Contemplation: Gifted

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As members of the Vincentian family, we share in the great charism of our patron, St. Vincent de Paul. A charism, our church teaches, “whether extraordinary or simple and humble [is a grace] of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefits the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world.” [CCC, 799] Indeed, the very word charism derives from the Greek cháris, meaning favor, or gift. This same word from the Greek is at the ultimate root of eucharist, meaning thankfulness.

Similarly, both grace and gratitude comes from the Latin grātia, which means a favor or gift. It should not be surprising that gifts are so closely tied to gratitude. After all, saying thank you is a basic social obligation when we receive gifts. Gifts are not payment of debt; they don’t come with stings attached. They are gratuitous (another word from grātia).

We express our gratitude for Christ’s greatest gift, His sacrifice on the cross, in our celebration of the eucharist. Like all gifts, His sacrifice is not something we earned, but was instead freely given. In the same way, our Vincentian charism, and our individual charisms, are gifts from the Holy Spirit, unmerited and freely given. More importantly, they are given in order that we might share them.

This understanding of our own gifts, “that all that God gives us is for others and that we can achieve nothing of eternal value without His grace”, is at the heart of our virtue of humility. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] This beautiful Vincentian charism, this gift of the Spirit, shared across four centuries by generations of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay people, is given to us to share.

We do this by offering our presence and material support purely as gifts to our neighbors in need, “never adopt[ing] the attitude that the money is [ours], or that the recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, 23] And because the gifts we share – our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves – are ultimately not our gifts, but God’s, all thanks for them goes only to Him; all glory for our works goes only to Him.

So let us share freely of our gifts, recalling always the words of St. Louise de Marillac: “I praise God with all my heart for the blessings His goodness bestows upon your holy works. I beg you to be most thankful to Him for them because you must not believe that these graces are merited.” [SWLM, L.368]


Do I seek always to give thanks for my gifts, by giving gratuitously and freely, in imitation of Christ?

Recommended Reading

Spirituality of the Home Visit – use this journal to reflect on this aspect of your Home Visits.

Contemplation: The Chosen

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It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you,” Jesus explained to the twelve at the Last Supper. This small and most loyal group of His followers, who had left behind home and family, dropped their fishing nets to walk with Him, were not there because they had figured something out about Him – they were there because He had called them.

In His call, they were invited not only to follow, but to be taught, nourished, led to become like Him, and to bear fruit that would remain. This is the calling of all Christians, indeed, of all people. It is our vocation.

It is no coincidence that our specific Vincentian vocation follows Christ’s words almost exactly. Our vocation, as our Rule puts it, is “to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.” [Rule, Part I, 1.2] Like the Apostles, to “seek to draw closer to Christ.” [Rule, Part I, 2.1] Also like the Apostles, it is not we who chose Him, but He who chose us.

This Vincentian vocation is our particular and special way of living our faith, and it is all the more special when we realize that we were chosen and specially called to it by Christ. If we are tempted from time to time to instead credit ourselves too much, we receive regular calls from Him to remind us who is chosen, and who chooses. He may call us from a darkened apartment, with the electricity cut off. He may call us at our food pantries because He is hungry. He may call us from a park bench, seeking shelter from the cold.

Time and time again, we do not choose Him, He chooses us, and when He does, we hear again His words that “as I have done for You, You should also do.”

And what is it He has done for us? What is it He calls us to do in turn for others? What is it He seeks when He calls the Conference helpline? Yes, we surely are called to bring whatever relief we can for the material needs presented to us, but we also must “never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14]

The poor cry out, and often their cries are unheard, or ignored. What a great gift it is when they cry out to us, when they call us, when they give us the opportunity to answer and to serve. This is what Blessed Frédéric called “the sublime vocation God has given us. Would that we were a little bit worthy of it and bent easily to its burden.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835]

And why shouldn’t we bend easily to it? The poor do much more than just call us. They choose us.


Am I joyful to answer each time He chooses me?

Recommended Reading

The Rule, Part I and the Gospel of John, Chapters 1415

Contemplation: This Sweet Business

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“Let us go to the poor!” was the stirring declaration which founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Challenged to demonstrate the good of the church in their modern world, our young founders could find no better way than to imitate Christ, who descended from heaven to visit us in our poverty. [Baunard, 416]

As Christ Himself explained, He “did not come to be served, but to serve”, to give…to visit. The one that hosts is the one in the place of honor; the one that visits is the servant. Our Rule emphasizes this aspect of our vocation explaining that visits to those in need “should be made in their environment” (their homes). [Rule, Part III, St. 8] But where are they? Where is “their environment” except in their home?

