Formation

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

Fred Talks – Our Timeless Home Visit

Fred Talks – Our Timeless Home Visit 462 472 SVDP USA

Fred Talks Are Back!

Fred Talks are short videos that offer information on topics like Vincentian Heritage, Traditions, and Spirituality. Each video is five minutes or less! What Vincentian can’t spare time for that?

Fred Talks are also great to share with other members of your Conference, or with fellow parishioners who may be curious about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director, produces the Fred Talks series.

In this newest edition, titled “Our Timeless Home Visit,”  Tim reminds us that Home Visits have never been the easiest way to help serve our neighbors in need — even before the pandemic that’s gripped us over the past year. But just because it’s not always easy doesn’t mean it’s not important — both for our own spiritual growth AND bring the face of Christ to those we serve.

Be sure to check back periodically in the E-Gazette and on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for new Fred Talks!

Contemplation – Our Unlimited Resources

Contemplation – Our Unlimited Resources 940 788 SVDP USA

In the course of its 188 years, many have marveled at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s great freedom of action, seeking always to help those in need in the best way possible. As our Rule says, “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.” [Rule, Part I, 1.3] There is only one explanation for this: love.

In 1933, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Society’s founding, an editorial in The Tablet, a Catholic newspaper in Brooklyn, observed that “The Society is great because it follows in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior… He was not interested in ‘cases’ or ‘clients,’ but in men, women, and children.”

We are called to form relationships with those in need, to understand them as we would a brother or sister. Like brothers or sisters, like neighbors, like friends, we always want to do what is best for a person we value and love. Because of this, the members who made the visit are assumed by their fellow Vincentians “to have a special insight into the best way to give help.” [Manual, p. 27]

Ours is not the “The organized charity, scrimped and iced, In the name of a cautious, statistical Christ,” from John Boyle O’Reilly’s poem. Rather, with Bl. Frédéric, we believe that “in such a work it is necessary to give yourself up to the inspirations of the heart rather than the calculations of the mind.” [Letter 82, To Curnier, 1834]

The poor are accustomed to standing in line, taking a number, or filling out a form to try to “qualify” for the assistance they desperately need. They are reduced to numbers in the eyes of many agencies. To many in their communities, they are invisible. To us, they are “the sacred images of that God whom we do not see, and not knowing how to love Him otherwise shall we not love Him in [their] persons?” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1837]

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is not an agency; our help does not come with strings attached, because while agencies’ resources are limited, ours are not. Our funds belong to the poor already, so we “never adopt the attitude that the money is [ours,] or that the recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, p. 26]

More importantly, the resource we share on every single visit, is ourselves. But the ultimate reason that no work of charity is foreign to us is that the greatest resource we have, is one that multiplies as it is shared: love.

Contemplate: Are there times that I “budget” my love?

Recommended Reading: The Spirituality of the Home Visit – Read, but also keep your own journal!

2021 Midyear Meeting

Midyear Meeting Wrapup

Midyear Meeting Wrapup 1916 1030 SVDP USA

Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s 2021 Virtual Midyear Business Meeting. We hope you found it both educational and spiritually uplifting. We’ll be sending out a survey soon for your input, suggestions, and feedback for the Meeting.

Those attendees who chose VIP Registration will receive a copy of the Society’s 175th Anniversary Book and a Commemorative Coin, shipping from our store in the next week. If you didn’t choose VIP registration, you may still order either the book, the coin, or a set of both. The book expands upon Ray Sickinger’s excellent presentation on the history of the Society in the United States, and is a must-read.

Presentation Links

If you were unable to attend a session, or would like to watch it again, here are links to the program recordings:

General Sessions
Spirituality
Governance
Programming
Business 
Thrift Stores 

Exhibitor Showcase

If you were not able to attend the Exhibitor Showcase, links and contact information for each vendor presentation can be found below. We hope you enjoy visiting with our vendors and that you’ll follow-up with them and help grow the Society’s partnership with our National Partners and Exhibitors.

Click the links below to view each presentation, or to email the vendor directly, click on their name:

2021 National Assembly

Mark your calendars for our 2021 National Assembly at the Marriott Marquis in Houston, Texas, August 25 – 29, 2021. We hope to see you there! For those who are not yet comfortable travelling, there will be  a hybrid component to the National Assembly so that those at home can still be part of the gathering.

 

Contemplation – A Harmony Between Souls

Contemplation – A Harmony Between Souls 940 788 SVDP USA

Friendship is one of the Essential Elements of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Certainly, it is easier to work together when we all get along, but the friendship we are called to is of a very special character. This friendship is sacred, Bl. Frédéric wrote, it is “a harmony between souls.” [Letter 142, 1837]

St. Vincent loved to remind his followers that Christ treated his Apostles as his friends, teaching that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. For Vincent, then, we can have no better friend than God! Therefore, “must we not love all that He loves and, for love of Him, consider our neighbor as our friend!” [CCD XI:39]

God created us to live in community, and just as the Holy Trinity shows us that the Divine life is a shared life, so our pathway to it is also shared. We are formed as Christians through our relationships with others. Our call to friendship, then, is an essential part of our call to holiness.

If this seems difficult at times, if there is tension between us, it is forbearance, Vincent said, that is “the bond of friendship that unites hearts in sentiment and action, not only among themselves but in Our Lord, in such a way that they enjoy great peace.” [CCD VI:51]

Serving each other as friends in Christ, we should take special joy in sharing each other’s burdens. Bl. Rosalie, replying to a request for a great favor from a friend, gladly agreed to help him, saying, “I cannot tell you how you please me in giving me the opportunity to do something for your interests. Always act this way with me, without any hesitation. It is the proof of friendship that I hope for.” [Sullivan, 237]

It is charity, the love of God, that connects us in friendship with each other and with those we serve. Charity, Bl. Frédéric said, is the strongest tie – the principle of a true friendship. Yet charity “is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82, 1834]

You may have observed that you grow closer to your friends when you share a meal, or go to a movie, or have them over for a cookout. Through these acts that we share, our lives intertwine; our bonds become stronger.

But if purely human acts have this power,” Frédéric explained, “moral acts have it even more, and if two or three come together to do good, their union will be perfect. Thus, at least, He assures us who says in the Gospel: ‘Truly, when you are gathered together in my name, I will be in your midst.‘” [Letter 142, 1837]

Contemplate: To have a friend, you have to be a friend. How can I be a better friend?

Recommended Reading: Antoine Frédéric Ozanam especially Chapter 7, ‘Friendship’

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

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