfless at the same time?

Saint Louise de Marillac offers some insights on charity and the mystery of the incarnation that may help us to understand how, in serving the neighbor, we serve our own souls.

God, Louise explains, chose to come into this world in a form that was not at all “consistent with His grandeur.” He didn’t even come as the greatest of men, but as a poor man. Everything he did as man, she writes, was beneath Him.

He came as humbly as can be imagined,” she tells us, “so that we might be more free to approach Him.” [Sp. Writings, 700]

God’s incarnation in Christ is an invitation! He wants to know us and wants us to know Him. The God of Moses was so great in His glory that nobody could see Him and live. The poor carpenter of Nazareth is our brother, our neighbor, our friend…and still our God.

As Louise often reflected, God created our souls only so that we may be joined with Him. Making it possible for us to know Him was a supreme act of humility. In serving the poor, then, we must exhibit this virtue of humility, commensurate with Christ’s own humility. They are, for us the sacred images of God, and “how shall we not love Him in [their] persons?” [Letter137, to Janmot, 1837]

How can we do anything then, but to offer our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves? [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] How can we help but serve? Indeed, Louise teaches, “the person who does not love does not know God, for God is Charity. The cause of love is esteem for the good in the thing loved.” [Sp. Writing, 710]

In serving with humility and in selflessness, in serving for love alone, we not only do as God asked us to do, we do as Christ Himself did.

This practice of charity is so powerful that it gives us the knowledge of God… the greater our charity the greater our participation in this divine light which will inflame us with the fire of Holy Love for all eternity.” [Sp. Writing, 711]

Contemplate

How can I better seek to imitate Christ in my service?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Louise de Marillac

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