John Berry

VisionSVdP: Because Every Voice Matters

VisionSVdP: Because Every Voice Matters 8335 2555 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Family,

Over the last six months you have likely heard and read about the launch of VisionSVdP, our “family conversation” that will occur over the next two years as we answer the call in our Rule to “Adapt to a Changing World.”

I first spoke about this in my remarks after my Installation as National President last year in St. Louis, and I have written about it often in the e-Gazette Servant Leader column and other places. Well, VisionSVdP will officially kick off at the Midyear Meeting in St. Louis March 13 – 16, so I wanted to provide some information and detail on what is ahead. There will also be more in next week’s e-Gazette.

The question that is probably first in many people’s minds is “What is VisionSVdP?”

Let me start by telling you what it is NOT. It’s not a program, it’s not a strategic plan process, it’s not a reorganization, it’s not a fundraising campaign, it’s not a make-work effort for already burdened Vincentians trying to serve people in need.

Well then… what IS IT, you ask? Well, it’s a conversation. That’s right, it’s a conversation. A Synodal (from the Greek for Journeying Together) conversation about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. What’s good about it? What’s not so good about it? What are we doing right? What might we be doing better? What are we doing that we don’t need to be? What aren’t we doing that we should be doing? What’s enriching your spiritual life as a Vincentian? What’s stressing your spiritual life as a Vincentian? Why are we getting older and greyer even though we are trying to bring young people into our membership? Why can’t we move the needle on increasing diversity despite years of trying? Why are we still using pen and paper to complete casework forms when our grandkids are using tablets to do their homework in first grade??

Get it? This will be a conversation guided by, blessed by, and driven by God through the Holy Spirit.

The next question on your mind is probably “Why are we doing this?” There are a lot of reasons!

As I mentioned above, The Rule, written in 1836, call us to periodically “Adapt to a Changing World.” In Part I, 1.6 The Rule says: “Faithful to the spirit of its founders, the Society constantly strives for renewal, adapting to changing world conditions. It seeks to be aware of the changes that occur in human society and the new types of poverty that may be identified or anticipated. It gives priority to the poorest of the poor and to those who are most rejected by society.”

The last few decades in the United States (and in the world) have brought changing conditions that demand we look at how we must adapt and renew. Those changes were accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic and the economic challenges faced here and abroad. We must look at the Society in the light of the reality of today and tomorrow — and we must change where change is called for.

Finally, how are we going to do this? We’re going to do it by talking, listening, respecting every person’s views, and then planning how we move forward. We are going to talk for a long time. We are going to talk for at least a year at every level in the Society — because EVERY VOICE MATTERS.

At the Midyear Meeting, we will hold Listening Breakout sessions. These are exactly what they are called — LISTENING Sessions. We are going to all listen to each other, because EVERY VOICE MATTERS. At the Regional Meeting we are going to hold Listening Sessions — because EVERY VOICE MATTERS. And then every Council and every Conference and every Thrift Store and every Food Pantry and every Special Work in the Society is going to hold Listening Sessions — because EVERY VOICE MATTERS.

And then we’re going to assimilate it and talk about it. But that’s next year’s work. This year we’re gonna talk — a lot!

Because EVERY VOICE MATTERS!

Peace and God’s Blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

The 2024 Midyear Meeting is about a month away in St. Louis. Every year as we approach Midyear, Regional Meetings, and the Annual Assembly the same question comes up. “Is it appropriate for Conferences and Councils to use their funds to pay for members to attend these meetings”? Or a variation on the same question. “Does the Rule allow the Conference or Council to use the funds they have raised to pay for members to attend these meetings?”

The answer is a clear, resounding, unequivocal YES! Not only is it appropriate and allowed, but it is a very important — and smart! — way to improve service to your neighbors in need, make your Conference or Council better and more effective, grow your membership, develop deeper spirituality within Conference and Council, and deepen friendship and community within the Society across the country.

The RULE (3.12 Formation of Members) states:

It is essential that the Society continually promote the formation and training of its members and Officers, in order to deepen their knowledge of the Society and their spirituality, improve the sensitivity, quality and efficiency of their service to the poor and help them be aware of the benefits, resources and opportunities that are available for the poor. The Society also offers members higher training in order to better help to raise the cultural and social level of those who request this support.

