Spirituality

Contemplation: A Union of Hearts

Contemplation: A Union of Hearts 940 788 SVDP USA

Subsidiarity, Pope Pius XI taught, is a “most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy”. [Quadregesimo Anno, 79]  Indeed, more than ninety years later, it remains one of the four core principles of Catholic Social Doctrine. [CSDC, 160] Given Blessed Frédéric’’s influence on the Church’s social teachings, it should come as no surprise that subsidiarity is and has always been a core principle of the Society, also.

Our Catechism explains that subsidiarity means that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order” leaving most decisions to the smallest associations, beginning with the family. Subsidiarity, it further clarifies, “aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies.” [CCC, 1883-1885]

For the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, this means that most of the decisions are made by Conferences, which are “as close as possible to the area of activity” and that in this way, “the Society promotes local initiatives within its spirit.” [Rule, Part I, 3.9]

This principle has been recognized since the Society’s earliest days. When Léonce Curnier was starting a new Conference in Nîmes in 1834, he wrote to Frédéric, seeking guidelines that the Paris Conference had followed. In his reply, Frédéric cautioned his friends against tying themselves down with “rules and formulas”, and instead being guided by Providence through the circumstances around them. After all, he explained, “the end that we set ourselves in Paris is not completely the same as that you set yourselves, I think, in the province.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

In an 1841 Circular Letter written when he was serving as our first President-General, Emmanuel Bailly reflected on the formation of Councils during the Society’s rapid growth, explaining that Councils are “rather a link than a power” because from each Conference to the Council General and back, “there is neither authority nor obedience; there may be deference and advice; there is certainly, above all, charity; there is the same end, there are the same good works; there is a union of hearts in Jesus Christ, our Lord.” [Circ. Ltr. 14 Jul 1841]

In our social teachings, subsidiarity affirms “priority of the family over society and over the State” as the “first natural society”. [CSDC, 209, 214] Our Society was born as a single Conference. The principle of subsidiarity reserves to each Conference great freedom to act according local circumstances, conditions, and considerations It equally imposes a responsibility to be faithful the Scripture, to our Rule, and to our worldwide network of friends in this One Society.

Contemplate

Faithful to the spirit of the founders, how can I use “creative imagination” to better serve the neighbor?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation – The Whole Secret

Contemplation – The Whole Secret 940 788 SVDP USA

My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Christ said to Pilate, when asked if He was “King of the Jews”. Indeed, He went on to explain, if it were, there would be armies of angels fighting to free Him from His earthly captivity. In this, Christ modeled for us what St. Vincent de Paul often called “holy indifference” – a detachment from worldly suffering and reward in order that we might better discern God’s will.

Before His passion, Christ had already explained that we must “seek first the kingdom,” that same kingdom which is not of this world. We must, like the birds who neither reap nor sow, like the grass that neither works nor spins, let each day’s troubles be enough for the day. In short, He calls us to trust in providence.

Where does this leave our neighbors in need? Does trust in providence mean that they are on their own, or that we need not “give them the necessities of the body”? On the contrary, Bl. Frédéric once cautioned that we must not let our detachment turn into discouragement from our duties! This, he said, was ”the whole secret and the whole difficulty of the Christian life.” [Baunard, 423]

While we constantly seek to discern God’s will in different circumstances, we already know that “the same authority which tells us that we shall always have the poor amongst us is the same that commands us to do all we can to ensure that there may cease to be any.” [O’Meara, 230] For the poor, it is we who are called to be God’s instruments, providing for their needs as best we can, and by this work, reminding them of God’s love and their hope.

Detachment, indifference, or unrestricted readiness is not an excuse to neglect our works of charity but instead is the necessary condition to pursue them tirelessly and selflessly; to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. As we remind ourselves on each home visit, it is Christ we serve in the person of the neighbor; the same Christ who sent us, the same Christ who awaits us.

“We must think,” Bl. Frédéric said, “as if we were to quit the earth tomorrow, and we must work as if we were never to leave it.” [Baunard, 423]

Contemplate

How can I better offer up my own rewards and my own suffering to God?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Daily Prayers May 2 – May 6

Daily Prayers May 2 – May 6 940 788 SVDP USA

Monday, May 2

Lord, in my anger calm me
With the peace of knowing Your love
In my impatience reassure me
With the peace of trusting Your will
In my suffering comfort me
With the peace of Your kingdom above
Amen

Tuesday, May 3:

Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your sacrifice
That greatest act of love
Help me to give my life for You
Repaying to heaven
All that I have received
One prayer, one act, one day at a time
Amen

Thursday, May 5:

Lord Jesus You are
My one and my all
My light and my hope
My way and my truth
My death and my life
My Lord and my God
Amen

Friday, May 6:

Lord, like the morning sun
That begins to glimmer
At the edge of darkness,
Like the parting rainclouds,
Your kingdom comes.
When darkness falls,
When rain rolls in,
When flowers fold at night
Your kingdom remains
On earth as in heaven.
Help me to do Your will.
Amen
Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director. 

