Home Visit

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

It doesn’t take much time to feel utterly alone.

My wife was away over a weekend and I was home by myself. Even though I went to the grocery store and to Mass, worked out at the local YMCA, and bought some food at a drive-through, it was easy to say perhaps only 10 words the entire weekend. And that includes the “Amen” at communion!

In part this relative quiet was self-imposed. I’m blessed to have friends I could have visited, a Society food pantry where I could have volunteered, and a friendly neighborhood in which to converse with my neighbors. I chose after a very active couple of weeks to retreat instead for a few days and spend quality time with some books and televised sports. All told, I have blessings and choices.

Some of the many people we serve do not have these blessings. We know from membership reporting that “elderly living alone” is our first or second type of family the Society serves in many of our Conferences. Others may have a disability or specific situation that causes them to be homebound. Some are parents who, while they have children around them, lack adult friends and family. It’s in all of these neighbors that we can see the difference between being alone and being lonely.

An extreme feeling of loneliness is an underlying condition that can also lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and many dangerous behaviors such as addictions. If we could stop, or better yet, prevent such loneliness wouldn’t we all want to do so?

When a pair of Vincentians conduct a Home Visit or drop off a bag of groceries, we can easily measure how we provide for immediate needs. What is less evident is the value of simply being present. Often we have no idea of the life of the person we encounter. We may be the first person that neighbor has spoken to in person for a day, or a month. When we knock on the door, we are the face of Christ – friendly, welcoming of a conversation, helpful, and armed with a smile and, ultimately, hope.

Some members ask if the adaptations we all made over the pandemic period can be retained for the future, such as virtual Home Visits by phone or computer. These were necessary to help satisfy corporal needs of mercy such as rent and utilities assistance. We are blessed that we had the tools to adapt such that our neighbors could get the needed material help they sought. But what about their spiritual and emotional needs? Did we fulfill these even a little bit?

We may have taken for granted how much we mean to an isolated neighbor when we participate in person. Others who perform checkbook charity might feel satisfied that they helped in some way. Yet it is as nothing when compared to seeing the gratitude, friendship, and even joy when we make a personal encounter that, when allowed and appropriate, might include prayer and a handshake or hug. You can’t bottle that feeling and you sure can’t mail it in.

As we return post-pandemic to our Society traditions of in-person Home Visits and other personal encounters, let’s do so intentionally in a spirit of truly being a good neighbor even to those who are relatively unknown to us. That neighbor living alone, or otherwise emotionally very lonely, might never thank you for your appearing at their door. You won’t know that they feel more alive today because they spoke to another person in friendship. Some will know they exist simply because someone cared enough to visit them today.

In our Visits we bring more than tangible help; we bring hope and Christ’s love, and even get to feel a bit of it ourselves. It is said that half of success in life is just showing up. When we show up for someone else, we successfully take a few more steps toward our own holiness. Who will you visit tomorrow?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: More Ancient and Therefore More Sacred

Contemplation: More Ancient and Therefore More Sacred 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule calls us to be a “voice for the voiceless,” helping the poor and disadvantaged to speak for themselves, but also, when necessary, speaking on their behalf. [Rule, Part I, 7.5] But where do we begin? To whom do we speak? And who are we to presume to speak for anybody?

Blessed Frédéric once pointed out that “the knowledge of social well-being and of reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret…” [Baunard, 279] It is through the relationships we form on our Home Visits that we gain an understanding of poverty that cannot be learned by all the academic study in the world. It is this knowledge, and this spirit of friendship with our neighbors in need that gives us our voice.

Like many Vincentians, I think, one of the most eye-opening things I learned when I first began doing Home Visits was how much poverty there was right in my own neighborhood. In most communities, there is no shortage of people willing to help, but there are many people who are quite convinced that poverty is a problem that exists primarily in far-off places; not in their own city, town, or suburb.

