Formation

National Council Building Dedication Renews Faith and Friendship

National Council Building Dedication Renews Faith and Friendship 633 277 SVDP USA

The sun burned bright in St. Louis on June 11, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees. But it paled in comparison to the outpouring of faith and friendship that flowed out of the National Council office during the dedication of our new headquarters at 66 Progress Parkway.

Though staff began working from the building shortly after its purchase last summer, the pandemic had prevented the larger SVdP community from visiting until now. The day marked a joyous reunion, as Board members and staff came together in person after a year a half filled with many Zoom meetings and a fair amount of uncertainty.

National Council President Ralph Middlecamp noted that the building actually opened in March 2020, but due to COVID restrictions, no one could enter for many weeks.

Ralph Middlecamp

Once it was safe to enter last summer (socially distant and with masks), a team of staff members, led by Chief Operating

Officer Nancy Pino, worked tirelessly to create a space that is reflective of Vincentian values. “Our goal when designing our new space was not only to make it a productive, comfortable, and welcoming environment for our staff, but for all Vincentian visitors,” she said. “The History Wall and Chapel help express the story of beginnings, who we are, and who we aspire to become.”

SVdP History

President Ralph Middlecamp and CEO Dave Barringer welcomed guests to the new headquarters, then Spiritual Advisor Bishop Donald J. Hying and Deacon John Heithaus of the Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis performed the first Mass in the National Council Chapel. Said Barringer, “We have intentionally designed the building to reflect the Society’s mission. Upon entry through our front door, within 25 feet you will see our logo, a statue of St. Vincent de Paul, our Mission statement, a video of Society activities, a wall dedicated to our history and values, and a chapel. Yes, we want to lead with our faith, so a chapel space was forefront in our design plans.”

SVdP National Council Chapel

Middlecamp was pleased with what the National Council team was able to accomplish. “Our new National Office provides a well-designed space for our staff and volunteers as we serve those who serve our neighbors in need,” he said. “It is attractive and functional, and we were able to make the move without any fundraising or decrease in support for the programs we offer. What a great new beginning for us as we look to the future after these months of isolation.”

As a special surprise, the day’s celebration included the dedication of the new Sr. Kieran Library, a fitting tribute to the National Council’s long-time Director of Formation, who gave so much to the Society. Current Director of Formation Tim Williams had this to say: “Friday’s Open House, Mass, and dedication of the new building seemed like a perfect way for us to emerge from the pandemic, and begin our return to in-person meetings. For me, personally, it was a great joy to see the unmasked smile of my predecessor and dear friend, Sister Kieran Kneaves, when we unveiled the name of our new Vincentian library, dedicated to her and to the many years she served us all in this vocation!”

Sr. Kieran KneavesTrue to the Vincentian value of prudence, the National Council did not use any dollars from member services to purchase the new building, which was funded through the sale of our old building and judicious savings of bequest funds over time. “Our most loyal donors contributed mightily to this day. We thank them,” Middlecamp said.

The new building will serve as a space for collaboration, faith, and friendship for the Society’s 100,000 Vincentian volunteers and the staff who support them, providing the technology and space to sustain our work now and well into the future. In his remarks, Barringer said, “To not only our staff, but also to our Board of Directors, and our Society members, Welcome Home!”

 

Contemplation: Man’s Best Friend

Contemplation: Man’s Best Friend 940 788 SVDP USA

Ours is a ministry of presence. For all the bread, for all the rent, for all the material things we may at times provide, there is nothing more important, nothing more valuable, and nothing more lasting than simply to be in the presence of our neighbors in need.

This is sometimes difficult to remember because we Vincentians are people of action. We want to identify the problem and fix it! Efficient “interviews,” though, are not what makes the Society unique. There are hundreds of agencies ready to dig for information in the name of solving the problem.

But what the suffering poor need much more than a thorough form to fill out is somebody who will sit with them; who will share their sadness, if only for a moment. Like a true friend.

Blessed Rosalie Rendu, who taught and inspired the earliest members of the Society, genuinely enjoyed being in the company of the poor. She would often go to the soup kitchen and spend hours there in conversation. In Queen by Right Divine, biographer Kathleen O’Meara recounts that men who “came for their plate of rice and beans” would often confide to Rosalie “almost unawares, some secret of moral or physical misery worse than the hunger they had come to assuage.” [P. 73]

They didn’t share their stories in response to a list of questions, or an application form; they opened up to a friend who cared about them, who respected them, and who loved them. Somebody who was with them because that was where she wanted to be.

