St. Vincent de Paul

St. Anthony Messenger cover story

Society of St. Vincent de Paul featured in St. Anthony Messenger Magazine

Society of St. Vincent de Paul featured in St. Anthony Messenger Magazine 360 480 SVDP USA

St. Anthony Messenger magazine, an American Catholic family magazine published by the Franciscans of St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati, has selected the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as its March cover story.

The wide-ranging, multipage article touches upon several key aspects of the Society’s work in serving neighbors in need, including our food pantries, thrift stores, emergency financial assistance, and the Getting Ahead program. The print copy also includes many photos of Vincentian volunteers serving their communities, including several images of the Society’s international efforts.

While the article tells the Society’s story through the lens of the Bloomington, Indiana and Dayton, Ohio Conferences, programs from other Conferences across the country are also highlighted, including Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, North Texas, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

With a monthly circulation of more than 50,000, St. Anthony Messenger’s story provides the Society with a unique opportunity to reach new volunteers and donors. We hope you’ll read it and share it with your parish and community.

To read the article online, visit the St. Anthony Messenger website. To inquire about a hard copy of the issue, you can visit their subscription page.

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule tells us that “All decisions are made by consensus after the necessary prayer, reflection and consultation.” [Rule Part I, 3.10] And that, “In rare circumstances, if consensus cannot be reached the decision may be put to a vote.” [Part III, Statute 16] Doesn’t that just drag things out? Isn’t it faster to vote?

These are the wrong questions! Our goal isn’t to reach the fastest decision, but to reach the right decision; the one that is aligned with God’s will.

The process of reaching consensus, then, is a concrete instance of discernment.

The foundation of consensus in our Conferences is for each of us to let go of our egos, “surrendering our own opinion,” as our original 1835 Rule put it, “without which surrender, no association is durable.”

This concept of surrender, of emptying ourselves, occurs throughout the Scriptures, and is a result of our Vincentian virtue of humility, which St. Vincent taught “causes us to empty ourselves of self so that God alone may be manifest, to whom glory may be given.” [CCD XII, 247] Even Christ “emptied himself” to better fulfill the Father’s will! [Ph 2: 6-8]

There is an old joke that voting is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. In a similar way, consensus is like a group of friends deciding where to go for dinner. We would never make our friend with the fish allergy go for seafood, and it is obviously better to skip the pizza if another friend just had that for lunch.

When we keep our friendship foremost, our consensus on a dinner destination becomes obvious. Our differing needs and opinions don’t block the road, they light the path.

Just so, in our Conferences, with the bond of our Vincentian friendship enabling us to listen and speak openly, the group’s wisdom and insights will soon distill, revealing to us God’s will in the form of our consensus. Rather than vote fellow members off the island, we all remain in the same boat.

St. Louise often advised that “following the example of the Blessed Trinity, we must have but one heart and act with one mind as do the three divine Persons.” [Correspondence, p.771, 1647]

The Divine life, in the example of the Holy Trinity, is a shared life, and our pathway to it also is shared; in service, in spirituality, in friendship, and in consensus.

Cor unum, et anima una!

Contemplate

When have I let my own strong opinions shut down other voices in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love – especially “Listening to God’s Word

02-25-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-25-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

Cardinal Robert Sarah, in his book God or Nothing tells this story:

One day a professor was hired to provide training in efficient time management to a group of heads of major businesses. He had just one hour for the subject. He told them, “We are going to do an experiment.” From beneath a table, the professor brought an enormous pot that would hold several gallons, which he gently placed in front of him. Then he held up a dozen rocks, each about the size of a tennis ball, and gently placed them one by one into the big pot. When the pot was filled to the brim and it was impossible to add another rock, he looked at his students and asked them, “Is the pot full?” They all answered, “Yes.” He responded, “Really?” Then he brought from under the table a container filled with gravel. He meticulously poured this gravel onto the big rocks and gently stirred the pot. The bits of gravel filtered between the rocks down to the bottom of the pot. The professor repeated his question: “Is the pot full?” This time the brilliant students were beginning to understand his scheme. One of them answered: “Probably not!”  “Right!” the professor replied. Again he bent down and this time brought some sand from under the table. He poured it into the pot. The sand settled into the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once again he asked: “Is the pot full?” This time in unison the group answered: “No!”

