Contemplation — Come, Holy Spirit

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Four hundred years ago, on the feast of Pentecost 1623, Louise de Marillac, known then as Mademoiselle LeGras, knelt in prayer at her parish church, Église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs. Her husband was very ill, and unemployed. Her son was troubled. She blamed herself for these burdens, because she had never fulfilled her “first promise,” made when she was a teenager, to become a Capuchin nun. She felt all of her misfortunes traced back to this failure.

It didn’t matter that the decision not to become a nun had not been hers, but her spiritual director’s. Distraught, she was considering leaving her husband in order “to have greater liberty to serve God and my neighbor.” [SWLM, 1] She was wracked with doubts and uncertainty about her future, and even doubted the immortality of her soul. And so she knelt in prayer, alone with her thoughts, offering her cry of suffering to God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, we are taught, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It was at this lowest moment that she received what she called her lumière, her light, and her “mind was instantly freed of all doubt.” [Ibid] It was the light of the Holy Spirit that assured her that day, that eased the burdens weighing her down, that brought the hope and peace of God to her.

She would go on to care for her sick husband for two more years before being widowed. In the meantime, she would endure hardship and relative poverty. It would be ten years before, along with St. Vincent, she would found the Daughters of Charity, finally fulfilling that “first promise.”

But it wasn’t the founding, nor her many later works, in which she found her peace, it was in the hope and the light of the Holy Spirit, received in the depths of her sorrows.

Our neighbors cry out to us on days much like Louise’s. Like her, it is temporal crises that have often driven them to despair and left them in isolation and doubt about their futures.

Blessed are you who are now weeping.

In their dark night of the soul, God answers. He sends us to prove His love, and to bring His hope. At each Conference meeting we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, live within our lives.” Let us add, in our hearts, “Make me the bearer of Your light. Let me be, for the neighbor, their lumière, so they will know that whatever happens tomorrow or next week, You are with them, and so am I. Help me to bear the light of hope.”


Do I pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, for myself and for the neighbor?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Louise de Marillac

Contemplation — Our Sublime Vocation

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As members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we are not simply “volunteers.” Rather, ours is a vocation. A vocation is more than a simple set of activities, or membership in a club. The word itself is from the Latin root vocāre, meaning to call. Our vocation is a call from God, a sacred invitation to follow a pathway towards the perfection that He wishes for us. It is subordinate to the vocation shared by all lay Catholics; the call to order all of our temporal affairs according to the plan of God. [Lumen Gentium, 31]

The Vincentian vocation, then, is more than the sum of the actions we take, but that we taken them for love alone. It is more than Conference meetings, and more than Home Visits. It is “a vocation for every moment of our lives.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] It is the means by which we pursue the integration of life that Pope Saint John Paul II describes. [Christifidelis Laici, 59]

If you are a Vincentian, it is because God called you here. You may not have recognized His voice at the time; His words may have come to you from another Vincentian. But it was God who called you here, the same God who calls, again and again, asking for your help; asking for a rent payment, an electric bill, a listening ear, and an open heart. You may not recognize His voice every time, but when He calls you, you answer, and you in turn pass along His call to the neighbor by your wordless witness in living your faith, and loving the neighbor as yourself.

When the tasks seem daunting, we follow St. Vincent’s advice, remembering that in responding to our vocation, “our Lord will be [our] guidance and [our] guide and [we] can do all things with Him.” [CCD I:589]

This is, as Frédéric put it, “the sublime vocation God has given us.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] It is the vocation to which God has called us, the vocation in which we are blessed to encounter Him, the vocation that each and every one of us should be offering to “to all those who seek to live their faith loving and committing themselves to their neighbor in need.” [Rule, Part I, 3.1]

It is certainly true that all of our actions as Vincentians are voluntary, but volunteering is something one does; Vincentian is something we are by virtue of our sublime vocation.