Our Rule calls us to “establish relationships based on trust and friendship.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.9] It was trust and friendship that led those men in the soup kitchen to open up to Rosalie; her trust in them, and her friendship towards them, inspired them to respond in kind.

In 1869 Florence Nightingale found that patients often responded more to dogs than to people. Modern science has found that a dog’s presence can not only relieve anxiety but can even lower blood pressure. Dogs seem to sense when a person is sad, and simply sit alongside them, asking nothing in return. People even open up and speak to dogs about their problems.

A dog doesn’t answer, offer advice, or solve your problem. He’s just there, fully and completely, for you.

Imagine if we could take the first steps towards the holy example of Blessed Rosalie by learning from the example of “man’s best friend!”

Contemplate

On my Home Visits, do I sometimes interrupt the silence?

Recommended Reading

A Heart on Fire – especially III. “A Network of Presence and Charity”

Contemplation – Filled With God for the Day

Contemplation – Filled With God for the Day 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are people of prayer. Together as Conferences, we pray to open and close each meeting, retreat, and reflection; we attend Mass together on our Vincentian feast days; we ask God’s blessings upon each other and upon the neighbors we serve. We are, as Blessed Frédéric often said, “united in works and prayers.” [Letter 135 to Bailly,1836]

Our Vincentian vocation, though, is not limited to our Conference meetings or to our works, but is “a vocation for every moment of our lives.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] Our call to prayer is an individual one. We hear this call repeated throughout our Rule: we “pray before personal encounters or visits” [Part I, 1.7]; we promote “a life of prayer and reflection;” and our “personal lives are characterized by prayer…” [Part I, 2.2]

Saint Vincent de Paul famously began each day with three hours of prayer. And what better way to start the day? Conversing with a God who loves us so much, St. Vincent taught, we will “rise promptly and joyously.” [CCD X:101] Beyond that, he advised, “prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX:23]

We humble ourselves in prayer, but dwell “more on His strength than on [our] own weakness” in the hope that He will accomplish His good in us and through us. In prayer, we abandon ourselves to what Vincent called “His paternal embrace,” [CCD V:166] and what Frédéric called “the maternal guidance of Providence.” [Letter 310 to Amelie, 1841]

Finally, in our individual prayer, we remember not only to lay out our own needs before God, but the needs of our Vincentian friends. Frédéric once described this mutuality of prayerful intentions as the “one rendezvous where Christian souls are sure of meeting and conversing together.” [Letter 493 to Dufieux, 1843]

Vincentians are people of prayer. It is the basis of our friendship, of our meetings, and of our service. It is through our prayer that we daily recommit ourselves to our vocation, to each other, and to Divine Providence.

Amen!

Contemplate

Is prayer a part of my day — every day?

Recommended Reading

15 Days of Prayer With Blessed Fredric Ozanam

Contemplation – The Joy of Angels

Contemplation – The Joy of Angels 940 788 SVDP USA

To trust in Providence and to do God’s will are two sides of the same coin. After all, without trust in His Providence, doing His will would be merely a chore that would quickly become burdensome. Instead, it should be for us a source of joy!

Our Rule tells us that our Conference meetings are held in a spirit of “Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4] How quickly that spirit of joy went missing in the early days of the Society, Blessed Frédéric recounted to his friend Léonce Curnier, when the Conference began “fulfilling [its] duties from habit,” and was “stricken with a general discouragement.” [Letter 90, 1835]

How could it be otherwise if we merely deliver bread and pay bills; if we let our works become … work?

Like our Patron, we seek to “love God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows,” [CCD XI:32]  That sounds an awful lot like work, but it is a labor, quite explicitly, of love! Knowing this, we soon see that however challenging it may be at times, “those very things that we thought would cause us pain, on the contrary give us joy.” [CCD X:50]

Charity itself is not work, but love – the love of God. That is why, as St. Vincent teaches, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] The outcome is never up to us, but when we seek to do His will, we can trust the outcome to His providence.