I have heard people say that spending money on sending people to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly is “taking food out of the mouths of the poor.” Well, with the deepest love and respect to those who say that, let me say that I could not disagree more!

If you want to put more food on the tables of those who are hungry — come to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly and learn how your fellow Vincentians across the country are innovating amazing new methods to collect food, create food pantries, develop partnerships with supermarkets and others, and delivering food to the hungry as we are called to do in Matthew 25.

If you want to help house the homeless and prevent those who are housed from losing their homes — come to the Midyear, Regional, and Annual Assembly and learn from your Vincentian Family across this country how they are developing incredible programs to move people from the street to homes, from extended stay motels to homes, preventing evictions, and working with community partners to address the many and complex issues of homeless prevention.

If your Conference is suffering from burnout and a lack of Vincentians to help the people in need coming to you for support, don’t suffer in isolation and silence – come to the Midyear, Regional, and National Assembly and learn what your Vincentian Family is doing to address the Spiritual needs we all have. We are all called to grow in holiness. See ways in which other Conferences and Councils across the country are innovating and creating exciting spiritual growth opportunities for their members.

If you are struggling to make the checkbook balance last until the end of the month it may seem counterintuitive to spend money to go to a meeting. But how else are you going to learn how to get over that fundraising challenge? Reach out to National and your Council and your Region and get the scholarship support you need (and YES — contact ME for help) and get to the meeting and learn some new development techniques so you can begin to be effective in helping to grow your monthly collection income.

St. Vincent once said, “The poor suffer less from a lack of generosity than from a lack of organization.”

When the Society was in its early days, Members gathered often for meetings to exchange ideas, learn from each other, grow together in spirituality, and grow in friendship and community (Our Essential Values). But remember that these Men (and they were all Men back in the day) were all wealthy individuals who paid their own way and funded the Society.

Today the Society has members who bridge the socioeconomic spectrum. We proudly have Members who were once people we helped. We have young people, retired people, rich people, and not-so-rich people. We are One Society representing ALL of American Society.

That is why we must use the resources we have been given — diligently, judiciously, and with discernment — to help train and empower our membership to lead us into the future. Our work is NOT just happening locally, in the vacuum of a Conference or Council, but in the community and friendship afforded them by attendance at a Midyear, Regional, and/or Annual Assembly.

Be prudent, be reasonable. Many people can pay their own way. Many, many people do. But many cannot. And do not just send your leadership, but look at the Emerging Leaders, the unsung heroes of the Conference/Council, the spiritual leaders, the new people who will come back and fire up the others. And support as many as you can to attend the Midyear, the next Regional, the Annual Assembly.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day — and the traditional month of the celebration of love. Exchanges of flowers and chocolates, romantic dinners, and many an engagement will occur on February 14 as people celebrate their love for each other. A day to celebrate love is a good thing, because by focusing on the more personal and intimate love we have for each other, we can hopefully reflect on the universal love that we are called to hold for all.

Love is foundational to our humanity. It is the most important commandment given to us by God. When Jesus was asked what mattered most, he told us; love God, love your neighbor as yourself. The Gospel of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and so many others are all about love. Love for our brothers and sisters in this world.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta left behind a legacy of compassion and selfless service to the destitute. She celebrated love every day for those who had no one else to love them. One of her profound statements that resonates with the human spirit is, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” In these simple yet powerful words, Mother Teresa captures the profound impact of emotional destitution and the significance of human connection. She captures what our Vincentian Encounters with the people we serve are all about. We are not just delivering food or clothes, or payments of rent and utilities. We are bringing love to those who suffer the terrible poverty of feeling unloved, uncared for, and abandoned.

Loneliness is a silent affliction that can impact even the most prosperous individuals. Mother Teresa, having devoted her life to helping the poor and marginalized, recognized that material poverty is not the only form of deprivation. She understood that loneliness, accompanied by the deep-seated belief of being unloved, could lead to a sense of hopelessness that ignores economic status.

