Spirituality

Contemplation: Through the Glass

Contemplation: Through the Glass 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule calls us to “seek out the poor,” [Rule, Part I, 1.5] but why should we need to seek them out? Aren’t they looking for us?

Vincentians know that it is difficult to ask for help. With gentleness, we often reassure our neighbors in need that we are glad they have called us, and glad that we can help. We also know that material assistance is not the most important thing we can offer, and not the most important thing that anybody needs.

The suffering of poverty is much deeper than lack of food or shelter. Imagine yourself in poverty, walking down the street, on your way to a job that might just cover your bills, but can’t possibly cover anything more. A thousand other people are there with you on the sidewalk, none of them knowing what you are going through. Glancing through the glass as you pass a café, you see the smiling faces drinking $8.00 coffee that you know you can’t afford, and you begin to feel that maybe the coffee just isn’t for you. But it isn’t just the $8.00 price tag – it is the growing feeling that the community that surrounds you, filled with comforts and leisure that seem so out of reach, is a community that simply does not include you.

We are created to live in community – all of us, and each of us. When material poverty leads us to believe we are not only deprived but forgotten, that is true poverty; poverty in spirit.

We seek out the poor not because they are difficult to find. They are right there, on the other side of the glass, seeing us with our coffee, and believing we don’t see them. We seek them not because they need us, but because we need them; because we have been promised by our Savior that whatsoever we do to the least among us He will receive as if done for Himself.

With a cup of coffee, a warm embrace, and a prayer of hope, we welcome the poor into community; not seeking any reward for ourselves, but because we can see them, and they “are for us the sacred images of that God whom we do not see…” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1836]

We should need no special urging to seek out the poor. From inside our warm café, we need only to see through the glass, and then face to face, the one we have been seeking all along.

Contemplate

Are my eyes open to His presence?

Recommended Reading

The Spirituality of the Home Visit

08-19-2021 Letter from Our Servant Leaders

08-19-2021 Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Children are going back to school soon. Summer is quickly coming to an end. In past years, this time is when we would be looking at calendars and plotting out activities for the coming year for our Councils and Conferences. It may be hard to get interested in planning this year, since we have seen so many plans abandoned in the past 18 months. Even though there are many uncertainties as we look forward, I suggest we need to provide some focus to our efforts by making plans for what comes next.

At our National Assembly next week in Houston, we will be introducing the next phase of our National Strategic Plan. We are not calling this a new plan because much of the proposed plan builds upon the document that was approved three years ago. Half of that plan’s life span has been lived out under the shadow of the COVID pandemic. Still, we accomplished many of the plan’s elements, and some its parts would have been difficult to accomplish even under ideal circumstances. We are keeping the five focus areas of the original plan and concentrating on what can realistically be accomplished in the next three years.

I believe revitalization is the priority embedded in almost every aspect of the plan. I hope it is your priority, too. I hope there will be parts of the National Council Strategic Plan that you will embrace and include in your planning process. It is up to you, however, to look at your Council or Conference and assess what needs to be done to contribute locally to revitalizing our Society and fostering its growth.

The National Council has many resources to aid you in this effort. You will find these tools on our national website. That site has always had a wealth of resources – maybe too many, often poorly organized. Good news: this week you received an email announcing the launch of our improved member website. Please check it out, and use the material provided to create a plan to bring new life to our Society.

During these months of isolation, our committees have been active, and none more so than our Growth and Revitalization Committee. Under the leadership of Rita St. Pierre, Jeanne Harper, Cathy Garcia and Julie Witzel, the committee has provided webinars and updated materials for you to use. There will also be a revised Invitation to Serve program available in the months ahead.

I am certain that almost every Conference in the country has lost members in the past year. Now is the time to invite new people to join us. I suggest contacting pastors and bishops as you make these plans and asking for their help and suggestions. You will find new material on the website that you can share with your clergy to help them appreciate the value an active Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers a parish and a diocese.

Blessed Frederic Ozanam is known as the principal founder of our organization not because it was solely his idea but because he was its most passionate promoter. From early days in 1833 to the last months of his life, Ozanam was recruiting members, starting Conferences and encouraging the revitalization of Conferences that were losing their “primitive spirit.” You can be a founder, too. Invite others to share this vocation that you love. Invite them to serve their neighbors in need, to grow spiritually and to find a community of friends in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

Contemplation: Neighbors in Deed

Contemplation: Neighbors in Deed 940 788 SVDP USA

Although we do not mean it to, giving material assistance to people puts them at a disadvantage; they “owe” us something they likely will never repay. The fear of indebtedness often makes asking for help more difficult. Even when we are in very dire straits, we don’t want to impose, we don’t want to be burdens, and we don’t want to be indebted.