What a service we can do simply to let our own communities know that their neighbors are in need. Imagine the outpouring that might happen if people only knew how many were hungry, how many were being evicted, or how many were sitting in the dark after the power had been shut off.

This knowledge we have gained is not our secret to keep, but our sacred trust to fulfill.

Advocacy by Vincentians is not partisan in any sense. Indeed, Frédéric once described the Society as “a community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties…” [Letter 290, to Amelie, 1841] As members, the Rule stated in 1835, we should “abstain from being inflamed by political leanings which array parties in opposition, and from starting among themselves those irritating questions which divide mankind. Our Society is all charity: politics are wholly foreign to it.”

No community, no government, no political party can even begin to solve problems that they do not understand. Among other groups, dedication to the poor may be fleeting, and may change with times or fashions.

We will always remain dedicated, and we will always be a voice for the voiceless, because we believe, with Blessed Frédéric, that this cause is “more ancient and, therefore, more sacred.” [Baunard, 301]

Contemplate

What do my friends and neighbors know about the needs in their communities?

Recommended Reading

Voice of the Poor Guide

06-17-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-17-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

Even fairly good students can end up after school in detention. If my middle school had a three-strikes program, I may not have survived eighth grade. To wit:

  • I was sitting in the lunchroom with my buddies. One of them, I noticed, was walking behind us and flicking our ears. When I thought he reached me, without turning I swept my arm behind me to smack him. Then I saw the faces of all my friends turning red. I had unknowingly just slapped the school’s most attractive young teacher squarely on her bottom.
  • Before English class began, my best friend suggested that a pro wrestling headlock he saw the night prior was a great move. I disagreed. We agreed to a test; he would get me in a headlock and I would try to escape it. He grabbed me, and I proceeded to lift his entire body up to my shoulders. At that point the teacher walked in, and assumed idiot-on-idiot violence. Apparently she was not a wrasslin’ fan.
  • We were about to begin a new unit on drug abuse in our Social Studies class. While I was visiting someone in the hospital, I asked a nurse if I could take home a clean, capped hypodermic needle to use as a teaching prop. She thought it was a great idea. Upon seeing the unauthorized needle in class, however, my teacher disagreed. So did my principal.

Looking back about 50years later — hopefully after the statute of limitations — I maintain my innocence. I also take from these experiences a recognition of how young people make careless mistakes, bad choices, act from ignorance, or just don’t quite have enough of the common sense we older folks take for granted.  My rather trivial transgressions resulted in correspondingly minor punishments. Others who made bad choices on a larger scale, or who were simply the unlucky ones who got caught, may have spent time not in detention but in jail. They may have missed college, job or other life opportunities.  But for one or two bad days, or bad decisions, their lives could have been completely different.

This is why the listening part of how we serve is so important. Especially in our Home Visits, but also while chatting at a food pantry or when otherwise helping someone with their issues, Vincentians seek to understand first, and then to act. Our services are not cookie-cutter because the people who need them don’t come from the same mold, either. Each person and family got to where they are by a different, sometimes unbelievable path. This path may have been a winding road, full of potholes. Perhaps they had to walk it step by painful step, much less drive it. Often too, they carried someone else and their burdens along the way.

The Society’s national Mission statement includes the phrase “through personal relationships with and service to people in need” and recognizes that we are a relational, not transactional, group. We see the service we provide simply by letting someone in need unload their situation and problems. In some cases, we are the only person who took the time to listen at all.

This year especially, our friends in need have stories to tell!  Are we actively listening to them?

Looking back on my middle-school situations, I realize that the repercussions of my actions could have been much worse but for listening teachers and administrators. Their desire to understand first before responding to me provided great examples to carry on in my Vincentian work. With some thought, you may have a similar role model.

Ms. Fascina, if you’re out there, thanks to you especially for listening. I really didn’t know you were walking behind me!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has always had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. We begin many of our meetings with this familiar prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love. Send forth your Spirit, and new life will be created. And the whole face of the earth shall be renewed.”