Mother Teresa’s quote speaks to the universal experience of loneliness, a condition that transcends geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic boundaries. Loneliness exists in many ways, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. It is not confined to the elderly or those living in isolation; it can afflict the young, the successful, and those surrounded by a bustling social circle. In our interconnected world, where virtual connectivity often overshadows genuine human interaction, the epidemic of loneliness is rampant, and the consequences are profound. Social factors such as past trauma, social bullying, and social ostracism can dramatically increase loneliness and isolation even among those who seem to ‘have it all.’

The connection between poverty and loneliness, as highlighted by Mother Teresa, extends beyond the material realm. While addressing the physical needs of the poor, she recognized the importance of acknowledging their emotional and psychological well-being. In the impoverished corners of Calcutta, Mother Teresa confronted not only the scarcity of resources but also the profound sense of abandonment experienced by those who felt unloved. Her work was a testament to the belief that alleviating poverty required an integrated approach, one that encompassed not just material assistance, but also genuine human connection and compassion.

That goes to the core of our commitment to the encounters we have with those we serve. To that human-to-human Christ-centered connection. We are not just case workers, although truly we are often in that role. And let’s be clear, there is no negativity to that title or role – it is important and necessary! But we are caseworkers with humanity and human connection and compassion as our guiding star. We are Vincentians who know that it is love that people need as much as material needs, and we can, and we do give them both.

As Vincentians we demonstrate, every day, the transformative power of love and human connection. We demonstrate that in the embrace of love, the impoverished find solace, and the lonely heart discovers warmth. We demonstrate that acts of kindness driven by love, no matter how small, have the potential to alleviate the most profound forms of poverty.

In today’s fast-paced and digitally driven world, where virtual interactions often replace face-to-face connections, the epidemic of loneliness has only intensified. Social media, while providing a platform for connectivity, has also contributed to a sense of isolation and inadequacy. Mother Teresa challenges us to reflect on the quality of our relationships and the depth of our connections. She asks us to prioritize genuine human interaction and empathy over the superficiality of online engagement.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s quote, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved,” captures in one short sentence the profound impact of emotional destitution and the transformative power of love and human connection. Her life’s work, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, was a testament to the belief that true poverty extends beyond material lack and encompasses the loneliness that accompanies the feeling of being unloved.

Our work as Vincentians has always been done on that spirit. In the movie Monsieur Vincent, St. Vincent de Paul tells a new Daughter of Charity: “It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them. at all times and under all circumstances.”

As we navigate an ever-evolving world, the words of St. Vincent and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s serve as a timeless reminder of the importance of compassion, empathy, and meaningful human connection in alleviating the most profound forms of poverty.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

01-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Well, here we go. We have been reflecting on change recently, and just as we begin a new year where change and how we are going to adapt to it will be a major focus of discussion and discernment for us all — a substantial change is announced.

Last week, Dave Barringer made public his plans for retirement. If his ‘retirement’ is anything like Ralph Middlecamp’s or mine, it just means he will be working just as hard for the Society… but — as my Archbishop once told me — for indulgences rather than dollars. Seriously though, Dave has done a wonderful job for us and replacing him won’t be an easy task. Luckily, he gave us notice that this was coming long before my election. So the Board and I already have a search firm working on finding a successor, and hopefully there will be a seamless transition in September.

In 535 BC, the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus is purported to have said, “The only constant in life is change.” And there really wasn’t a heck of a lot going on back then, right? He’s probably talking about a couple of changes a year, maybe two a month in a crazy time. Heck, it took three months for a letter to get from Rome to Athens! (And talk about change — letters were chiseled on a stone tablet. Think about that postage stamp today.) So, can you imagine what he would be thinking about change today? In today’s world, change comes at a dizzying pace.

Back in the 17th century, when Vincent de Paul was championing the cause of the less fortunate, the world was a tad different too. No smartphones, no internet — can you imagine? Encounters were purely face-to-face, and if you needed directions, you had to ask an actual person instead of Siri. Ah, the good old days!

Fast forward to the 21st century — our opportunities to create Encounters with those we serve have evolved. We are not just knocking on doors; we are navigating through virtual spaces, sending emails, and sharing information with other organizations. While we may miss the simplicity of the past, it is important that we embrace the opportunities that technology offers to expand our reach and impact. We can, must, and do leverage technology and change to maximize our ability to create personal Encounters with those we serve. But we cannot, must not, and never can allow technology and change to replace the human-to-human Christ-centered Encounter that embodies who we are.

