Formation

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule tells us that “All decisions are made by consensus after the necessary prayer, reflection and consultation.” [Rule Part I, 3.10] And that, “In rare circumstances, if consensus cannot be reached the decision may be put to a vote.” [Part III, Statute 16] Doesn’t that just drag things out? Isn’t it faster to vote?

These are the wrong questions! Our goal isn’t to reach the fastest decision, but to reach the right decision; the one that is aligned with God’s will.

The process of reaching consensus, then, is a concrete instance of discernment.

The foundation of consensus in our Conferences is for each of us to let go of our egos, “surrendering our own opinion,” as our original 1835 Rule put it, “without which surrender, no association is durable.”

This concept of surrender, of emptying ourselves, occurs throughout the Scriptures, and is a result of our Vincentian virtue of humility, which St. Vincent taught “causes us to empty ourselves of self so that God alone may be manifest, to whom glory may be given.” [CCD XII, 247] Even Christ “emptied himself” to better fulfill the Father’s will! [Ph 2: 6-8]

There is an old joke that voting is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. In a similar way, consensus is like a group of friends deciding where to go for dinner. We would never make our friend with the fish allergy go for seafood, and it is obviously better to skip the pizza if another friend just had that for lunch.

When we keep our friendship foremost, our consensus on a dinner destination becomes obvious. Our differing needs and opinions don’t block the road, they light the path.

Just so, in our Conferences, with the bond of our Vincentian friendship enabling us to listen and speak openly, the group’s wisdom and insights will soon distill, revealing to us God’s will in the form of our consensus. Rather than vote fellow members off the island, we all remain in the same boat.

St. Louise often advised that “following the example of the Blessed Trinity, we must have but one heart and act with one mind as do the three divine Persons.” [Correspondence, p.771, 1647]

The Divine life, in the example of the Holy Trinity, is a shared life, and our pathway to it also is shared; in service, in spirituality, in friendship, and in consensus.

Cor unum, et anima una!

Contemplate

When have I let my own strong opinions shut down other voices in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love – especially “Listening to God’s Word

Contemplation – The Smallness of Our Alms

Contemplation – The Smallness of Our Alms 940 788 SVDP USA

At times it can be frustrating to think that the assistance we give to a neighbor in need will not only be insufficient to lift them from poverty, but may not be enough even to get them through the next week.

The efficient and plentiful distribution of goods and services isn’t our primary purpose, though. As the original edition of The Rule in 1835 explained, “we must never be ashamed of the smallness of our alms.” Rather, for each neighbor we assist, it is “our tender interest – our very manner, [that gives] to our alms a value which they do not possess in themselves.”

Our primary purpose since the beginning has been to grow in holiness, and our secondary purpose to bring our neighbors closer to God. Our service, in the form of the Home Visit, is the primary means towards both of those purposes.

No work of charity should be regarded as foreign to the Society,” that 1835 Rule continues, “although its special object is to visit poor families.”

It is only through this special ministry of person-to-person service that “our tender interest” attaches to “the smallness of our alms.” What may appear small to the wealthy, is large in the eyes of the poor. More importantly, it is when we serve those in need personally, following the example and teaching of Christ, that we may also bring Christ to those in need.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” [MT 18:20]

Mahatma Ghandi once said, that “there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” The bread we offer, the bill we pay, the prayer we offer, can be the light of God when offered for love alone. It can begin to relieve the greatest poverty – the feeling that one is forgotten, or unworthy.

Our offerings to the poor, Christ assures us, will be received as if given to Himself. Our service to the poor is not about demanding a result, but about offering Christ’s love, and ours, in a spirit of selflessness and humility. It is about giving, not achieving.

Our charity would be less meritorious, and might expose us to vainglory, if we saw it always crowned with success.” [The Rule, 1835, as reprinted 1906, Superior Council, NY]

Contemplate: What result do I seek in my Home Visits?

Recommended Reading: The Rule, Part I

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think about our Vincentian virtue of humility, it seems sometimes that it may act against the interest of the poor if it results in fewer people donating to the Society. But this confuses humility with secrecy, a point Bl. Frédéric often discussed!

Indeed, while celebrating the rapid expansion of the Society across France in its early years, he noted that “we love obscurity without cultivating secrecy” [Letter 310, 1841]

He emphasized that “humility obliges associations as much as individuals.” [Letter 160, 1837] We must maintain the humble spirit of our founding, just as Vincent once admonished a priest of the mission for referring to it as “our holy company.” Vincentians, like all Christians, seek holiness, we do not proclaim it for ourselves!

