Society of St. Vincent de Paul

09-16-2021 News Roundup

09-16-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL:

NATIONAL

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

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

SVdP Thrift Store Challenge

SVdP Thrift Store Challenge 738 416 SVDP USA

When people hear the name “St. Vincent de Paul,” their first thought is often the thrift store in their neighborhood that bears that name.

We know that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has numerous ways we help our neighbors in need. However, our Thrift Stores are an integral part of our assistance model. You may think its a great place to go to find a discount sweater, or some used cookware, but have you ever thought about how important the SVdP Thrift Store can be to someone who is re-entering the workforce after being incarcerated?

“The U.S. releases over seven million people from jail and more than 600,000 people from prison each year. However, recidivism is common. Within 3 years of their release, 2 out of 3 people are rearrested and more than 50% are incarcerated again,” said Jeff Beamguard, Stores Support Director. “50 percent of people are returning to a normal life and paying taxes again.  I have worked with thousands of people coming out of prison and jails. St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores provide a place for individuals to find clothing and accessories to find a job! SVdP has stores from coast to coast to give you a hand up, not a handout!”

Recently, the SVdP National Council’s Marketing and Communications intern, Lili Pino, decided to focus on just that. She dedicated her internship’s final project to bringing awareness to the Society’s Immersion Program by collaborating with Heather Fullerton, Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program, in the first-ever SVdP Thrift Store Challenge.

“Returning to the workforce after incarceration can be a challenging experience. SVdP thrift stores can help ease the difficulty by offering clothes, shoes, accessories, and more at an affordable price,” said Fullerton. “Anyone who has applied or interviewed for a job understands how stressful it can be to find professional clothing… Add an additional layer of being someone who is returning from incarceration and the stress can be overwhelming. Thankfully, job hunters can find a large selection of business attire at SVdP thrift stores. Items like ties, blouses, blazers, dresses, belts, and accessories are all available for a low price.”

Together, they each put together an outfit from the Thrift Store to show that returning citizens can find clothing appropriate for job interviews at affordable prices. Watch the video to see what they found!

Click here to learn more about the Immersion Program.

Click here to find your local SVdP Thrift Store. 

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

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?)

09-09-2021 News Roundup

09-09-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL

NATIONAL

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

A Letter from Our Servant Leaders

A Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Almost all the leadership lessons you will ever need might be learned with a group walk through the woods. To wit:

  1. Have a designated leader. Every hike needs someone chosen to make the decisions and lead the way. It may or may not be the leader for other purposes the rest of the year.

We elect Conference and Council leaders, and task leaders can be appointed. A leaderless group may sound good in theory but rarely accomplishes anything of lasting value. Good leaders delegate for the task at hand.

  1. Start with the destination in mind. A hiker’s map starts with where we are, and where we are going. The alternative is often being lost or separated in the woods!

Vincentians appreciate visualizing the goal, whether it is the result of the fundraising campaign or knowing specifically how a family will be helped. We feel good when we all know the goal and then meet it!

  1. Prepare for the unexpected. Insects, heat, thirst and the trail itself demand your thinking ahead.

The best of plans, including those in the Society, rarely go exactly as expected. Think together beforehand about what might happen, and prepare for these “just in case” disruptions before you start. This builds confidence, and often strengthens your original plan! 

  1. Have everyone plan and practice a communications plan. Simply, everyone can carry and learn three basic whistles: One to stop and wait for the group; Two to return to the person whistling; and Three to drop everything and run back to the whistle to help.

We can share constantly among our fellow Vincentians and other helpers how we are doing in our service. We then know when to pause before proceeding further, when to rally together or check in, and even when to drop everything to help a colleague in a crunch. 

  1. Make the journey interesting. Not all of the reward is at the final destination; make the hike fun all along the way.

Fellowship is an Essential Element of our Society. How can we make our service more enjoyable? Can we benchmark our progress and celebrate smaller achievements along our journey together?