Frédéric Ozanam once said, “Charity must never look beyond the needs of the present hour.” Wise words, indeed. Our ability to expand our encounters may have transformed, but the essence remains the same — addressing the needs of the hour through the Encounter has not changed. We sit with people. We pray with people. We talk with people. We serve people. We do not serve computers. We do not serve phones. We do not serve paper. As some of our trucks and signs say, “We serve people.”

Technology can be — and is — our friend. Picture Saint Vincent de Paul trying to send a text message with quill and ink — “Help needed at the soup kitchen. Bring bread!” The challenges of communication in the 1600s…so much easier with an iPhone, eh?

And Frédéric Ozanam might have appreciated the convenience of a group chat — “Team, we have a mission! Let us band together and make a difference. Who’s bringing the coffee?” Because come on, let’s be real, coffee is essential for any charitable endeavor.

As we navigate these changing times, let us remember the spirit of Vincent and Frédéric. Our Encounters are a testament to the enduring power of compassion. Each interaction is a chance to bring warmth, understanding, and a touch of humanity into someone’s life.

As we embrace change, and use it to do what we do better, we must make sure we also continue to cherish the human encounters that define the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Whether it is a 17th-century doorstep in the slums of Paris or a 21st-century personal Encounter in the suburbs of Atlanta (set up through a text message to the caseworkers that came from the Vincentian on Intake who took a call off the Conference phone line), our commitment to serving with love remains unwavering.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

01-04-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-04-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Here we are in a new year. I don’t know about you, but to me it hardly seems possible that 2024 is here already. But it is, and the turning of the calendar at the new year invites us to reflect on the past and envision the possibilities that lie ahead.

It is a time filled with hope and promise, and each of us, in our own way, holds the power to shape the unfolding stories of those possibilities. That’s why new year’s resolutions are so popular — they are our own personal attempt to shape those possibilities. But as we all know, it’s hard work! That’s why the gym is packed the first two weeks of January, but usually back to normal soon thereafter.

New beginnings, as we often experience them, are inherently linked to change. As we say farewell to the familiar and step into the new, we should try and remember that change is not just a passage of time, but a transformative force. It challenges us to grow, adapt, and evolve. In our journey together as a Vincentian Family, change is our constant companion, and it is through our commitment that we can navigate these transitions.

Yet, we also understand that change is not just a series of events — it is an opportunity for an impactful and important transformation of the way we serve those in need. Our mission, rooted in compassion and driven by faith, takes on new dimensions when viewed through the lens of change. It calls us to reassess our strategies, explore innovative ideas, and deepen our impact. Strengthened by our faith, and guided by the Holy Spirit, we then become the architects of this transformation. That is what The Rule calls us to do in Part I, Article 1.6: to ‘Adapt to a Changing World’

Adapting to a changing world while remaining faithful to everything else in the Rule, and our heritage as Vincentians, means aligning our values with the evolving needs of the communities we serve. And understanding that each of those communities is different. How we adapt in New York won’t necessarily look like how we adapt in New Mexico — and that is one of the most beautiful and perfect things about the Society! (But to be honest, also one of the most challenging from a national leadership perspective.)

Embracing change means continually reassessing and expanding our outreach to address emerging challenges, whether they be rooted in poverty, housing, healthcare, or other pressing issues. Drawing inspiration from Catholic social teachings, we strive to innovate programs, foster inclusivity, and collaborate with diverse communities to ensure our services remain relevant and impactful. This means embracing flexibility in approaches while remaining rooted in the principles of compassion, charity, and social justice. It requires a commitment to understanding and addressing contemporary challenges through the lens of our Catholic faith. By staying attuned to the changing landscape, we can better serve our mission, fostering a sense of solidarity and promoting the dignity of every individual, even in the face of societal shifts. Adapting in this context is a dynamic and purposeful journey toward meeting the spiritual and material needs of those we serve.

In this ever-changing landscape, our dedication to serving the vulnerable reflects a timeless and unwavering commitment to the betterment of the human condition.