Of course, we know that “home” may be usually, but is certainly not always, a house or apartment. Poor prisoners cry out from their prisons, the poor elderly from assisted living facilities, and the poor homeless from the streets. They cry out to us if we have ears to hear them.

Similarly, poverty takes many forms. “Blessed are you who are poor”, Christ tells in the Gospel of Luke. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as Matthew recounts this teaching. Whatever the poverty in whatever the home, it is we who are the visitors, we who knock on the door, sit by the bedside, or go to the park bench. After all, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us “one of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation”, and that other kinds of poverty often are “born from isolation … by man’s basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself “. [Caritas in Veritate, 53] How better to alleviate material and spiritual poverty than to break the isolation which contributes to it?

Home visits,” the Rule continues, “are always made in pairs.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8] By visiting in pairs we continue the tradition begun when Christ sent forth His disciples in pairs. In this way, we begin to evangelize through our “wordless witness”, as two friends in Christ, sharing their time with a neighbor, showing them by our presence that they are not forgotten, letting them know we are Christians by our love, gathering as two with the neighbor as a third, and Christ is in our midst.

Christ offered a gift on His visit: His very life. Although the gifts we bring in the form of food, or money, are much more modest than that, those material gifts also are not really the point of the home visit. Though we may not give our lives as Christ did, Frédéric calls us to give them a little at a time, through every action we take, to “smoke night and day like perfume on the altar.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1837]

We are called invest much, to pour our hearts into each visit. And yet, as Frédéric tells us “He who brings a loaf of bread to the home of a poor man often brings back a joyful and comforted heart. Thus, in this sweet business of charity, the expenses are low, but the returns are high.” [Address in Lyon, 1837]


What is my investment in charity, and what is my return?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity (especially Home Visits in the Vincentian Tradition)

Contemplation — Like Unto Him

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When he was eighteen years old, Blessed Frédéric felt as if he was not committed enough to living his faith, that he too often failed in charity. His spiritual director at the time advised him that his many distractions and temptations would fade away when he was formed. “When I am formed,” Frédéric lamented. “When will that day come?” [Letter 13, to Materne,1830]

For the young man, in a hurry to grow, this was an obvious question. When, exactly, can I check “formation” off my list? When will I be finished? When will I be what I am meant, and called, to be? These are questions every Vincentian, indeed every Catholic may ask.

Yet we know what we are called to be. Jesus said it quite clearly: we are called to “be perfect, just as Your heavenly Father is perfect.” Christ, of course, was only echoing the words of the Father, who said (more than once) that “you shall be holy, because I am holy.” Knowing that we are called to be like God, you would think we would be more patient with ourselves, more willing to “abandon ourselves to the providence of God and be very careful not to run ahead of it.” [CCD II:499]

The word “holy” stems from the same root as “healthy” and “whole”, meaning complete. Similarly, “perfect” also expresses completeness. As the Apostle explains, “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” When we are formed, we will be complete, fulfilling God’s plan and His will for us.

This is why, for Vincentians, our formation is not limited to training events, like the Ozanam Orientation, which serves the intellectual dimension of our formation. Instead, we feed our human formation by service to the poor, building habits of holiness by serving “for love alone.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] Our spiritual formation is fed by our reflections, prayer, and sharing our insights and growth with each other. For our ministerial formation, we try to live our vocation in “every moment of our lives.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6]

When will we be formed? When will we be perfect? The two questions have the same answer.

The same God who called us to this vocation walks with us on our pathway, guiding our steps if we let Him. To continue this walk is not to confess our inadequacy, but to express our gratitude for having been called. Along the way, we are regularly reassured by our “devotion to the Eucharist” [Rule, Part I, 2.2], in which “God, seeing Himself in us, makes us, once again, like unto Him… thereby giving us the capacity to live in Him as He lives in us.” [SWLM, M.72]

We will be fully formed, fulfilling God’s will for us, when we are perfect. We remain humble in our incompleteness and patient in our pursuit of holiness, reminding ourselves that “Even the saints could be better since the Creator alone enjoys infinite perfection.” [Letter 515, To Amélie, 1843]


How have I become more holy this week?