Contemplation: The Best Way to Give Help

Contemplation: The Best Way to Give Help 940 788 SVDP USA

A central principle of Catholic social teaching, necessary for respect of human dignity and a properly ordered social life, is subsidiarity. [CSDC, 185-186] Naturally, the organization, governance, and traditions of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul reflect this important principle, too. [Rule, Part I, 3.9] How does subsidiarity guide the practice of our Vincentian works of charity?

Councils, the Rule explains, “exist to serve all the Conferences they coordinate.” [Rule, Part I, 3.6] In turn, the work of directly serving the neighbor, remains with the people closest to those served: the Conferences. Yet it is not the entire Conference, or only the officers, that go on home visits, it is the Members, in pairs, on home visit teams.

Placing responsibility for the Home Visit with the National Council obviously would not be better for the neighbor, not only because that Council is remote, but because, as the Catechism explains, certain organizations “correspond more directly to the nature of man”. [CCC, 1882] Personally connecting with our neighbors, forming “relationships based on trust and friendship”, makes us more responsive to their needs, and better able to serve them. [Rule, Part I, 1.9]

For the Conference, subsidiarity in service of the neighbor is expressed not only by the organization of home visit teams, but by our assumption that the Members who made the Home Visit have “special insight into the best way to give help.” [Manual, 24] We don’t seek to replace that insight with arbitrary, pre-set guidelines. In other words, subsidiarity calls us to give ourselves up to “the inspirations of the heart rather than the calculations of the mindnot [tying ourselves] down with rules and formulas.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

The Catechism explains that subsidiarity means “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it…” [Catechism, 1883] In respect of this, we often illustrate the Society’s hierarchy by flipping it over, with the International Council General on the bottom, with other Councils, then Conferences, then members above, and the neighbor at the very top of our “org chart.”

The neighbor then, the least among us, is the “lowest order” of the Society’s organization, yet also is for us Christ himself. The principle of subsidiarity is our constant reminder that the last shall be first.

Contemplate

How does humility help me to respect subsidiarity – and vice versa?

Recommended Reading

The Manual, especially Bl. Giuseppe Toniolo, pp 90-91

Contemplation – From the Fullness of Our Hearts

Contemplation – From the Fullness of Our Hearts 940 788 SVDP USA

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a rash of people across the country who swore they’d seen the late Elvis Presley filling his gas tank or eating in diners. Some perhaps really imagined they’d seen him, while others just wanted to sell their story to the tabloids.

By contrast, Vincentians are called not to imagine Christ, but to see Him, and to serve Him exactly as He asked us to do. “There’s no need,” St. Vincent taught, “to represent Him to yourselves by certain mental images: it suffices for you to believe, since faith teaches you this.” [CCD X:473]

Or, as St. Augustine taught, “faith means believing what you don’t yet see, and the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” [Sermon 43] The reward of our faith can be seen on every home visit. If we go to the poor ten times a day, ten times a day we will find God there! [CCD IX:199]

If we believe what we profess, if we truly “see Christ in the poor and the poor in Christ” [Rule, Part I, 2.5], we will describe our neighbor with words honor our encounter with the true embodiment of Christ.

One way to check whether our words truly express this belief, is to replace the “Christ” in “Jesus Christ” with our word. For example, “Jesus Brother”, “Jesus Neighbor”, or “Jesus Friend” not only make sense, but are comforting to say. All of these are words Christ Himself used.

By contrast, “Jesus Client”, “Jesus NIN”, or “Jesus FIN” are quite unsettling to hear! After all, the Greatest Commandment is not to “love our client as ourselves.” Jesus did not tell the disciples He no longer called them servants, but FINs. He did not ask the young lawyer, “Who was the NIN?”

Indeed, that question would have made no sense, given that the answer was not “the one in need”, but “the one who showed mercy.” To have a neighbor, you have to be a neighbor. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. To have a brother or sister, you have to be a brother or sister. Our relationship with the neighbor is mutual, respecting and promoting their dignity, and serving Christ in their persons.

Elvis has left the building, but Christ is with us always, to the end of the age. We are “serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor,” St. Vincent said, “And that is as true as that we are here.” [CCD IX:199]

This is what we believe in our hearts, and from the fullness of our hearts, our mouths speak.

Contemplate

Could the words I use to describe the neighbor also be used to describe Christ?