Emmanuel Bailly led our founders in a similar prayer at their first meeting in his newspaper office in 1833. The main difference was that they prayed it in Latin.

Since our founding, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has relied upon the Holy Spirit to guide our journey. For the past 188 years we have been asking the Holy Spirit to live within us and strengthen us. We need this loving grace every time we go on our home visits and whenever we work to lift someone out of poverty. Those of us in Servant Leadership positions must ask for such grace regularly. We pray for the new life the Spirit creates, and we await the renewal of the world that this new life brings.

Change is never easy. So why do we pray for it almost every time we meet? Do we really want the whole face of the earth to be renewed? Most of us are pretty comfortable with how things are now. Sure, we are committed to creating a more just society, ending racism and eliminating poverty, but couldn’t we do that without the disrupting the whole face of the earth?

This past year has illustrated that many of the problems with which we have struggled during the pandemic are systemic. Disparities in healthcare, lack of affordable childcare, challenges of workplace safety, difficulty in accessing education – to name just some systemically rooted problems – have all caused extra hardship in the past year. Added to these difficulties, we have had to face the issue of how racism multiplies suffering in many communities.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been talking about the need for systemic change for several years. That desire to renew this world is what inspired our founder Blessed Frederic Ozanam to envision the establishment of a network of charity and social justice encircling the world. We are heirs to that vision.

I appreciate all the resources that have been provided virtually during the past year by our Voice of the Poor Committee and by our Multicultural and Diversity Committee. Each group has helped us focus on these systemic issues. As we come out of this period of isolation, we need to commit to actions that will transform systems that enshrine injustice or promote disparity.

I don’t think it is possible to significantly reform these systems without the Holy Spirit renewing the whole face of the earth. I also believe that change starts with us as individuals. I will need to discover the changes I need to make to participate in a community that is loving and just. As our Rule states, we are journeying together toward holiness. So, this Pentecost, let’s keep praying, “Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love.”

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness 940 788 SVDP USA

New friends are silver, they say, and old friends are gold. Maintaining our friendships during this long year of absence and isolation has been challenging.

As Blessed Frédéric Ozanam once explained, friendships, when we are separated, can be nourished via letters, which are a “truly an epistolary meeting where one always gains and never loses.” [Letter 142. 1837]

Surely our modern conference calls and videoconferences have served us as ably as the letters of another era, yet even in these modern days, “friendship being a harmony between souls…cannot subsist in a prolonged absence.” [Ibid]

As challenging as it is to maintain our friendships without meeting in person, it is nearly impossible to form new ones, as we are called to do with the neighbors we serve. On Home Visits, we learn not only from words and facial expressions, but from the full circumstances and surroundings; body language; interaction with others in the home; things we can only experience in person.

All friendships are strengthened by spending time together, whether sharing a meal, a conversation, a movie, or other recreation. But our Vincentian friendship is a special bond, whose “strongest tie… is charity… It is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82 1834]

This friendship is more than recreational, more than mere “silver or gold.” It is one of the Essential Elements of our vocation, formed, nourished, and strengthened at every Conference meeting and home visit.

Indeed, the first edition of the Rule in 1835 declared that “the unity of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will be cited as a model of Christian friendship… which …will make of all our hearts one heart, of all our souls one soul…

It is through our friendship that we answer our calling to “journey together towards holiness.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] In our Conference meetings, where we gather together in His name; in prayer, where our voices joined; on our Home Visits, where we serve as He asked us to serve; there, as He promised, Christ will be in our midst.

As grateful as we are for technologies that have kept us connected during this time, one of the blessings we look forward to as we return to normalcy in coming weeks and months is the renewal of our living friendship. Vincentian friendship, like our relationship with God, is ultimately not intended to be a long-distance relationship.

Contemplate

When gathered with my Vincentian friends, do I look for Christ in our midst? Do I find Him?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

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!

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