In the coming year, let us begin this journey with a renewed sense of purpose. Let us embrace change not as a challenge to be overcome, but as a joyful opportunity for renewal and connection with those we serve. Let us be attuned to the changing needs of our communities and respond with agility, guided by the unwavering love and strength granted us by God through the Holy Spirit. Let us shine a light so bright that people from all over come to join us in our mission.

Together, let’s create a path where every act of kindness is a testament to the transformative power of love. May our service be a beacon of hope, illuminating the lives of those in need. In the hope and promise of a new year, may our faith, resilience, and love be the stories that weave a tapestry of compassion, change, and transformation.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

12-21-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-21-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With the New Year arriving in a week and a half we’ve all been inundated with news stories and articles containing end of the year reviews, lists of the top ten this, that, and the other things of 2023, and predictions for what 2024 will bring (usually all very wrong).

I promise you that this final Servant Leader column of 2023 won’t be one of those. We all pretty much know what we accomplished in 2023, and there is no one who can tell you what is going to happen in 2024. (Remember COVID in early 2020? Remember all those predictions of a worldwide pandemic that we heard about at the end of 2019? Yeah, me neither.)

Rather, than predictions for the future, I’d like to focus this column on our vision for the future. What differentiates a vision from a prediction? A vision is our declaration of what we want to make happen. A prediction is what we think will happen to us, outside of our control.

Vision is crucial for both individuals and organizations like SVdP because it serves as a guiding force that shapes our actions and decisions. For individuals, a personal vision provides a sense of purpose and direction, helping to prioritize goals and make choices that align with our aspirations. A vision instills motivation and resilience, fostering a proactive mindset. Organizations with well-defined visions create a shared sense of purpose that facilitates coordination and cohesion. A compelling vision inspires innovation and planning, guiding us toward long-term success. Overall, having a vision not only provides clarity but also serves as a motivational force for individuals and a unifying principle for organizations.

Take a moment and reflect on one person that we are all very familiar with, Blessed Frederic Ozanam. Below are two visions that he spoke about in his lifetime.

He talked about his personal vision:

“In my life I want to become better and do a little good.”

and

“I would like to embrace the whole world in a network of charity.”

But he also, actually at a much earlier time of his life, spoke about a vision for an organization that didn’t even exist yet – but that he knew he wanted to see brought to life:

“I will be delighted if some friends gather around me! Then, if we join our efforts, we could create something together, and others would join us, and perhaps one day all society will join under this protective shade: Catholicism, full of youth and strength, will rise up suddenly upon the world.”

Frederic’s organizational vision was written in 1831 when he was just 18 years old, two years before the founding of the Society! From that Vision, one of the largest and most impactful organizations on the face of this earth – The Society of St. Vincent de Paul – was born. And note the relationship between Frederic’s personal vision and his vision for the organization that would become SVdP. They are complementary and supportive of each other.

In 2024 and 2025 we will be focusing a lot on a process we are calling our VISION SVDP. I’ve referred to it as our ‘Family Conversation.’ It is a multi-year synodal based conversation at every level of the Society, beginning at the Conference. We are called to this conversation and review by our Rule which tells us that we are periodically obligated to ‘adapt to a changing world’.

One of the key things we will seek to accomplish in that process is defining our Shared Vision for SVdP as an organization, but it is also an important time to pray on, and refine, our own personal vision as a Vincentian.

Because developing a personal vision rooted in faith provides us with a profound sense of purpose and resilience. Faith instills a belief in a higher calling, aligning our personal aspirations with the SVdP mission. This shared spiritual foundation will help us foster a deeper connection among all Vincentians, promoting unity and cooperation toward common goals.

Faith serves as a source of motivation and strength during challenging times, enabling us to persevere when faced with obstacles. As Vincentians we daily deal with the challenges of helping neighbors in need when sometimes we don’t have the resources, the answers, or are facing our own burnout and stress. A personal vision based on faith and spiritual enrichment not only fuels our commitment but also contributes to a collective strength that propels the entire Vincentian family.

Christmas is a time to reflect and pray on renewal and rebirth, hope and transformation. Christmas symbolizes the birth of new beginnings, fostering a sense of joy and renewal. The idea of renewal and rebirth helps us reflect on starting afresh, embracing positive change, and experiencing a rejuvenation of spirit. And through that reflection we evoke in ourselves a sense of optimism and the hope for a brighter future.

