Contemplation — Dropping Pebbles

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“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” Christ said, “and to God the things that are God’s.” With these words, Jesus answered His doubters’ attempt to find contradiction in His teachings, but also gives us some wisdom to carry with us on our home visits. After all, the neighbor we serve is made in the image of God. What is it, then, that is the neighbor’s due? What belongs to him?

Naturally, we are called for assistance with material needs, and seeking to meet those needs is the most basic of our works. To pay the light bill, the water bill, the gas bill; to assist with car repairs or rent; to provide food; all these things and more we do gladly, and the reward of these works is immediate, both for the neighbor, whose urgent needs are met, and for us, who feel fulfilled by offering this service. Faith without works, as we know, is dead, and these are our works, performed for the love of God alone.

Yet at the same time, and much more importantly, we are called to bring God’s love to the neighbor. To reassure them, by our kindness, our presence, and our prayers, that they are not forgotten. We are called to help them find their own way to God, to seek “the full flourishing and eternal happiness of every person.” [Rule Part I, 2.5.1]

Each bill we pay is, in a sense, merely a Caesar that must be paid; a Caesar who will never really be satisfied. Payment provides temporary relief, but not “eternal happiness.” And it sometimes happens that the neighbors have material needs that are so overwhelming that there is no chance we can meet all of them, or they struggle with illnesses or addictions that are simply not within our power to heal.

What then?

Each measure of kindness that we pour out, each prayer we offer, each bit of ourselves that we bring along and leave behind on our visit is a sharing of God’s love. It may not give us the same sort of immediate satisfaction that a repaired car might give, and it hurts our hearts to know that neighbor may continue to suffer in ways we cannot help, but it is in our acts of love, our presence, our sitting, and our listening, that we give them what is truly theirs: their dignity, and their hope.

We may never know how far in the pond the ripples may spread and grow from the pebble of kindness that we drop, but it isn’t for us to know. It is for God to know. It is for us to let go of the pebbles, to “do all the good we can, and trust to God for the rest.” [Baunard, 81]


Do I sometimes seek to measure success only by the bills we pay?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

A Week in Prayers June 12 – June 16

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Monday, June 12

Place Your hands upon me, Lord,
Heal me with Your touch,
Steady me when I falter,
Or my troubles are too much.

Give me strength to share, O Lord,
For all of life’s demands,
And for my friends and neighbors,
Lord, let me be Your hands.

Tuesday, June 13

I love You, Lord Jesus, believe me.
I give You my heart in full.
I give You this day,
And all that will I do,
Happily, joyfully, and willingly.
What else can I do?

Wednesday, June 14

Awake me from my slumber, Lord,
Clear my eyes of sleep.
Help me to see You clearly, Lord,
In the falling rain, in the rising sun,
In the rustling leaves and darting birds,
In the face of a passing stranger.
Help me to love You more, Lord,
And to love You at first sight.

Thursday, June 15

Jesus, Son of God,
Who humbled Yourself as man,
Help me to follow
The way that You showed:
To love as You loved,
To serve and not to be served,
To give my life for others,
One day at a time.

Friday, June 16

O my Jesus,
Who came not to be served,
Let me take up Your mantle
And serve.
O my Jesus,
Thine is the kingdom,
Let me help build Your kingdom
On earth.

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

Contemplation – Sacred Images

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In expanding upon the principle that “no work of charity is foreign to the Society,” the Rule goes on to say that these works include “any form of help that alleviates suffering or deprivation and promotes human dignity…” [Rule, Part I, 1.3] Human dignity is at the heart of what we do, as it should be. After all, the first of the four permanent principles of Catholic Social Doctrine is “the dignity of the human person.” [CSDC, 160]

What do we mean by dignity, though? What does dignity call us to do, exactly? In all of her writing, St. Louise used the word dignity most often in speaking of the Blessed Mother, whose “dignity … unites her to her Son.” [SWLM, 785] Yet she also speaks of the “dignity of suffering” [SWLM, 775] and the dignity of the Eucharist, which, she says, “should make us realize our powerlessness to prepare adequately to receive Him.” [SWLM, 822] In each case, dignity represents a worthiness, or a nobility.

How often are the poor expected to demonstrate their “worthiness?” How often are they called to shuffle into an assistance office, fill out a form, take a number, or many other indignities. As Vincentians, our respect for the dignity of all persons demands of us that we “never adopt the attitude that the money is [ours], or that the recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, 23]

The greatest commandment reminds us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and not just the victim on the side of the road, not just the homeless, not just the single mother, not just the most sympathetic, but rather “everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self… a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path.” [Gaudium et Spes, 27]

In an essay on Christian charity, Frédéric Ozanam compared the ancient paganism to Christianity. They had, he conceded, better understood how to enjoy themselves, and had constructed vast stadiums to do so. We, on the other hand, “understand what constitutes human dignity, what lasts as long as life endures.” [Baunard, 322]

Each person is created fully in God’s image, the imago Dei, unique and unrepeatable, the “sacred images of that God whom we do not see”.[Letter 137, to Janmot, 1837] They are already worthy, and already deserving. As with the Body of Christ, received in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as Louise teaches, it is we who must prepare to receive them, to serve them, and to honor them.


Do I sometimes feel the neighbor must “prove himself” to me??

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

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

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