And so, through prayer, discernment, and reflection, individually and in our Conferences, we seek to know God’s will. As Vincentians, our ultimate goal is for God’s will to become our own, so that “it will be no longer [we] who love, but Christ who loves through [us]” [Rule, Part I, 2.1]

Benet of Canfield, a great influence on St Vincent, taught that God’s will is “all the whole spiritual life.” That is why, for Vincent, “the goodness of God, the Will of God, the pleasure of God, and the joy of God” were of one piece. [CCD X:86]

To do God’s will is not to labor in vain, but to serve in hope, and to rejoice in hope!

At the beginning of every Conference meeting, we say the Lord’s Prayer, asking that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. “Not as it is in Hell, where it is done of necessity,” Bl. Frédéric once explained, “nor among men, where it is often done with murmuring, but as it is in Heaven, with the love and the joy of angels.” [Baunard, 343]

Contemplate

When I feel that I am doing His will, do I open my heart to joy?

Recommended Reading

Instead of reading, watch this particularly joyful rendition of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth.

Contemplation: A Voice That Speaks To Our Hearts

Contemplation: A Voice That Speaks To Our Hearts 940 788 SVDP USA

On his way to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus, feared Roman tormentor of the early Christians, was struck from his horse, temporarily blinded by a great bolt of lightning, and commanded by Christ Himself to cease his persecution. Soon after, he began to preach God’s word as Paul the Apostle.

For most of us, our moments of conversion are not so obvious. Instead, they require senses that are both open and willing to perceive a light, silent sound, a tiny whispering voice, a voice that speaks only to our hearts.

God speaks often enough to our heart,” St. Vincent assures us, “it’s up to us to be attentive to His voice…” [CCD X:128] It’s easy for a quiet voice to be lost in the moment; to be drowned out by our daily stresses. It’s easy to let those stresses harden our hearts.

As Vincentians, we are called to see Christ’s face in those we serve. We pray and prepare to see Him before every home visit. Shouldn’t we also seek to hear His voice?

The voice that says to us “I need your help,” also is whispering, quietly but insistently, “I am here.”

If we don’t understand Him immediately, that’s okay. God speaks outside of time; His voice is still there to be heard when we pause to reflect on our experiences, to discern what He is telling us. We do this through individual contemplation and prayer, but also through Apostolic Reflection within our Conferences, relying on what Father Hugh O’Donnell describes as St. Vincent’s “absolute conviction that ‘God is here!’”

Our hearts are converted in many small moments, calling us sometimes to leaps, but more often to smalls steps of faith, “content to see the stone on which we should step without wanting to discover all at once and completely the windings of the road.” [Letter 136. To François Lallier, 1836]

Like Saul walking in blindness down the road to Damascus, we take our first, stumbling steps, however small they are, knowing that “God is especially pleased to bless what is little and imperceptible: the tree in its seedling, man in his cradle, good works in the shyness of their beginnings.” [Letter 310, to Amelie, 1841]

Contemplate

Reflect on a recent Vincentian experience. Can you hear God’s voice?

Recommended Reading

Apostolic Reflection with Rosalie Rendu

Contemplation: Our Labor of Love

Contemplation: Our Labor of Love 940 788 SVDP USA

On the very first page of our Rule you will find a truly remarkable statement: “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.3]

All modern communities thrive by specialization; farmers farm, builders build, writers write, and so on. Within the community of charitable and philanthropic organizations, there also tends to be specialization; shelters for the homeless, food pantries for the hungry, utility assistance, legal aid — the list, especially in this generous nation, is nearly endless.

Through specialization, each of us contributing what we are best able to contribute, more needs can be met overall, and this is obviously to the good!

But the Society of St Vincent de Paul not only lacks a specialty, it would seem that we explicitly dismiss specialization.

Or do we?

Vincentians are called, above all else, “to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.2]

Our service, our works, are the means towards growth in holiness; we’re called to see the face of Christ in those we serve, to fulfill His teaching, and to draw others to Christ through our example of charity.

And so, on our Home Visits, when we observe not only additional material needs, but ways in which we might help to alleviate the causes of the neighbor’s distress, we eagerly seek to do so, through our individual efforts, and through our many special works, from Thrift Stores to disaster relief; from tutoring to prison ministries.