  1. Bring nourishment. Water and food sustain us as we trod the miles and hills.

We are sustained as Vincentians by the Holy Spirit when we pray and worship together. Spirituality is another Essential Element, and this journey never ends for us.

  1. Dress appropriately. Keep the sneakers and bathing suits for the pool. Wear layers and shoes appropriate for the terrain.

When we provide Service (the last of the Essential Elements, see what I did there?), we should identify ourselves as Society members with vests, jackets, caps and/or pins. We aren’t showing off. We want parishioners and neighbors to know that the Society is present and contributing in our communities.

  1. Use the buddy system. No one hikes alone.

The Society has its two-person service standard in our Rule, and it is there for so many good reasons to protect us and those we serve!

  1. Don’t leave anyone behind. One leader stays behind to encourage the slow hikers to keep up the pace.

Vincentians have unique abilities to serve and individual paths to Holiness. Good Society leaders actively include everyone in our work, and encourage each one of us along our way.

  1. Have a backup plan. Trails get washed out. The bear blocking your path was there first and he ain’t moving!

Despite the advance planning, stuff happens. (In these COVID times I think this is understood!) Good leaders assess the situation, gather input from the group, and when needed, find new ways to keep moving ahead. Innovate, retrench, and stay positive!

  1. Have a strategy should you get lost. Be sure others can easily find and help you if you don’t reach your destination on time.

You can depend on your Council and fellow Vincentians, and written and online resources across the country to help you – but they first need to know where you stand in your progress. Reach out!

  1. Celebrate the achieved goal! Recap the success and plan the next group adventure!

Good Society leaders are never satisfied, as there are always more people in need to serve. Lead others to build upon your recent success, and stretch to do even more in service to God and our neighbors!

While contemplating the natural beauty around us, let’s remember that it was God who made these woods. Perhaps He made them not just to enjoy, but also as a classroom for our future paths of life, spirituality and service.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation – Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You

Contemplation – Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You 940 788 SVDP USA

“Come Holy Spirit, live within our lives,” we pray to open every Conference meeting, asking to be strengthened by the first fruit of the Holy Spirit: love. But let us also pray for the second fruit: joy!

Love sometimes means doing things we do not want to do, putting the needs of another before our own. For Vincentians, this is often begins with an interruption – we’d like to finish our meal, enjoy the weekend, or just relax and watch television, but the poor are calling. We don’t begrudge the poor their needs, of course, but we can sometimes adopt an unfortunate mindset; a grim sense of duty, a commitment to do the work, no matter how difficult or even unpleasant it may be at times.

After all, St. Vincent calls us to love God “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.” It sounds like hard work, this whole love business! We know that it’s worth it, but who smiles while plowing the field?

We do!

Reflecting on the grace of God above both the splendors and hardships of earth, St. Louise once asked, “Why are our souls not in a continuous state of joy and happiness?” [Sp. Wr., p. 774] As Robert Barron, Bishop of Los Angeles, sometimes explains, God’s love exists only in the form of a gift; once we receive it, we give it away, only for it to be replenished. So for every act of charity, for every gift of love, it is we who are receiving. Why would we not be filled with joy?

The Lord loves a cheerful giver. Blessed Frédéric advised his brother Charles to “bring a joyful dedication to the works” of the Society. [Letter 314 to Charles Ozanam, 1841] We serve not out of duty, not for reward, but for love alone, so that we may “draw nearer to Christ, serving Him in the poor and one another.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

This is the truth that ultimately should bring us such joy that we can hardly contain it: we are in the presence of the living Christ! It is in giving that we receive, and in giving to the One whom we adore that we are filled with joy.

And the Lord loves a cheerful giver!