When recruiting new members, do I focus only on the work, or consciously share God’s call?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat

A Week in Prayers May 15 – May 19

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Monday, May 15

Your blessings, Lord,
Are right before my eyes,
As if silhouetted
In golden rays on the horizon
In the sun’s setting or its rising.
Help me to see all your children
Whether hidden in shadows,
Or shabby clothes,
Or behind unwelcoming faces,
Throughout the busy day,
In that same brilliant light.

Tuesday, May 16

Lord help me fulfill Your plan.
Because there is hunger,
May I feed the hungry;
Because there is thirst,
Lead me to water;
Because there is suffering,
Teach me to comfort;
Because of Your justice,
Help me serve.

Wednesday, May 17

You carry me, Lord, on the pathway
When I am too tired to walk.
You hear me, O Lord, in my weakness,
When I am too weary to talk.
You lift me, O Lord, when I’ve fallen,
You heal me, Lord, with Your touch.
On this journey, O Lord, You are with me,
And my burdens are never too much.

Thursday, May 18

Help me to see Your face, O Lord,
So that I do not turn away,
Or presume to cast my judgment
Upon You.

Help me to see Your needs, O Lord,
So that I break out of my comfort
And shed my second coat
For You.

Friday, May 19

Lead me, O Lord, to charity,
So your love becomes all I desire
To share from a heart overflowing
Like the song of a heavenly choir.

Lord, play me the music of heaven
In the angels’ harmonious notes.
Lead me, O Lord, then to justice,
For I am the one with two coats.

Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director.

Contemplation — The Grace of God

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“There but for the grace of God go I.” We tend to share this idiom most often when a peer, a friend, or a colleague suffers a misfortune – somebody whose shoes we imagine to be pretty close to our own size, familiar characters who have made the same mistakes we’ve made. Yet it captures both the empathy that is expected of Vincentian home visitors, and the unmerited nature of God’s grace.

Our Rule says that we refrain from judging the neighbor because we are always aware of our own weakness, and that we “seek to understand them as [we] would a brother or sister.” [Rule, Part I, 1.9] That isn’t always easy when the neighbor comes from a very different background than we do; when we don’t quite feel like we can relate; when their mistakes are different than ours.

It becomes easy, at times, to feel as if we truly know better because we haven’t allowed ourselves to make the mistakes we perceive in the neighbor’s story. We sometimes struggle to remind ourselves to, as Bl. Rosalie put it, “love those who are poor, don’t blame them too much. The world says, ‘It’s their fault… If we had suffered as they have… we would be far from their equal.” [Sullivan, 211]

The neighbors that call us often have no place else to turn for help; theirs are calls of desperation. Have they made unforced choices that led them to this? Oftentimes, yes. But just as paramedics don’t pause to figure out who caused the accident before working to treat the wounds, Vincentians don’t, as Bl. Frédéric once put it, “render the suffering classes responsible for their misery” nor ”fancy themselves exonerated from helping the poor man when they have proved his wrong-doing…” [O’Meara, 324]

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

God’s grace is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us.” [CCC, 1996] Undeserved. We, also, are undeserving, just like “The Undeserving Poor” in Bishop Untener’s essay. [SiH IV] Maybe this can help remind us that putting ourselves in the neighbor’s place means sharing their suffering, not imagining how we’d have made better choices.

Yet, it is also we who are called to be God’s hands, His eyes, His ears, and His loving heart; to love the neighbor as ourselves for the love of God; to serve for love alone. We go to the poor not to judge them but to serve them as the embodiment of Christ, exactly as he taught us. We go in simplicity, humility, gentleness, selflessness, and zeal in witness to our Vincentian charism.

And a charism, our church teaches us, is a very special grace from God. [CCC, 2003] So, while it may be the grace of God that saved us from the neighbors’ circumstances, it is at least equally the grace of God that sends us to sit with them, listen to them, pray with them, and love them – unconditionally.


Do I always put myself in the neighbor’s place first?