None of these works stems from an ambition merely to provide greater amounts of material assistance, but from a commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, then, does have a specialty, but it is the charity, not the works.

We’re not, after all, the Society of Rent Assistance, or of Groceries; we are the Society of St Vincent de Paul, called by the example of our patron to “love God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.”[CCD XI:32] Charity itself is not a work; charity is love. No work offered in love is foreign to us.

And if we truly seek to serve Christ, how can it be otherwise?

Contemplate
Do I serve my neighbor for love alone?

Recommended Reading
Vincentian Meditationsespecially 23. The Vincentian Witness

Contemplation: God’s Gift, Wrapped in Humility

Contemplation: God’s Gift, Wrapped in Humility 940 788 SVDP USA

Have you ever seen somebody, puffed up with himself, stride into a room, clearly expecting to be the center of attention? Sometimes we hear people mutter, “He thinks he’s God’s gift to us…”

It’s a shame that this expression is used as a derisive commentary on personal vanity, because, when you think about it, aren’t we all “God’s gifts?” That seems like an easy thing to understand when we refer to a newborn infant as a “gift from God.”

You, too, are “God’s gift” to your brothers and sisters. So am I. This is not a validation of our vanity — quite the opposite! In vanity, we make ourselves the center. By contrast, as God’s gift, I am not for me, I am for you. God is the center. He carefully created us, wrapped us, and sent us.

To be God’s gift, then, is a call not to vanity, but to our Vincentian virtue of humility in which we accept 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]

Following Christ’s call to serve Him in the person of His poor, Vincentians seek to share not only our time, our talents, and our possessions, but also ourselves in a spirit of generosity. [Ibid]

And in giving, we receive.

As Fr. Hugh O’Donnell explains in an article titled Apostolic Reflection, “God is present in each person and in the community.”

In other words, while each of us is a unique creature of God, all of us together, as a group, also are a unique instance of God’s grace. The group does not change when a new person enters — it becomes an entirely new group, enriched by receiving another gift from God.

The vain man sees himself not only as the gift, but as the giver; the one who should be thanked. We are called to offer God’s gift, wrapped in humility, seeking nothing in return. Miraculously, when we do so, this gift of love will be multiplied.

What a wonderful exchange of gifts; what a wonderful celebration!

For we truly are the gifts when God is the Life of the party.

Contemplate

Are there times I try to keep this gift to myself?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them?

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them? 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are called to serve the hungry, the homeless, the poor — all those who are suffering or deprived. Doing this work can sometimes lead us to discouragement, because we see so many problems we cannot solve, and we know that today’s groceries won’t satisfy next month’s hunger.

And after all, who are we to try to ease the suffering of others when we are weighed down by burdens of our own?

Writing to his lifelong friend Ernest Falconnet, Bl. Frédéric once confided that many times he felt burdened by his own problems and worries, but then he went “into the dwelling of a poor person confided to my care. There, because so many unfortunates have more to complain about than I, I scolded myself for being discouraged.” [15 Days of Prayer, p.81]

The poor will always be with us, as surely as our own hunger will return each day. This is why our Rule reminds us, we “should never forget that giving love, talents, and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Pt. I, 3.14]

Our primary purpose is not the feeding, but the sharing, and in the end, whatever loaves and fishes we have to offer will be enough for God’s plan, if we share them for love alone. And as we comfort, we will in turn be comforted, just as the five loaves and two fish, shared by Christ’s disciples, returned to them as twelve baskets filled with food.

To invert the old saying, “there because of the grace of God go I.” There to the poor; there to the hungry; there to deprivation and to sadness; there to Him who beckons us; there to Him who comforts and redeems us, even as we, “weak Samaritans,” seek to offer comfort.

As Bl. Frédéric taught, the poor are “the messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and charity…” [O’Meara, p. 177]

How can we ever tire, or be discouraged, when what we offer is to Christ Himself? As Frédéric realized when those impoverished families lifted his spirit:

“From that time on, how could I not love them?”

Contemplate

In giving, do I keep my heart open to receiving?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat   More a novel than a biography, this is an inspirational story of Frédéric’s life.

