Formation

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: The Holy Joy of Your Heart

Contemplation: The Holy Joy of Your Heart 940 788 SVDP USA

In our dedication and zeal, we sometimes feel as if we cannot rest as long as there are neighbors in need of our help. As laudable as this sentiment may seem, in practice it serves neither ourselves or the neighbor if we do not pause for both mental and physical rest.

Writing to a missioner who had labored without rest for many weeks, St. Vincent urged him to slow down: “Have you somewhat moderated your excessive fervor? I beg you, in the name of Our Lord, to do so.” [CCD II:27] Of another priest, whom Vincent believed may have literally worked himself to death, he remarked, “In short, his zeal made him do more than he was able.” [CCD II:375]

Of course, St. Vincent was not afraid of hard work! After all, it was he who said we must “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” [CCD XI:32] Yet we also must be mindful that “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The harder we work ourselves without respite, the less able we will be to continue the work. And so, advising St. Louise not to feel guilty about her own exhaustion, Vincent once went so far as to tell her, “I am ordering you, moreover, to procure for yourself the holy joy of your heart by all the relaxation you can possibly take…” [CCD I:145]

There is always more work to be done, but there is only one of you. We prepare to follow God’s will by resting our hearts in His peace and love, filling ourselves to overflowing so that we may share that love with the neighbor. We must also reserve and recover our physical strength through rest, knowing that “There is no act of charity that … permits us to do more than we reasonably can.” [CCD II:68]

In a sense, pushing ourselves to do more than we reasonably can could be seen as an act of vanity; believing ourselves so indispensable that our efforts cannot be spared. But trusting in providence doesn’t mean only that the money or materials resources we need will be provided, it is trusting that God has called enough people to do His work, as well.

When you think about it, when we insist on carrying too much of the load ourselves, we can even rob others of the opportunity to serve more fully!

Our Rule reminds us that work in our Conferences comes “only after fulfilling the family and professional duties.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] Certainly among those personal duties is care for our own well-being, including rest and relaxation.

Caring for ourselves is not just for ourselves. As Vincent once reminded Louise, “Increase your strength; you need it, or, in any case, the public does.” [CCD I:392]

Contemplate

How can I better share God’s love by sharing God’s work?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

10-21-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

10-21-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 240 300 SVDP USA

A beautiful gift of Vincentian Spirituality is our experience of Divine Providence, which is also one of the hardest concepts to understand. All of us totally understand God the Father, the Creator, Abba, the image of God as the loving Father. The second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, we have the Gospels to really give us a true understanding of the gift of Jesus, the Healer, the Savior. And then we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells His disciples at the Last Supper that He will be sending the Holy Spirit and we know that happens at Pentecost.

How do we experience the Holy Spirit in our lives? Well, look for the “nudge.”

You know, the “nudge.” That feeling deep within that says, “You should do something.” Notice the Urge to Do Good on the Earth! This is one of the things we encourage people to look for – the N.U.D.G.E  The Holy Spirit is with us always and moves our hearts to respond to others by this small “voice” from within that reminds us to do good. The other way to recognize the Holy Spirit or Divine Providence in your lives is to look for “coincidence.” You know when you couldn’t possibly explain how something happened for your good or the good of another, but it definitely happened! The other thing you will often see in the work of the Holy Spirit is that it seems to happen just in the nick of time.

When we invite people to consider if God is inviting them to join the Society to grow in holiness as we serve the poor, invite them to be in touch with the nudge. You will be left in awe at how many people discover the work of the Holy Spirit when you encourage them to sense the n.u.d.g.e. This very simple explanation allows them to identify the work of God in their lives. It is not a coincidence that your invitation to others to join the Society found fertile ground when you encouraged them to be open to the Spirit. We know that Divine Providence is well ahead of us in all things  St. Louise de Marillac said it this way:

“I must perseveringly await the coming of the Holy Spirit although I do not know when that will be. I must accept this uncertainty, as well as my inability clearly to perceive at this time the path which God wishes me to follow in His service. I must abandon myself entirely to His Providence so as to be completely His.”

Bask in the uncertainty and trust that the Holy Spirit will lead you as you “see the Face of Christ in the poor.”

Marge McGinley
National Formation Chairperson

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)

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.

Clips from Our Faith in Action Pandemic Special Now Available

Clips from Our Faith in Action Pandemic Special Now Available 1408 812 SVDP USA

The Our Faith in Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul Special Pandemic Edition aired on EWTN last month and is now available to view online.

This special can serve as a great marketing tool for the Society, but the full episode may be too long to show at a SVdP recruitment event or during a Conference meeting.

We have cut the episode down into three shorter segments to be utilized for marketing and recruitment purposes.

To view and download segment 1, click here.

To view and download segment 2, click here.

To view and download segment 3, click here.

We hope you will find these segments useful as you spread the good news of the hard work of Vincentians across the country! If you have any questions, contact Michelle Boyer at mboyer@svdpusa.org.

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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