Contemplate

How can I let go of cares and smile?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple

09-02-2021 A Letter from Our Servant Leaders

09-02-2021 A Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

It was a pleasure to gather in Houston last week with more than 600 Vincentians for the 2021 Assembly of the National Council of the  U.S., Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We listened to excellent presentations, participated in wonderful liturgies, socialized with friends old and new, and conducted the National Council’s business. Thank you to the Houston Council, our national committee members, and the national office staff, who all did an outstanding job to make this event a success during what remains a difficult time.

Of course, most of you reading this did not attend. Let me tell you, however, how you can benefit from what we did at this Assembly, and how you can use it in your Conferences and Councils.

The keynote addresses at the Assembly were all video-recorded and will be available on the National Council website within the next few weeks. The presentations by Bishop Donald Hying, Dr. Jaime Waters, and Rev. Dennis Holtschneider were outstanding. I hope all of you will watch these presentations personally, but they could also be used well communally to enrich a Council gathering or retreat.

The committee meetings and workshops at the Assembly covered a wide range of topics at the forefront of our strategic efforts. Some of these workshops will be available on our website. Even for the Assembly sessions that were not recorded, the work done at this meeting will be in evidence as new materials are produced to help grow our Society.

At the Business Meeting of the National Council, your representatives passed two important resolutions. The first was phase two of our National Strategic Plan. The second was a resolution approving a document on the protection of vulnerable persons. Passing these resolutions was significant, but with both of these measures, it will be even more important to do the work of implementing them at every level of the Society. Expect to hear more about these two subjects from your local leadership and in this E-Gazette.

These few observations only scratch the surface of the experience that helped renew our enthusiasm for the work of our Society and our dedication to it. Let us also commit to revitalizing the Society through the fruits of this National Assembly. On Sunday, we left the meeting faced with the reality of a hurricane about to bring destruction and flooding to many of our communities, even as others were already suffering from fire. Of course, we all are surrounded by the impact of COVID-19, as well. So let us pray for the health and safety of all our family and friends – and especially the Vincentians who attended this meeting.

One final note: Frederic Ozanam’s feast day is next week on September 9. I ask you to observe the day in some special way. Continue to pray that this will be the year that the Church recognizes his cause for canonization. In so many ways, he is a model the Catholic laity can look to on our journey of faith.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National President

Contemplation: Through the Glass

Contemplation: Through the Glass 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule calls us to “seek out the poor,” [Rule, Part I, 1.5] but why should we need to seek them out? Aren’t they looking for us?

Vincentians know that it is difficult to ask for help. With gentleness, we often reassure our neighbors in need that we are glad they have called us, and glad that we can help. We also know that material assistance is not the most important thing we can offer, and not the most important thing that anybody needs.

The suffering of poverty is much deeper than lack of food or shelter. Imagine yourself in poverty, walking down the street, on your way to a job that might just cover your bills, but can’t possibly cover anything more. A thousand other people are there with you on the sidewalk, none of them knowing what you are going through. Glancing through the glass as you pass a café, you see the smiling faces drinking $8.00 coffee that you know you can’t afford, and you begin to feel that maybe the coffee just isn’t for you. But it isn’t just the $8.00 price tag – it is the growing feeling that the community that surrounds you, filled with comforts and leisure that seem so out of reach, is a community that simply does not include you.

We are created to live in community – all of us, and each of us. When material poverty leads us to believe we are not only deprived but forgotten, that is true poverty; poverty in spirit.

We seek out the poor not because they are difficult to find. They are right there, on the other side of the glass, seeing us with our coffee, and believing we don’t see them. We seek them not because they need us, but because we need them; because we have been promised by our Savior that whatsoever we do to the least among us He will receive as if done for Himself.

With a cup of coffee, a warm embrace, and a prayer of hope, we welcome the poor into community; not seeking any reward for ourselves, but because we can see them, and they “are for us the sacred images of that God whom we do not see…” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1836]

We should need no special urging to seek out the poor. From inside our warm café, we need only to see through the glass, and then face to face, the one we have been seeking all along.

Contemplate

Are my eyes open to His presence?

Recommended Reading

The Spirituality of the Home Visit

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