Contemplation – Being That Kind of Person

Contemplation – Being That Kind of Person 940 788 SVDP USA

Why does it sometimes seem difficult to withhold judgment when we visit our neighbors in need?

In his famous essay “The Undeserving Poor,” [Serving in Hope, Module IV] the late Bishop Kenneth Untener explains how easy it is to serve a poor child, because they can’t help it if they’re poor, and they haven’t the ability to work their way out of it.

They are not the ones that are difficult to serve – it’s the ones who seem to be the cause of their own problems; the ones we help up only to see them fall again. You know – those kind of people.

In his biography of Sister Stanislaus Malone, Nun with a Gun, biographer Eddie Doherty recounts the story of Sister Helen, an older nun who once told an alcoholic to leave and not come back, saying “it would be a waste” of time and resources to keep helping him when he would only start drinking again.

The man left, but not before reminding her that she did not know the temptations he had faced.

After he left, Sister Helen sobbed at her own failure of charity, saying, “What right had I to assume he would succumb again to the evils of drink? How many battles has he won? Nobody knows. I think only of the battles he has lost – and the battles I myself have won.”

It is easy to remember that time we beat temptation, or pulled ourselves out of difficulties by our bootstraps, and to let it color our judgment of the failures of others. We forgive and forget our own failures of will or of virtue, because deep inside we understand that our failures don’t define us; that however our own stumbles may be seen by others, we are “not that kind of person.”

It was because of this human fallibility that St. Vincent taught that we should “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… even though intelligence and human prudence tell us the contrary.” [CCD XI:638]

Perhaps this is part of Christ’s meaning when he commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mt 22:39] Love is offering not only our assistance, but our understanding, our patience, and the benefit of the doubt.

Because we are all made in His image, and we are all “that kind of person.”

Contemplate

How can I better “see the good” in all circumstances?

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Meditation II – especially 10. Expecting and Seeing

Contemplation – The Joy of Communion

Contemplation – The Joy of Communion 940 788 SVDP USA

Our journey towards holiness will be more fruitful, our Rule says, if it includes “devotion to the Eucharist” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] which “plays a major role in Vincentian spirituality.” [Manual, p.65] The Eucharist unifies us and sends us forth.

The spiritual dimension of our Vincentian Formation teaches us that our pathway is a shared one, that we are meant to grow in holiness together as members of a community of faith.

Bl. Frédéric once said that although they might not be with him, when he received Communion he was “in close touch with my friends, all united to the same Saviour.” [Baunard, 381] After his mother’s death, he said that he believed that when the Savior visited, his mother “follow[ed] him into my poor heart.” [Baunard, 158]

In this, he echoed St. Louise, who reminds us that “Holy Communion with the Body of Jesus Christ causes us truly to participate in the joy of the Communion of Saints in Paradise.” [Spiritual Writings, A.15]

The Eucharist, which takes its name from the Greek word for giving thanks, is a gift we receive because Christ’s love is “inventive to infinity.” [SVdP, CCD XI:131] Having received Him, we must thank God “by our desire to honor Him in all the actions of our lives.” [St. Louise, Spiritual Writings, A.15]

Following Mass, filled with the “power of conviction,” [Baunard, 342] Bl. Frédéric always visited the poor of his Conference on his walk home. As his biographer Monsignor Baunard put it, he “returned to Our Lord, in the person of His suffering poor, the visit which he had just received from Him in the Holy Eucharist.” [Baunard, 209]

And so, having taken the Body of Christ into our own, we see that Jesus brings “not only Himself … but also all the merits of His mysteries.” [Spiritual Writings, M.8B]

Sending Louise on a mission, Vincent advised her to go to Communion on the day of her departure, so that Christ may “bless your journey, giving you His spirit and the grace to act in this same spirit, and to bear your troubles in the way He bore His.” [CCD I:65]

This sacrament is central to our Vincentian Vocation for the same reason it is the church’s “foundation and wellspring.” [Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 5] Through the Eucharist we are united not only with Christ, but with our entire human community; we are fortified, strengthened, and called to serve them as He served us. Our service to the poor is the expression of our devotion to the Eucharist.

Contemplate
How can I give thanks for the Eucharist in my Vincentian service?
Recommended Reading

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Encyclical Letter of Pope Saint John Paul II

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