Recommended Reading

Serving in Hope, Module IV (especially “The Undeserving Poor”)

Contemplation — Just Prayer

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“The needs were overwhelming,” the Home Visit team recalled, “And they were beyond what we could provide. So we just prayed.” Have you heard an account like this before? The emotions were high, the needs were great, there was nothing we could do, so…we just prayed.

It’s easy to feel as though we’ve let down the neighbor sometimes. We are the ones who return their calls. We are the ones who listen and understand. And we are the ones who, more often than not, are able to help with that overdue bill, or groceries, or rent, so when we can’t, or when the problem isn’t really a matter of material assistance, it can seem as if we’ve fallen short. Instead of offering our alms, we share in their suffering.

And we just pray.

Yet no matter the need, no matter the outcome of our Home Visit, we always pray. It isn’t an afterthought, or a rote exercise, or something we fall back on only when things seem hopeless! Our prayers are the most important thing we have to offer.

After all, why do we offer them for each other, or for our friends and family? Vincentians are people of “prayer and action.” [Rule, Part I, 3.3] Bl. Frédéric calls us to “do all the good we can and trust to God for the rest.” [Baunard, 81] However great or little our efforts or our material offerings, our work is never complete without prayer.

We always pray; we never just pray. The final balance between our action and our prayer is up to God alone. As St. Vincent reminds us, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205]

In our prayers, we place the needs of the neighbors before God in order to assure them that they are not forgotten, that this, too, shall pass. We add our voices to theirs, knowing that God has placed us n the presence for this reason, that He, too, is present on our Home Visit, and that the hope we offer is not merely the hope of a light bill payment.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great taught that to give what is ours to the neighbor is charity; to give them what is theirs is justice. [P.R., Bk III] In this sense, at least, they are all just prayers.


If I approach each home visit as if I have only prayer to offer, how would I pray differently?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

Contemplation — Cheerful Givers

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God loves a cheerful giver,” the Apostle reminds us, and so, we might observe, does every person made in His image. Who wants a guest at their birthday party to grudgingly hand over a gift, sighing under the weight of all the stress of shopping for it? Thankfully, there are few such guests. Instead, the great anticipation of the recipient’s joy at seeing the gift often makes us impatient to see it opened.

The beauty of gifts given freely to friends is that they are given completely unconditionally; we don’t consider for a moment whether a friend deserves a birthday present, or whether they will repay it. Our goal is only to find the perfect gift. When we receive gifts, we can hardly help but be happy.

If by chance, the shirt is the wrong size or color, or we’ve already read that book, we always know that it’s the thought that counts; it’s the friendship and love that accompanies the gift that we really celebrate. In the same way, St. Vincent teaches, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] It is not the gift, but the giving that matters.

We bring gifts to each neighbor we visit, and giving them unconditionally, and never “taking the attitude that …recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, Ch 2] Those gifts might include help with a bill, or food, or rent, or “any form of help that alleviates suffering or deprivation and promotes human dignity and personal integrity in all their dimensions.” [Rule, Part I, 1.3]

Most importantly, though, we “never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14] What makes a birthday gift so special is the thought and care and love that goes into finding it, wrapping it, and giving it. What makes our gift of time and self to the neighbor so special is thought and care and love that goes into answering their calls, visiting them cheerfully, and always helping in the best way that we can.

When we knock on the neighbor’s door it should be with the same joyful anticipation with which we arrive at a party, with gift in hand. Every home visit is an opportunity to remind the neighbor that God has not abandoned them; to bring them the gift of love – the love of God.

Home visits should never be approached as a chore. They are a special grace from God, given to us so that we might see Him, serve Him, and make ourselves the instruments of His boundless love. It is more blessed to give than to receive.


“Why,” St. Louise asked, “are our souls not in a continuous state of joy and happiness?” [SWLM, A.14B]

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation — From Day to Day

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One of the most treasured tenets of our Vincentian spirituality is trust in Providence. When our treasuries run low, we trust in Providence to refill them. When we are not sure of the path to take, we trust in Providence to guide us. But Providence is more than simply a generous donor, or a wise friend, and our trust demands much more from us than simply expecting things to work out well.