Yet on nearly every home visit, we meet a neighbor with a light bill, rent, or other need, and not enough money to pay for it. The math is simple; what else can we do?

“Help honors,” Blessed Frédéric taught, “when it may become mutual.” [O’Meara, 229] He went on to explain that this means offering not only material help, but a kind word, a handshake, some encouragement – all those things that we may one day need, as well.

As our Rule puts it, “Vincentians should never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14] Or, as Blessed Rosalie Rendu put it, “They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than all else you can bring them.” [Apostle in a Top Hat, 57]

How many times can we hear “you are the only ones who called me back” before we realize that this personal connection is the whole point?

In other words, a home visit is not a math problem. It is the beginning of a “relationship based on trust and friendship.” [Rule, Part I, 1.9] This is why we don’t visit “clients.” There is nothing mutual in a relationship with a client; it does not “honor.”

It is good to use the right words, but using the words is not enough. After all, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ did not ask us simply to call each other neighbors, but to be neighbors, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

To have a neighbor, you have to be a neighbor. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. To have a brother or sister, you have to be a brother or sister. Our brothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends don’t owe us a dime. They repay us fully with their handshakes, their prayers, and their friendship.

And for those things, we are all neighbors in need.

Contemplate

How can I become a better friend?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charityespecially 6. Home Visits in the Vincentian Tradition

News Roundup 08-05-2021

News Roundup 08-05-2021 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL:

NATIONAL

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

Contemplation: The State in Which We Were Created

Contemplation: The State in Which We Were Created 940 788 SVDP USA

Our five Vincentian virtues come from St. Vincent’s five “Characteristic Virtues,” with one difference: what Vincent called mortification, we call selflessness. While the distinction between the two is not trivial, he also talked about the “spirit of mortification,” which is a good way for us to understand our call to selflessness. [CCD XII:249]

The word “mortification” comes from the Latin mortificāre, meaning “to put to death,” which is the same image our Rule uses, calling selflessness “dying to our ego with a life of self-sacrifice.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] And isn’t this what Christ taught? “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Through mortification, we may physically separate ourselves from earthly needs, as with fasting during Lent. But the purpose of mortification is not physical; it is not exterior, but interior, “to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor.” [Benedict XVI, Lenten Message] Yes, we become hungry when we fast, but it is “dying to our ego” that we seek.

Indeed, our Catechism teaches that our call to conversion “does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion.” [Catechism, 1430] While mortification is a means, you could say, selflessness is its end.

St. Louise de Marillac said that the importance of mortification was “the necessity of keeping our souls constantly in the state in which they were created.” [Spiritual Writings, 797] She went on to explain that while we are created in God’s image and likeness, we become “disfigured” when we allow our passions to overwhelm us. Those passions may be the food or treats that we give up for Lent, but more importantly they are the self-centered motivations that we sometimes allow to take over. The more we focus on ourselves, the less we are able to truly be friends to others.

Lack of the “spirit of selflessness,” Vincent taught, not only separates us from God, but from each other; so much so that “we can’t live – I repeat – we can’t live with one another if our interior and exterior senses aren’t mortified.” [CCD XII:249] The first Rule in 1835 echoed this idea, saying that without self-denial, understood as surrendering one’s own opinion, “no association is durable. The man who is in love with his own ideas will disdain the opinions of others…” [Rule, 1835, Introduction]

We die to our egos, to our selfishness, and to our will only to be filled with new life, to be filled with God! And when we share ourselves with the neighbor, we may truly share Him, also.

Contemplate

What part of myself do I allow to separate me from others?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

08-05-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

08-05-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

We aren’t out of the woods quite yet, but we can at least see the clearing ahead of us.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the U.S. has seen a lot since our 1845 founding. We are blessed that with every war, every pandemic, and every Depression, recession, and other disasters both man-made and natural, we have bent perhaps but not broken in our service to God and our neighbors in need. We pray and then we persevere.

While the story of our pandemic period is full of sadness, turmoil, and uncertainty, it is nevertheless a story of Vincentian spirit and service that deserves to be told and to be remembered. It’s our nature to say “Well, that was that” and move on to the next challenge, the next family in need, and our next Conference meeting. Before we forget these past 18 months and all the changes we went through, including most notably the forced isolation from each other, we should reflect on the experience and how, as individuals and as the Society, we too are changed.