Recommended Reading

15 Days of Prayer with Blessed Frédéric Ozanam

Contemplation — Only to Be Shared

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In a house in Reuilly, a district in the southeast of Paris, the Duchess of Bourbon had founded a hospice that served as a home for elderly and sick former servants of the royal family in their final years. It was here, in 1831, that a young Daughter of Charity was assigned. Sister Catherine, known to her family as Zoe, was 24 years old when she arrived. Born to a farming family, she was one of 17 children, ten of whom lived past infancy. Her mother had died when she was nine. By the time she was twelve, she had become the woman of the house, cooking, cleaning, and caring for her family. She never learned to read or write growing up, beginning her schooling when she was 18, mainly so that she could be admitted to the Daughters of Charity, which she was, in 1830.

Assigned to the Enghien Hospice as a novice, she was sent first to the kitchen, where she helped prepare meals for the elderly residents. Soon, she would be moved outside to care for the cows, pigs, and chickens, and later, to do the laundry. The work was tiring, but not too much for a young woman. Rising each day at 4:00, she was always diligent in her mending, washing, and folding.

After taking her vows, she remained at the hospice, continuing in her labors for 45 years, never complaining and seemingly never tiring of it. For a time, she had carried out the superior’s duties, but declined the title. She gladly relinquished these duties to a much younger superior. When others urged her to complain, she led them instead to follow her in humble obedience.

During many turbulent and dangerous times, Catherine’s calm reassured her sisters. When the Commune in 1870 arrested and killed clergy and religious, and threatened to burn down their house, Catherine somehow knew they would be safe. Indeed, throughout her life she shared small visions that later came to pass. She was so unassuming that people hardly noticed her prophecies until years later.

It was not until her final days that the great secret of Catherine’s life would become known. In 1830, at the Motherhouse on rue du Bac, young Catherine had been visited by the Blessed Virgin. She had laid her head on Mary’s lap and received instructions to have a medal struck. During Catherine’s lifetime, millions of medals had spread throughout the world – Catherine herself often gave them out. Stories of miracles and of the apparition were well-known, but nobody knew the identity of the young Daughter of Charity who had been chosen by the Queen of Heaven.

When it was revealed that Catherine had been the one chosen by Mary, nobody who knew her was surprised. Of course, it was her; of course, it was the one who washed laundry for 45 years. Of course, it was the one who had arrived as an illiterate farm girl, the one who asked nothing for herself. This vision had been her greatest gift, and like all gifts from God, she knew it was given only to be shared.


Do I make a habit of sharing generously the time, talents, and treasure I have received from God?

Recommended Reading

Sister Catherine LaBouré of the Miraculous Medal

A Week in Prayers October 16 – October 20

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Monday, October 16

Lord Jesus, I have seen You
In the suffering of my neighbor,
Who bears a heavy cross.
Help me, Lord, to lift him,
As he folds beneath its weight.
And if my offering is too small
To relieve him of that burden,
May it be at least the cloth
Offered with love and humility,
That wipes away blood, sweat, and tears,
That lifts up sinking courage,
And shares Your eternal hope.

Tuesday, October 17

Lord, live within me,
Make me whole,
Help me to share Your love.
Let my weakness be Your strength,
My poverty Your wealth,
And Your will be my own.

Wednesday, October 18

Enter my heart, Lord,
Enter my heart.
Enter my mind and soul.
You are great, and I am small,
But all I am I offer to You.

Thursday, October 19

I seek to praise and love You, Lord,
In all I do and say.
Help me to be better.
I seek to know and serve You, Lord,
In the person of the poor.
Help me to be better.
I seek to love my neighbor, Lord,
For Your love alone.
Help me to be better.

Friday, October 20

Holy Spirit, live within me,
Quiet my doubts and fears.
I surrender myself, O Lord.
In the depths of my soul
Grant me the peace,
The wholeness,
The holiness,
That is not of this world.

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

Contemplation — The Greatest Need

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The parable of the good Samaritan is a Vincentian favorite, and a powerful allegory for our own home visit, reminding us that Christ calls us very directly to serve the neighbor. Perhaps this beloved parable can also shed some light on what our Rule calls “adaptation to a changing world.” [Rule, Part I, 1.6]

The Samaritan cleaned and bandaged wounds, transported the robber’s victim on his own mule, and found shelter for him. Today, other than perhaps performing basic first aid, we would leave all the rest of that work to the paramedics. It isn’t that we’re lazy. Quite the contrary. In our time, it would be irresponsible for us not to call 911 immediately. To find help is also to help.