As we celebrate this holy and blessed season, I hope we all take time to think about your personal commitment and vision and how you would like to see that vision come to life in our beloved Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Debi and I wish you and your families a Blessed and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

John

A Christmas Message from President John Berry

A Christmas Message from President John Berry 933 525 SVDP USA

Dear Fellow Vincentians,

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

As we celebrate the sacred season of Christmas, I think it is proper for us to reflect upon the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. That reading speaks directly to the essence of the selfless endeavors of hundreds of thousands of Vincentians across the globe. The unwavering commitment of each person who serves those in need embodies the very spirit of those Gospel verses, where we are taught that the compassionate acts of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and comforting the afflicted are expressions of divine love.

In the midst of the festive holiday cheer, the tireless efforts of every Vincentian stand as a testament to the transformative power of kindness. Vincentians are the modern-day embodiment of the shepherds who, guided by a star, found the infant Jesus lying in a manger. In that service, Vincentians discover the sacred in the faces of those they assist, recognizing the divine spark within each person, regardless of their circumstances.

“Rejoice and be glad that so great and good a Lord, on coming into the Virgin’s womb, willed to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that men who were in dire poverty and suffering great need of heavenly food might be made rich in him.” – St. Clare of Assisi

Just as the Magi presented gifts to honor the Christ child, Vincentian generosity and empathy are gifts to those we serve. Vincentians are a living testament to the belief that every act of mercy, no matter how small, contributes to a more compassionate and just world. Our work extends beyond the tangible, creating a tapestry of interconnectedness that mirrors the unity found in the Christmas story.

As we navigate the challenges inherent in our mission, may we find solace in the knowledge that we are not alone. The divine presence that graced Bethlehem resides in the compassion we extend and the hope we inspire. May this Christmas be a time of reflection, renewal, and deep joy as we witness the impact of our efforts on the lives of those we touch.

“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you…yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand.” – Mother Teresa

In the spirit of the season, I want to express my profound gratitude to all those who support our work with their donations and commitments of time, talent, and treasure. And I pray that the love born in a humble stable guide and sustain us all in the coming year.

Debi and I wish you a blessed Christmas filled with the warmth of family and community, the joy of service, and the peace that comes from the spirituality and holiness that surpasses understanding.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John Berry
National President

12-07-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-07-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

At Masses on the last weekend of November we all celebrated The Solemnity of Christ the King. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 25:31-46. That is a reading that I am sure every Vincentian is very familiar with. It is my favorite Gospel reading, without a doubt.

In that reading, Jesus articulates, clearly and directly, what we are called to do if we are to be saved at the final judgement. He could not be clearer. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the ill, and visit those imprisoned. Because when we serve those hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, strangers or imprisoned persons, we are in fact serving Him. And when we ignore those people, we are turning our back on Christ.

As I said, Jesus is clear and precise in what he says. He is also clear and precise in what he DOES NOT say. In all my 68 years of hearing the Gospel of Matthew, I have yet to hear a qualifier on those requirements for salvation.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” He did NOT say “For I was hungry, and you gave me food because I lived in the Parish boundaries.”

Jesus said, “For I was naked, and you clothed me.” He did NOT say “For I was naked, and you clothed me because I resided in your Zip Code.

 That reading is something we should be contemplating as we look at the blessings which our Conferences have in money and people. And how we are using those blessings to help not only the people in our Parish or Conference/Council boundaries; but how we are proactively sharing those blessing with other Conferences and Council who may not be as blessed.

Twinning is a wonderful tool for us to serve our Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are not in our immediate ‘service area’.  Twinning gives us a way to share our blessing with others who we may not see through our encounters with people we serve.

But are we being proactive in our twinning efforts, or reactive?  Are we waiting for other Councils and Conferences to contact us, or are we reaching out and asking who needs help? Every time we pray in our meetings, we ask God to help us “Seek and find the suffering and deprived.”  Are we actively seeking ways to share our excess?

Of course, we need to be good stewards of the gifts we are given, and we have to keep some of our funds in reserves to get through unexpected rough times. But once we have an adequate level of those reserves, we should be seeking opportunities to help the suffering and deprived.

