Formation

Contemplation – Behold, I Make All Things New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

How can I better share hope?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

Contemplation – The Primitive Spirit

Contemplation – The Primitive Spirit 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

12-16-2021 Daily Prayer

12-16-2021 Daily Prayer 940 788 SVDP USA

Daily Prayer for Thursday, December 16, 2021:

What did I come here to see, Lord?
Why have I come to Mass?
To see Your suffering, hung like art,
In the Stations of the Cross?

What did I come here to see, Lord?
Why do I visit the poor?
To see Your suffering, see Your face,
In the neighbors that I serve?

My living God in the Eucharist,
My salvation in Your poor,
My living God that I may serve;
That’s what I’ve come to see.

Amen

Written by National Vincentian Formation Director, Tim Williams.

Contemplation: A Conference in Heaven

Contemplation: A Conference in Heaven 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

Book of the Sick

Contemplation – True Charity is Always Poor

Contemplation – True Charity is Always Poor 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

The Rule – especially Part I

Contemplation – The Soul of Our Souls

Contemplation – The Soul of Our Souls 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

Contemplation – Trust to God for the Rest

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

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

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

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

Go. Act. Do.

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

Feed. Clothe. Be merciful.

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

Serving in Hope II: Our Vincentian Spirituality

Contemplation: 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

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