It would be rare, in our day and age, to find a bloodied robbery victim lying in the street as people look the other way as they pass, and equally rare that the victim’s only possibility for help would be from a stranger passing by. Yet there remain in our modern world many who are overlooked, ignored, or found too burdensome to assist, even if they are not always lying in our path. The Samaritan stopped to help. Vincentians must first “seek out and find those in need and the forgotten.” [Rule, Part I, 1.5]

In many cases, the emergency aid we offer by paying bills, or providing food and clothing are just as urgent as the bandages the Samaritan provided, but as we build relationships with the neighbor, we also identify and help prioritize other needs, not all of which can be referred to other organizations.

In this age of the internet, social media, phones in our pockets that can connect us with thousands of people, and with all the knowledge of history and science literally at our fingertips – with a thousand Facebook friends, people are lonelier and more isolated than ever.

Just as the robber’s victim lay bleeding on the side of a dusty road until one person cared enough to stop, so too do so many of our neighbors lie in desperate need of a connection that they perhaps can’t fully articulate themselves, but it is written on their hearts. It is written also on our hearts, because we are made by God to live in community – in communion – with one another. Each of us draws the others closer to God through our love. When we go to the neighbor it is our presence that matters most.

And when you think about that challenge given to Frédéric and his friend so many years ago, it was not a challenge to see how many bundles of firewood could be delivered; it was a challenge to show the good of the church in the modern world. The answer to the challenge was to go to the poor just as Christ came to us.

Anybody can give money. You can even do it online. Like the Samaritan, our founders chose to give of their time, their possessions, and themselves. Let us, as Jesus commanded, go and do likewise.


When I offer assistance, do I truly stop on my path to give my love, talents, and time?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns

Contemplation — For Our Mutual Friend

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When the founders of this country publicly stated their intent to separate themselves from the British Empire, they closed with the stirring pledge of “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” No one reading that declaration doubted for a moment the seriousness of their commitment. When members join the Society, they similarly promise to “share their time, their possessions, their talents and themselves.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] If we are living this promise, the neighbor should never doubt the seriousness of our commitment.

In their revolutionary pledge, the founders promised this total commitment to each other; it was truly a pledge of friendship, an unbreakable and sacrificial bond for the sake of the liberty they sought together. Ours also is a pledge of friendship, between not only the members themselves, but with God and the neighbor. It is “a three-fold relationship with God, the poor, and one another – mutual support and friendship.” [Rule, Part III, St. 5]

Christ, who told us that there is no greater act of love towards one’s friends than to give one’s life for them did exactly that for us, and so, St. Vincent asks, “Can we have a better friend than God?” When our friends – our best friends – ask us to join them at a movie, a show, in a hobby or pastime that we otherwise might not choose, we do it not for love of that hobby, but for love of our friend. Similarly, then, St. Vincent continues, “Must we not love all that [God] loves and, for love of Him, consider our neighbor as our friend!” [CCD XI:39]

The neighbor is truly loved by God; it is the neighbor for whom He died no less than He died for us. When we pledge to share our time, our possessions, our talents, and ourselves, we make this pledge in true friendship, knowing that there is no act of friendship greater than self-sacrifice, and always mindful that one of the friends in this “three-fold relationship” has not only already made, but kept this pledge.

So, when the neighbor calls us, we never respond by seeking a way to limit our help or to serve our own convenience first. Instead, like we would for any true friend, we drop everything in order to “serve the poor cheerfully, listening to them and respecting their wishes.” [Rule, Part I, 1.8]

Charity, the love of God, is to do for others what we would reasonably want them to do for us; it “causes us to do for our neighbor the good that a person has the right to expect from a faithful friend.” [CCD XII, 216] The American founders “mutually pledge1 to each other,” to their friends, a very great commitment. May we mutually pledge to our friends – to each other, to God, and to the neighbor – in our words and in our actions, a true declaration of charity.