This weekend (Friday at 5:30 PM and Saturday at 2:30 AM Eastern), a special pandemic edition of “Our Faith in Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul” will air on EWTN. Set those DVRs!  It’s a 30-minute look inside our Vincentian experience and how our members and Conferences continued in their formation journeys and in their service to neighbors in need. While cost, time, and travel considerations limited our filming to just three cities and Councils, this is really the story of all of us. If you squint just right you will see your Conference’s innovation in its food pantry, your Council’s changes in its thrift store, your fellow member’s continuing of Home Visits in unique ways, and maybe even yourself in the way you found the inner strength to just keep going.

If only our own members see this show it will be a success! Many of us did not know about the challenges overcome in different ways in Conferences across the country. The show gives us pause to reflect, and then to celebrate our common stubbornness, uh, I mean perseverance to serve in the face of chaos everywhere around us. Be proud; we are still here!

We don’t need a TV show, however, to educate ourselves. No, our communities and our supporters – parishioners, clergy, foundations, business partners, and others – deserve to see our story, too. They made our work possible with prayers, materials and financial support, and often during this period, new collaborations. While other social service and faith-based organizations pulled back, we stayed. We stayed in touch with our most vulnerable neighbors. We stayed in prayer with our parishes, clergy, and each other. We kept meeting, kept serving, and kept looking for how else we could serve God and share His love in our communities when it all shut down. The show tries to pull all this together in just 30 minutes. It’s a half-hour I ask you to share widely.

My hope is that each of us can share the show in a Conference meeting, parish gathering, annual dinner, or donor meeting. We own the show content, and will have it available through our website as soon as the broadcast rights clear in the next week. Trust me, EWTN will also appreciate the sharing as well!

To be clear, we all know that we don’t serve as Vincentians in order to get earthly credit; our rewards are more eternal. That recognized, we do need to tell our story more to recruit new members and to continue the public support we require for us to continue our works. Humility is a virtue. Sometimes, though, we need to remind everyone, and yes even ourselves, that we do good work and that our communities can depend on us to be there in good times and bad.

The pandemic resulted in Vincentian innovation, some of which will become lasting change. The pandemic challenged us to ask if “the way we have always done it” is now the most effective way for today and tomorrow. As we tell our story through the EWTN presentation, National Assembly workshops and otherwise, perhaps it will inspire us to consider even more changes, still consistent with our Rule while also consistent with today’s needs and service environments.

The “pandemic special edition” may drive innovation discussions in your Conference and Council. We wish that it didn’t take a pandemic to have these conversations! We appreciate nonetheless that God has blessed us with our journey together out of pandemic darkness to a new day in His service! Still here!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: At Present, We See Indistinctly

Contemplation: At Present, We See Indistinctly 150 150 SVDP USA

Have you ever been in an airport, or a grocery store, and run into an acquaintance that you only know from work, a club, or church, and it took you an extra moment even to recognize them? After all, not only are the surroundings unfamiliar, but your friend may also be dressed in “dad shorts” instead of business casual. Our circumstances affect what we see; there is no way around that. It’s human nature.

As Vincentians, we are called to see the face of Christ in the neighbors we serve.[Manual, p.51] This should be easy – we know His face well! We regularly see Him at church. He is there upon the crucifix at the altar; there, in the Stations of the Cross that line the walls; there in the many beautiful paintings and icons. We also are used to seeing His suffering, but we see it through “hope-tainted eyes,” knowing that his suffering leads to our salvation; knowing He still lives.

So, when we emerge from Mass, when we are no longer in that familiar place, will we easily recognize Him? Or might it take an extra moment?

On our home visits, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are serving Christ, because like that acquaintance in the grocery store, we are seeing Him outside of the familiar surroundings where we think that we know Him best. As devoted as we are to seeing His face, it can take an extra minute to recognize Him wearing different clothes, and behind a different face than the one we see in church.

St. Vincent often reminded his followers that Jesus chose to live a life of radical poverty. He was not on earth as a king, but as a carpenter. It may make it easier to recognize Him when we remember that Christ came to us in fully human form and experienced a fully human life. We know that he became angry; we know he got exasperated; we know he got discouraged; we know he was afraid; and we know that Jesus wept.

In Redemptor Hominis, Pope Saint John Paul II explained that Christ incarnate “fully reveals man to himself.” He reveals to us the human dimension of Redemption, and it is that which we are called to recognize in the neighbor; looking beyond appearances, beyond surroundings, and beyond emotions to find “the greatness, dignity, and value that belong to his humanity.”