Recommended Reading

The Spirituality of the Home Visit

Contemplation – Save Space for the Neighbor

Contemplation – Save Space for the Neighbor 940 788 SVDP USA

The spiritual dimension of our Vincentian formation is based on the understanding that we are created to live in community, to grow in faith together. This is why we always visit the neighbor in pairs, and this is why we share reflections on our service and our faith at our Conference meetings. We are a community of faith, growing closer to one another as we grow closer to Christ.

Just as the example of the Holy Trinity shows us that the divine life is a shared life, we see that our pathway to that life also is shared. “Following the example of the Blessed Trinity,” St Louise said, “we must have but one heart and act with one mind as do the three divine Persons.” [Sp. Writings, 771]

In our Conferences, we fill our meeting rooms, however few or many we may be. We build true Christian friendships, where “the strongest tie, the principle of a true friendship, is charity” as Blessed Frédéric wrote. [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

Charity, the Catechism reminds us, is not merely to give things, but to “love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” [Catechism, 1822] Charity is not our practice, but our gift; a love “which multiplies itself, which is present in many places at once, and whose intensity is increased in the measure that it gains in extension.” [Letter 107, to Curnier, 1835]

Our community of faith, then, is not meant to be a gated community! Just as we welcome new members to share in our works, our prayer, and our friendship, so our Rule reminds us to “establish relationships based on trust and friendship” with the neighbor. [Rule, Part I, 1.9]  It is vital to offer our material assistance, our works, but ultimately we seek to serve for love alone. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

We Catholics have a habit, when Mass is sparsely attended, of spreading out to all four corners, from entrance to altar, from aisle to aisle, with ten feet and two pews between us. You could call it “Catholic distancing”, or you could see it another way: we fill the church as best we can, but always save space for more to join us, not in the back, but in our midst.

Contemplate

How can I better “save space” and welcome the neighbor into a community of faith?

Recommended Reading

Face of Holiness

Contemplation – The Best Way to Help

Contemplation – The Best Way to Help 940 788 SVDP USA

“In appearing again before you after the great events that have taken place,” Frédéric said in a classroom lecture in 1848, “I am happy to say that, looking back over six years of lectures, I do not recollect one word which I shall have to unsay today.” [Baunard, 261]

For a man of so many words, both written and spoken, to be able to say this is testament to our founder’s embodiment of the virtue of simplicity – frankness, integrity, genuineness. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] Always saying in the first instance exactly what we mean relieves us of the need to “walk back” statements we have made.

In serving the neighbor, we should never avoid frankness; frankness builds trust. At the same time, we are called to act always with gentleness, and to judge the need, not the person. Vincentians “do not judge those they serve.” [Rule, Part I, 1.9]

Imagine a neighbor who just can’t seem to hold on to a job for very long, and constantly calls for more assistance. Would it be truly honest, truly simple, to say, “we can’t help you anymore”? After all, if the same neighbor were to call next year, having fallen a little short despite keeping a new job for a year, wouldn’t you need to “unsay” that statement in order to help again?

For that neighbor who can’t hold on to a job, we rarely know the reason, although we might suspect. But as St. Vincent reminds us, “Suspicions are often deceiving.” [CCD IV:85]  Rather than walk away, or make an accusation based on our suspicions, why not ask, “Why do you think you are having trouble keeping jobs, and how can I help?”

It is rarely true that we really can’t help, but it is often true that we are not sure how best to help. Rather than avoid this truth, perhaps simplicity and friendship call us to explain that we are struggling to find the best way to help. By being honest, we keep the door – and our hearts – open; we show our trust, and hope for trust in return.

The best way to help is not always financial, so we “should never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.1] And there is no better way to offer our love than with simplicity.

Contemplate

How can I be more simple in talking to my neighbors in need?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

 

Contemplation – The Primitive Spirit

Contemplation – The Primitive Spirit 940 788 SVDP USA

”Ozanam is no longer with us to remind us of our primitive spirit,” remarked President-General Adolphe Baudon after Frédéric’s death in 1853. [Baunard, 407] Indeed, from the Society’s earliest days, Frédéric urged fellow members not to encumber themselves with restrictive or bureaucratic structures, nor to praise ourselves for our accomplishments, which might make us, he explained, “more eager to talk than to act… to forget the humble simplicity which has presided over our coming together from the beginning…” [310, to Amélie, 1841]

He urged his friends to imitate the life of our Patron Saint, “as he himself imitated the model of Jesus Christ.” [175, to Lallier, 1838] It is in imitating Christ that we capture the primitive spirit, the spirit that animated the early church. As Frédéric explained, “the faith, the charity of the first centuries … is not too much for our century.” [90, to Curnier, 1835]

Vincentians seek this primitive spirit by living our Vincentian Virtues, and especially the first three: simplicity, humility, and gentleness. These three, St. Vincent explained, come directly from Gospel teachings, and from the life of Christ. “The first,” he further explained, “concerns God; the second, ourselves; and the third, our neighbor.” [CCD XII:249]

Vincent often said that simplicity was his favorite virtue. In simplicity, we are dedicated to the truth, because God Himself is truth. In serving the truth, then, we serve both God and the neighbor. In serving the neighbor, Vincent taught, “how careful we must be not to appear wily, clever, crafty, and, above all, never to say a word that has a double meaning!” [CCD XII:246] Simplicity is faith, unencumbered.