Do I ever allow myself to give less than I would expect to receive from a friend?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Contemplation — Our Universal Mission

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At the heart of Vincent’s charism was a deep passion for the universal mission of the church. It was, after all, his taking of the general confession of the old man at Gannes, followed by his homily at Folleville which marked the beginning of the Congregation of the Mission. That, and every mission that followed, was designed to feed both body and soul, to nourish both individuals and communities.

With the founding of the Confraternities of Charity, the missions also included the foundation of a new Confraternity in each town visited, involving the laity in both the initial, and more importantly, the ongoing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The people, rich and poor, could live their faith through their actions, and to encounter Christ in each other.

Vincent’s zeal drew him to offer the priests of the Mission to the church’s service not only in France, but in far flung lands where Christ’s word was yet unknown. The Vincentians not only ministered to the slaves of the Barbary pirates in North Africa but ransomed the freedom of twelve hundred of them, all the while showing the church’s beauty through their humble prayers and actions.

Vincent’s special zeal for these foreign lands was partly driven by his fear that “that God might gradually do away with {the church] … because of our depraved morals, those new opinions’ which are spreading more and more, and the general state of affairs in another hundred years we may lose the Church entirely in Europe.” [CCD III:40-41]

Two hundred years later, young Frédéric Ozanam and his friends faced a world which, in his words, had “grown cold”, and it called “us Catholics to revive the vital beat to restore it, it is for us to begin over again the great work of regeneration…” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835]

This is the “good of the Church” that the founders were challenged to show, and their answer was not a debating response, not merely words, but actions, not merely actions but a way of living; of living their faith in every part of their lives, bearing witness to Christ’s love in their actions, and “by showing the vitality of their faith, affirm its truth.” [Baunard, 65]

This work was, and is, at the heart of the “new evangelization” Pope Saint John Paul II describes in Redmptoris Missio, reviving, as in Frédéric’s time, “a living sense of the faith.” Like the communities Vincent visited 400 hundred years ago, it is we who are first evangelized when we encounter Christ’s suffering in the neighbor. May they in turn see His love not in the bread we offer, but in its bringing; not in our works, but in our love; not in our presence alone, but in the presence of Him who is among us on each home visit, as He promised, when we gather in His name.


Will they know we are Christians by our love?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

Contemplation — In the Vincentian Spirit

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Because it is the heart of our vocation, and our primary means of serving the neighbor, Conferences and Councils offer training for the Home Visit. As important as this training is, it really comes down to one thing. As our Rule puts it “visits to the poor are made in a Vincentian spirit.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8]

It is important to note that the statute quoted above doesn’t actually say “Home Visit,” it only says “visits to the poor,.” This is important to keep in mind, because as central and indispensable as the Home Visit remains, there always have been other Vincentian encounters. And just as the Home Visit is the source of all of our other works (systemic change, special works, advocacy, and more) the spirit, and spirituality of the Home Visit must be a part of every Vincentian encounter.

We cannot visit the homeless in a home, yet we bring the same humble, kind, patient deference to the encounter that we would when entering a neighbor’s home. When people visit our food pantries, we are not clerks in a store, but servants of Christ, who is hungry. When shoppers, rich or poor, patronize our Thrift Stores, we offer more than retail “best practices,” we offer our hearts.

While it may be only Active or Associate Members who go on Home Visits, volunteers and staff of the Society also encounter the neighbor in the course of our many works. They often are the only face of the Society some people will ever see. This is why we do not jealously hold onto the word “Vincentian” only for Active Members. All of us who do the work of the Society are serving Christ in serving the neighbor. All of us are Vincentians.

From the earliest days of the Vincentian Family, the priests of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, and the Confraternities of Charity sought out the poor wherever they were – in hospitals, in the streets, rowing the galleys, or in prisons. To serve them, they enlisted help from others throughout society. Indeed, this was the origin of the Daughters of Charity, formed from poor farm girls who assisted the mostly upper-class Ladies of Charity.

Just as Members bring our Vincentian spirit to every Home Visit, our Vincentian spirit grows as a result of them. The Vincentian spirit animates everything we do, every encounter we have; it is meant to be shared not only with the neighbor, but with each other. Not all volunteers will become Members, not all employees will join Conferences, but then again, not all Members will become Popes or Saints… but John Paul II did.

Our Vincentian Pathway has many starting points, and many routes, but on each of them we will find Vincentian encounters, and all of them lead us to Christ.


Do I welcome volunteers and staff to prayer, reflection, and training with the Members?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns

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