It may not have been home visits Christ was talking about when He said to “knock and the door will be opened…” but maybe remembering those words while standing on the doorstep on our next visit will help to remind us who we are there to see.

Contemplate

In faces of impatience, sadness, anger, or fear, have I sometimes failed to recognize Christ?

Recommended Reading

The Spirituality of the Home Visit (read it and use it!)

Contemplation – The Light of the World

Contemplation – The Light of the World 940 788 SVDP USA

Have you ever noticed that in virtually every picture of St. Vincent de Paul, he is smiling? Just a small, gentle smile with a twinkle in his eye that reassures us, puts us at ease, and makes us smile, too. Wouldn’t a permanent smile like that be a great gift for all of us to share?

Vincentians take great pride in loving God “with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows,” [CCD XI:32] but we should always remember that ours is a vocation of gentleness! We may indeed work up a sweat at times, and even get our hands dirty, but ours are ultimately works of love, not feats of strength. We are moved by a tireless desire to love not only affectively, but effectively.

This distinction was made by St. Francis de Sales, who profoundly influenced Vincent. Affective love, Vincent taught, comes from the heart; it helps us to feel God’s presence, and fills us with warmth and affection. Love is effective, though, when we provide for the needs of others because of the love of God; when we serve, one might even say, for love alone. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Effective love, then, is an act of will; to will, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, the good of another. [Summa,II-II, Q27, A2] That sounds like work! But even as we do the work, the deep, abiding love of God that warms our hearts should shine through us in gentleness and kindness. Deeply inspired by St. Francis de Sales’ example of gentleness, Vincent testified for the cause of his beatification, saying that “his abundant, gentle goodness overflowed on those who enjoyed his conversation because of the example of his devotion.” [CCD XIIIa:91]

Gentleness, like all the virtues, must be both internal and external. When we are filled with the spirit and love of God, Vincent explained, we can hardly help but smile. In turn, we will offer our hearts with our “smiling face and cheerful disposition.” [CCD XII:156]

When we smile, it is sometimes said that we are “beaming,” or that our faces “light up.” And why shouldn’t they? We serve in hope, and our smiles are a visible sign of the hope and love that we bring with us. Perhaps this is part of the light Christ taught us not to hide under a bushel, but to shine before others.

Vincentians love God with the strength of our arms, but loving our neighbor begins with a smile, and we can smile without even breaking a sweat!

Contemplate

Does the love of God within me shine outwardly through my smile?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: Our Call to Servant Leadership

Contemplation: Our Call to Servant Leadership 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think of leaders, we are acculturated to envision military commanders, heads of state, celebrity CEOs, and the like; dynamic, charismatic, larger than life. Leaders, we are taught, are “large and in charge.” It is difficult, then, for most of us to believe that we can be that person; that we are called to leadership. But if you are a Vincentian, you are called.

Rather than the province of kings and generals, ours is a special type of leadership, modeled for us by Christ Himself. Most memorably, in the Gospel of John, Christ washed the feet of the disciples, afterwards explaining: “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

In a passage that was a favorite of St. Vincent’s, Christ further explained the role of a leader, saying, “let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.”

A Vincentian servant leader, such as a Conference President, is not called to be the boss or the commander. Rather than making all the decisions, Presidents fulfill the decisions of the Conference members.

In 1651, one of Vincent’s confrere superiors wrote to him, complaining of the men in his care, even going so far as to complain that he “preferred to direct animals rather than men.” In reply, Vincent explained that this approach “is true of those who want everything to give way to them, nothing to oppose them, everything to go their way, people to obey them without comment or delay, and, in a manner of speaking, to be adored.”

But that, Vincent explained, is not our way. He reminded the missioner that leaders should “consider themselves the servants of others, who govern in the light of how Our Lord governed.” [CCDIV:181-182]

Christ could have come to us as a king, a warrior, or a man of wealth. Instead, as Frédéric pointed out, he “was hidden for thirty years in the workshop of a carpenter.” [Complete Works, Lecture 24, quoted by Gregory] He “did not come to be served but to serve…” [Matthew 20:28]

In the Society, the person does not seek the office, the office seeks the person. [Manual, 35] Servant leaders are called less to be something, than to do something; we are called not to be “large and in charge,” but instead, to be small, and for all.

Contemplate

Am I called right now to servant leadership? To be an officer, committee chair, or something else?

Recommended Reading

Characteristics of a Vincentian Servant Leader

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