Our humility reminds us that “all that God gives us is for others and that we can achieve nothing of eternal value without His grace.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] We act as God’s instruments in serving the neighbor, unconcerned with receiving any credit or reward, because all the glory goes to God. Humility is hope, unencumbered.

Finally, we act with gentleness; with a tender love for all of our neighbors, as well as our fellow Vincentians. Gentleness, in our hearts and in our acts, means being kind, being patient, taking no offense when others may return our patience with impatience, our courtesy with rudeness. Gentleness is love, unencumbered.

This simple, humble, gentleness embodies the primitive spirit of the church and of our Vincentian vocation, as it was in the beginning, unencumbered.

“For God is especially pleased,” Frédéric wrote, “to bless what is little and imperceptible: the tree in its seedling, man in his cradle, good works in the shyness of their beginnings.” [310, to Amélie, 1841]

Contemplate

How can I unencumber the primitive spirit in my service and in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

12-16-2021 Daily Prayer

12-16-2021 Daily Prayer 940 788 SVDP USA

Daily Prayer for Thursday, December 16, 2021:

What did I come here to see, Lord?
Why have I come to Mass?
To see Your suffering, hung like art,
In the Stations of the Cross?

What did I come here to see, Lord?
Why do I visit the poor?
To see Your suffering, see Your face,
In the neighbors that I serve?

My living God in the Eucharist,
My salvation in Your poor,
My living God that I may serve;
That’s what I’ve come to see.

Amen

Written by National Vincentian Formation Director, Tim Williams.

Contemplation: A Conference in Heaven

Contemplation: A Conference in Heaven 940 788 SVDP USA

The Society is united by our three Essential Elements of spirituality, service, and friendship. [Rule, Part III, Statute 1] Frédéric once remarked that perhaps friendship was “the reason that in Paris we wished to found our little Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and it is also for this reason perhaps that heaven has seen fit to bless it.” [142, to Curnier, 1837] Like the Communion of Saints, bound together in baptism and in Christ, our Vincentian friendship, bound by charity and friendship, remains unbroken by death.

The very first Rule explained that the Society’s unity “will be cited as a model of Christian friendship, of a friendship stronger than death, for we will often remember in our prayers to God the brothers who have been taken from us.” [Introduction, Rule, 1835] We continue to honor this tradition, praying at every Conference meeting for our departed Vincentian Brothers and Sisters.

Our primary purpose is to “journey together towards holiness… perfect union with Christ…” [Rule, Part 1, 2.2] so we have good reason to hope that our departed Vincentians continue to pray for us, as well!

Indeed, while trying to establish a new Conference in Siena shortly before his own death, Frédéric wrote to the pastor, telling him of the many Conferences that had been established around the world, adding also that “we have certainly one in Heaven, for more than a thousand of our Brothers have, during the twenty years of our existence, gone to the better life.” [Baunard, 394]

We should never forget that one of the corporal works of mercy, alongside feeding the hungry and giving alms to the poor, is to bury the dead. When our fellow Vincentians depart this earth, we should always offer comfort to their families, while also celebrating their entrance into “the better life.” Our Vincentian Celebrations book includes several ceremonies to help plan these occasions.

We serve in hope! Not merely the hope for material comforts, but the eternal hope that we may be united with Christ and with each other in heaven. And so, we pray with and for each other, including, always, the departed. As confident as Blessed Frédéric’s assurance of a Conference in heaven may have been, he asked his fellow Vincentians, in a will written on his 40th birthday, not to cease in their prayers for his own salvation, saying:

“Do not allow yourselves to be stopped by those who will say to you, he is in Heaven. Pray always for him who loves you dearly, for him who has greatly sinned. If I am assured of these prayers, I quit this earth with less fear. I hope firmly that we are not being separated, and that I may remain with you until you will come to me.” [Baunard, 386-7]

May we honor our founder with our own unceasing prayers for all our Vincentian brothers and sisters!

Contemplate

Do I pray regularly for departed Vincentians, and ask their prayers for me?

Recommended Reading

Book of the Sick

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