Secrecy does not serve the work, or the poor. We work in obscurity, not as servants of an unworthy or illicit cause, but as what Bl. Frédéric called “weak Samaritans,” and what St. Vincent called “unprofitable servants.” Our work is worthwhile because it is truly the work of God!

What robs the poor is when we take personal credit for the God’s work; when we see ourselves as the cause. Our humility as a Society, Frédéric explained, “must exclude that collective pride which so often disguises itself under the name of esprit de corps…”[Letter 160, 1837]

We seek to do God’s will, and we should not be silent about the good that results, but any success we achieve is His alone.

Why wouldn’t we tell that story? Why wouldn’t we want to share this great gift we receive with everybody we know? It is a great story exactly because it is not about us.

There is much pleasure in telling of the humble origin of great things. It is so wonderful thus to reveal the secret work of God.” [Letter 460, 1842]

Contemplate: How can I share our story?

Recommended Reading: ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple by Fr. Robert Maloney

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old expression that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and I suspect most of us can confirm this from our own personal experience. Nobody wants advice from a sourpuss; many will even decline a helping hand offered from beneath a furrowed brow. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in her poem Solitude:

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.

It turns out that cheerfulness is not simply a nice thing to offer but is a necessary component of our Vincentian virtue of gentleness.

It is true that some people, as St. Vincent de Paul once explained, are gifted by God with a “cordial, gentle, happy manner, by which they seem to offer you their heart and ask for yours in return,” while others, “boorish persons like [himself,] present themselves with a stern, gloomy, or forbidding expression…” [CCD XII:156]

But a virtue, our Catechism tells us, is “habitual and firm disposition to do good.” [Catechism:1833] Habits, good and bad, can be changed, and our disposition towards cheerfulness can be natural, or it can be acquired.

St. Vincent reminded his missioners of Christ’s great gentleness through His own sorrows, His own suffering. Throughout His passion “no angry word escaped Him,” and even at the moment of His betrayal He greeted Judas as “friend.” [CCD XII:159]

As in all things, we seek to follow Christ’s example, to accept our own suffering, as Vincent once said, “as a divine state,” confident that our true hope lies in doing His will. And if we truly seek to “serve in hope,” our very countenances should shine with confidence, hope, and good cheer – especially so every time we are blessed to serve Christ in the person of His poor.

As Vincent reminded Louise: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84]

Contemplate: What is keeping me from smiling, and how can I surrender it to God?

Recommended Reading: Vincentian Meditations

Contemplation – Our Gifts to God

Contemplation – Our Gifts to God 940 788 SVDP USA

We often use the term “charism” when describing our Vincentian Spirituality. During this week in which we celebrated the 404th anniversary of Vincent’s homily at Folleville on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, which marked the first mission. it seems like an appropriate time to examine our shared Vincentian charism.

We sometimes simplify the meaning of charism to talents we may have, and surely our talents are gifts. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit run deeper.

The Church defines charisms as “graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church…” [Catechism: 799] Like the word grace itself, the root of the word charism comes from a Greek word referring to gifts or favors. These gifts are given to all of us freely and gratuitously.

If we think of our charisms as the seeds in the parable of the sower, we should seek to become the rich soil that yielded a hundredfold what was sown. [Mk 4:1-20] The gifts themselves are our calling – how we use them in the service of God and His Church is our answer.

Or to paraphrase the late writer and motivational speaker, Leo Buscaglia, “Your [charisms] are God’s gift to you. What you do with them is your gift back to God.”

We also recognize special charisms given to individuals or groups that inspire the founding of religious families within the church, such as the Congregation of the Mission, which dates its founding to that 1617 mission in Folleville.

At that time, and even more so as he contemplated it in his memories, St Vincent discerned the special charism that had been given to him, and that he freely shared with all who sought – and seek – to follow his way.

The Vincentian charism calls us to “love God with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows;” to trust in God’s providence; and to follow Christ’s teaching to see and serve Him in the person of the poor. This is the specific way in which we, as Vincentians, seek to live the Gospel daily.

These things are not instructions, or burdens – they are gifts to us!

What we do with them, is our gift to God.

Contemplate: What personal charism do I try to return to the church “one hundredfold?”

Recommended Reading: Praying with Vincent de Paul

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

    Skip to content