As we enter this season of Advent and Christmas, let us dedicate ourselves to being proactive in becoming gift bearers to our fellow Vincentians near and far so that they may seek and find the suffering, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and follow Christ’s call to salvation.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

11-15-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-15-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Next week, we start what is the traditional year-end holiday season that extends through early January.

Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, New Years. Food, prayer, presents, parties, and football. Usually a lot of food, a lot of presents, a lot of parties, a lot of football. More than enough food and parties to cause a lot of us to begin that new year with another new diet. More than enough presents to tempt us to cut up those credit cards and swear off debt. And more than enough football…. well actually, there is never enough football.

But is there enough prayer? Is there ever enough prayer?

The thing about holidays and Holy Days is that they focus us on prayer, gratitude, and spirituality. But what about all those other days that aren’t Sunday Mass days or holidays? When it’s bitter cold in mid-February and the car is stuck under a snow drift, do we pray? Or maybe — do we curse? When it is 115 degrees with 89% humidity in August, do we pray — or do we curse? When it’s just a plain ole normal day where nothing especially went right or wrong, do we pray? Or do we just let it go by, untouched by our spiritual selves? I admit, I’ve been on the wrong side of each one of those questions more times than I wish I had.

St. Vincent de Paul said, “Give me a man of prayer and he will be capable of everything. He may say with the apostle, ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me.’”

As Vincentians, we are women and men of prayer. And through that prayer, service, and friendship, we seek to grow in holiness and become closer to God and each other. Our meetings open and close with prayer. In our gatherings, we reflect and pray on scripture and other spiritual discussions. We sometimes pray with those we serve; we always pray FOR those we serve. Prayer is central to being a Vincentian.

So today, I pray that you and your families are blessed with happiness and peace this holiday season. I pray for those gone from us this past year who won’t be sitting around our Thanksgiving tables or won’t have presents under the tree. I pray today for an end to the war, violence, and hatred that has exploded across the globe. I pray today that civility, listening, and understanding return to our conversations and interactions in society. And I pray that those we serve find hope, healing, and relief from suffering.

And finally, I pray that when the holidays are over, the tree is back in the attic and it’s a normal boring Tuesday, that I pray. That day — and every day.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

11-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? I don’t mean running a 10K, bench pressing 300 pounds, or completing the New York Times crossword in record time. No, I mean what was really the hardest thing you have ever done? Was it to leave home and venture out on your own? Was it to ask that pretty girl out on the first date that resulted in a lifetime of love and family? Was it to leave an unhealthy relationship or change an unhealthy behavior? Was it letting go when you really didn’t want to? Was it leaving that comfortable, well-paying, secure job to take a shot at a new opportunity?

And why did you choose to do that thing? Close your eyes a minute and think about it.

OK, welcome back. I don’t know what you might have decided was the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but I am pretty sure that whatever it was, there a very important factor that was involved in your decision to do it: Vision.

When you began the thought process about that decision, I am willing to bet that (consciously or unconsciously) you went through a process of imagining the ‘other side’ of it. You had a vision of the consequences of success — or  failure.. And as you contemplated your decision, you asked yourself “Imagine if I …”

Underlying that vision was an even more important factor: Faith.

Your faith — in yourself,  in others, and  in God — was the underlying core that made that vision something attainable and realistic, and thus gave you the courage to move forward. Likewise, in the decision process a lack of faith in any of those things might have given you the red light to say ‘No, this isn’t something I want to do/try/begin.’

In a few months we will begin what I have called our SVdP USA ‘Family Conversation.’  It is an opportunity for us to journey together in an exploration of the challenges and opportunities we have as we adapt to a changing world; just as we are called to do by The Rule, Part 1, 1.6.  As we work together in this guided process over the next few years and journey together to adapt to a changing world, let’s keep those two very important principles in our minds.

Vision: “Imagine if we …”

Faith: “What is God calling us to do as his workers in the field to support our Sisters and Brothers in Christ?”

Because if we can answer those questions and do the hard things that result from them, then we will create a beautiful foundation for the future and those who follow us in this amazing vocation.

Remember the words of St. Paul: “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

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