Formation

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

Contemplation – We Do Not Have Two Lives

Contemplation – We Do Not Have Two Lives 940 788 SVDP USA

We understand our Vincentian vocation to be a lay vocation, not religious or clerical. Yet the laity are called to much more than charitable works and attending Mass on Sundays. Indeed, in Apostolicam Actuositatum, Pope Saint Paul VI said that as “sharers in the role of Christ as priest, prophet, and king, the laity have their work cut out for them…” That sounds like a very tall order, but to learn how we may fulfill this calling, we need look no farther than the example of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

Frédéric lived his faith in every part of his life. He felt God’s presence in friendship, writing to his mother that it “makes one love more than ever a religion that makes all its children equal and gathers together the great and the small who… inspire you with so much love for humanity.” [Letter 55, to his mother, 1833] He saw and served Christ in his friends.

Advising his friend on marriage, he explained that “in your wife you will first love God, whose admirable and precious work she is, and then humanity, that race of Adam whose pure and lovable daughter she is.” [Letter 107, to Curnier, 1835] In his faithful devotion as husband and father, Frédéric saw and served Christ in his wife and daughter.

For most of his adult life, Frédéric was a college professor, where he believed he and his Catholic colleagues should strive “to fulfill our vocation as professors in a Christian manner and to serve God in serving wholesome teaching…” [Letter 516 to Foisset, 1843] He never shied from defending the truth, yet in doing so, he never offended anybody. Frédéric saw and served Christ in his profession.

As a proud Frenchman, Frédéric served in the National Guard during the 1848 revolution and ran for a seat in the legislature that same year. Through his newspaper, L’Ère Nouvelle, he offered commentary on social issues of his time, always seeking to mediate social tensions, and to remind his fellow citizens of their obligations to one another. Indeed, he once went so far as to say that this was “the possible usefulness of our Society of St. Vincent de Paul.” [Letter 137 to Janmot, 1837] Frédéric saw and served Christ in his fellow citizens.

Frédéric anticipated Pope Saint John Paul II’s teaching that for the laity there “cannot be two parallel lives,” one spiritual and one secular. [Christifidelis Laici, 59] He even explained it using similar words:

We do not have two lives, one to seek the truth, the other to practice it,” he wrote. [Letter 1143, to Hommais, 1852] “It requires so little to be an excellent Christian, all you need is an act of the will.”

More importantly, he lived his faith in all the parts of his life: in work, in family, in friendship, and in charity. He is for us, and for all Catholics, a role model of the Apostolate of the Laity.

Contemplate

In what parts of my life can I better see and serve Christ??

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Meditations (especially 4. How Do We Define Ourselves?)

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service 2550 1700 SVDP USA

More than 600 Vincentians from across the country gathered together for the first time in two years for the 2021 National Assembly. Titled “New Horizons of Hope and Service,” the National Assembly combined Spirituality, Service, and Friendship and provided Vincentians with an opportunity to reconnect and recommit to their faith and mission.

Here are some photo highlights from our time together at the Houston Marriott Marquis.

Contemplation – The Light of the World

Contemplation – The Light of the World 940 788 SVDP USA

Have you ever noticed that in virtually every picture of St. Vincent de Paul, he is smiling? Just a small, gentle smile with a twinkle in his eye that reassures us, puts us at ease, and makes us smile, too. Wouldn’t a permanent smile like that be a great gift for all of us to share?

Vincentians take great pride in loving God “with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows,” [CCD XI:32] but we should always remember that ours is a vocation of gentleness! We may indeed work up a sweat at times, and even get our hands dirty, but ours are ultimately works of love, not feats of strength. We are moved by a tireless desire to love not only affectively, but effectively.

This distinction was made by St. Francis de Sales, who profoundly influenced Vincent. Affective love, Vincent taught, comes from the heart; it helps us to feel God’s presence, and fills us with warmth and affection. Love is effective, though, when we provide for the needs of others because of the love of God; when we serve, one might even say, for love alone. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Effective love, then, is an act of will; to will, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, the good of another. [Summa,II-II, Q27, A2] That sounds like work! But even as we do the work, the deep, abiding love of God that warms our hearts should shine through us in gentleness and kindness. Deeply inspired by St. Francis de Sales’ example of gentleness, Vincent testified for the cause of his beatification, saying that “his abundant, gentle goodness overflowed on those who enjoyed his conversation because of the example of his devotion.” [CCD XIIIa:91]

Gentleness, like all the virtues, must be both internal and external. When we are filled with the spirit and love of God, Vincent explained, we can hardly help but smile. In turn, we will offer our hearts with our “smiling face and cheerful disposition.” [CCD XII:156]

When we smile, it is sometimes said that we are “beaming,” or that our faces “light up.” And why shouldn’t they? We serve in hope, and our smiles are a visible sign of the hope and love that we bring with us. Perhaps this is part of the light Christ taught us not to hide under a bushel, but to shine before others.

Vincentians love God with the strength of our arms, but loving our neighbor begins with a smile, and we can smile without even breaking a sweat!

Contemplate

Does the love of God within me shine outwardly through my smile?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

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