In our households and our businesses, we prudently set aside money for “rainy days” rather than spend it all on payday, because we have obligations – bills – that will remain, even if our income does not. But what about the works of the Conference, particularly the assistance we give to neighbors in need? These are not, strictly speaking, obligations, and there is no amount of saving up that will assure we can meet them. As an earlier edition of the Rule explains, our works, “being entirely optional, should be from day to day; besides, nothing is more Christian than to trust one’s self to Providence and to count upon its inexhaustible care when the work is undertaken for God. To make a reserve, to have before us a disposable capital which we never touch, to lay out beforehand a budget as in a relief association, are proceedings essentially contrary to the spirit of our Society.” [Rule, 1898, 87]

Our tradition seems almost to defy common sense. Surely it is better to set aside money for those neighbors who will certainly call us next week than to give it all out today! Or, perhaps, giving all we have to meet today’s needs makes the most sense. After all, if a homeless shelter had three vacant beds, who would ever turn away a mom with two kids just to keep those beds open for tomorrow?

The needs presented to us are as unique and unrepeatable as the images of God who present them, and we can never know in advance the best way to help. This is why we are called to “assess each home visit as a unique encounter and … not set predefined limitations on the amount of help to be given or the type of help to be given or the number of times to help someone.”

This apparent conflict between prudence and Providence is as old as the Society. As Bl. Frédéric once explained, “in such a work 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]

To trust in Providence means to abandon ourselves completely to the will of God, and it is from Providence that both donations and the needs of the neighbor are placed before us. If we have the means, we give generously. When we are poor ourselves, we give what little we have. Money can be saved in a bank, but it isn’t money we are trying to save.


Are there times I let worry about tomorrow’s funds obscure the needs before me today?

Recommended Reading

The Manual

A Week in Prayers April 17 – April 21

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Monday, April 17

Lord when I see Your face
How can I help but smile?
The face of hunger, the face of joy,
The face of need, the face of love,
The face of the neighbor,
Unique and unrepeatable.
Open my eyes to see You, Lord,
Open my heart to smile.

Tuesday, April 18

Lord Jesus, Your bore Your cross for me
Up the rocky path, buckling under its weight.
Open my eyes to see the struggling neighbor
Bending low under the weight of a cross.
Give my heart the strength to share the burden
And the love to wipe the neighbor’s brow.
Lead me on the way of the cross.

Wednesday, April 19

Father in heaven,
Hear my prayer;
Hear the groanings
Of my heart.
Hear me, Lord,
In the silence.
Answer me, Lord,
In Your mercy.
Answer me, Lord,
In Your love.
Answer me, Lord,
In the silence.

Thursday, April 20

I am in Your hands, O Lord,
Carry me where You will.
Lift me up from darkness,
Give me rest when I am weary,
And when my neighbor is in need,
Lord, let me lend Your hand.

Friday, April 21

Lord Jesus,
Help me guard against the false humility
That shows empty hands to the needy
Because I believe what I have to offer
Is not enough.
Teach me instead to find abundance
In five loaves and two fish.
Help me to share
My time, my possessions, and myself
With all who hunger.

Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director.

Contemplation — There Is Truly Nothing Better

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What does it mean to serve in hope — serviens in spe, as our international logo says? Surely, when we visit a neighbor whose lights have been shut off, who faces eviction, whose cupboards are bare, we (and they) hope for relief from these needs. Thankfully, more often than not, we are able to provide the assistance that is needed. Sometimes, though, the needs are too great, or our resources too limited, and what then?

Thinking back on our own lives, we all can recall times that we narrowly escaped misfortune — the car wreck we walked away from that easily could have been fatal; the illness that was almost accidentally diagnosed before it became untreatable; the unemployment we weathered until finding a job that was better than the one we lost.

“God was with me!” we exclaim with joy. “He answered my prayers!” Surely He was and surely He did, and our joy is not misplaced! Yet when we think it through, we realize that God was also with the ones who don’t survive the crash or the illness, and the ones whose joblessness leads to destitution. He heard their prayers, He loves them equally, His great and universal plan of redemption is for them, too. It is, if we are to take the Savior’s words to heart, for them especially.

This knowledge of God’s special blessings on the poor can ironically make us hesitant at times to even try to offer the true hope, the eternal hope, through our gentleness and our prayers; to allow ourselves to be caught up in the tyranny of the moment, too; to become too discouraged when our own money runs short.

We can remind ourselves that our prayers are the most important part of our home visits, and say them even if only from a sense of habit or duty, but, Bl. Frederic once asked, “How do we preach resignation and courage to the unfortunate when we feel devoid of it ourselves?”

Our virtue of humility is a reminder that everything we have is from God, and everything we do is for His glory. That includes the comfort we may offer, because all comfort comes from God. We don’t ask His comfort on behalf of the neighbor, but together with the neighbor. We ask Him to wipe away our shared tears, to lift the burden not of bills, but of fear from both of us — from all of us.

This is the joy and the challenge of our vocation. It is also the reason that whenever we share our stories with each other, whether in correspondence or in the home visit reports during Conference meetings, our focus must first be on the true hope of salvation, and not, as Bl Frédéric explained in 1838, “statistical documents where success is defined in prideful numbers. We have to exchange ideas, inspiration perhaps, fears at times, and always hope. These … communications are like a form of circulation that brings the Society to life. There is truly nothing better.”


What inspiration, fear, and hope can I share with my fellow Vincentians?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat

Contemplation — The Fact Remains

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There are some popular sayings we sometimes repeat such as “Facts don’t care about your feelings” or “Facts are facts, whether you like them or not.” Both sayings are quite clever! They also are true, as far as they go, but both really mean the same thing: Shut up and do what I say.

A fact does not care about anybody’s feelings, but that’s only because a fact is not a person. In the same way, rocks don’t care about your pain. But we don’t just throw them at people’s heads to make that point. Facts don’t care about your feelings, but we should. This doesn’t mean we must abandon truth in favor of sympathy – quite the contrary!

Blessed Frédéric took great consolation in knowing that “while defending the truth with all my might, I never offended anyone.”  In our polarized time, this seems like a remarkable thing to say, and it turns out that our times are far less contentious and polarized than Frédéric’s.

Facts don’t care about your feelings. Rocks don’t care about your pain. Yet it can be so easy sometimes, during encounters with the neighbor, to become too focused on the facts. You have been evicted, and a shelter is the best place for you to go right now. That’s a fact. Many of the problems you face are the consequences of your own bad decisions. That’s a fact. Your debts are insurmountable. You need a plan for next month. Money won’t fix your problem. Fact, fact, fact.

It also is a fact, whether we remember it or not, that the neighbor’s problems can feel overwhelming. Some of them may garner nobody’s sympathy. The facts can make people feel very isolated, forgotten, helpless, and small, because facts, like rocks, don’t care about your feelings or your pain.

We do our neighbors no good by simply repeating to them the facts of their situations. The poor, our Getting Ahead training emphasizes, are experts in their own situation. They have already been hit in the head by their rocks. Like the Good Samaritan, we are not there primarily to focus on the facts; the passersby knew the facts. We are there to pour oil on the wound, to speak in a soothing tone, to offer a smile or a tear, to pause from our own lives and problems and truly share the neighbor’s.

Our virtue of simplicity calls us to speak not merely truth, but the Truth; the One Fact that stands above all others; the Fact that counts the hairs on our heads; the Fact that wipes away all tears; the Fact that transcends all worldly suffering.

Let he who is without challenges, has made no bad decisions, and has never needed help cast the first rock, and let us instead try to build Christ’s church upon it.

We serve in hope, and that’s a fact.


In light of the facts, how can I best convey hope?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

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