“Right!” the professor replied. As the students expected, he took the pitcher of water that was on the table and filled the pot to the very brim. Then the professor said: “What important truth does this experiment demonstrate for us?” The boldest student, who was no slouch, answered: “It demonstrates that even when we think our agenda is completely full, we can always add more meetings and more things to do if we really want to.”  “No,” the professor replied, “That is not it! The important truth that this experiment demonstrates for us is the following: if you do not put the big rocks into the pot first, you will never be able to make them all fit later.”

Then the professor asked them, “What are the big rocks in your life? Your health, family, friends, your dreams, your professional career? What you need to remember is the importance of putting the big rocks into your life first; otherwise you run the risk of failing to do so.  If we give priority to junk – the gravel, the sand, – we fill our life with futility and we no longer have time to devote to the important things.”

——–

Is Prayer one of the big rocks in your life, or does it take a back seat to unimportant things? How about seeking Holiness?

Are our Conference meetings filled with gravel or the big-rock subjects that need to be discussed?

What does your Council and Conference consider its big rocks? In our annual and strategic plans, are the most important concerns included first, or is the plan just a big container of everything large and small, more or less important to the life of the Society and its mission?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

02-11-21 News Roundup

02-11-21 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL

NATIONAL

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

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think about our Vincentian virtue of humility, it seems sometimes that it may act against the interest of the poor if it results in fewer people donating to the Society. But this confuses humility with secrecy, a point Bl. Frédéric often discussed!

Indeed, while celebrating the rapid expansion of the Society across France in its early years, he noted that “we love obscurity without cultivating secrecy” [Letter 310, 1841]

He emphasized that “humility obliges associations as much as individuals.” [Letter 160, 1837] We must maintain the humble spirit of our founding, just as Vincent once admonished a priest of the mission for referring to it as “our holy company.” Vincentians, like all Christians, seek holiness, we do not proclaim it for ourselves!

Secrecy does not serve the work, or the poor. We work in obscurity, not as servants of an unworthy or illicit cause, but as what Bl. Frédéric called “weak Samaritans,” and what St. Vincent called “unprofitable servants.” Our work is worthwhile because it is truly the work of God!

What robs the poor is when we take personal credit for the God’s work; when we see ourselves as the cause. Our humility as a Society, Frédéric explained, “must exclude that collective pride which so often disguises itself under the name of esprit de corps…”[Letter 160, 1837]

We seek to do God’s will, and we should not be silent about the good that results, but any success we achieve is His alone.

Why wouldn’t we tell that story? Why wouldn’t we want to share this great gift we receive with everybody we know? It is a great story exactly because it is not about us.

There is much pleasure in telling of the humble origin of great things. It is so wonderful thus to reveal the secret work of God.” [Letter 460, 1842]

Contemplate: How can I share our story?

Recommended Reading: ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple by Fr. Robert Maloney

02-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 299 374 SVDP USA

“Charity must never look to the past, but always to the future, because the number of its past works is still very small and the present and future miseries that it must alleviate are infinite,” said Frédéric Ozanam.

How true those words ring today as we Vincentians face a future fraught with the uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact on our economy, our social interactions, and our ability to serve those in need. After a year in which our Home Visits have more often than not turned into video visits, our ability to serve the needs of the poor through food pantries, feeding kitchens, and thrift stores has been tested, and our volunteer base has been disproportionality impacted by the fear and reality of the COVID-19 virus, we must now look to the future and plan for how we continue our work in a world none of us has ever known, and which we cannot clearly envision.

I think we know that tomorrow will look nothing like yesterday. How many of us, in March of 2020, fully expected that by the end of that summer life would be back to normal? I know I did. Then it wasn’t. And it wasn’t at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or now. The year went by and the world seemed to stand still. But it didn’t – it changed; dramatically.

And we changed with it. We found new ways to operate food pantries, serve meals, visit the poor, and comfort the needy. Our Conferences and Councils used new and innovative ways to raise needed funds to serve the poor. We found new volunteers; younger, more ‘tech savvy,’ more open to innovation and change. They have helped us change in real time for the new future. And what a wonderful thing that is to see!

Now, as we begin to see an end to this pandemic, it is critical that we “never look to the past, but always the future” and begin to make the systemic and structural changes to our Society in this new and changing reality that is our world. We must look at the innovative and creative ways in which we have operated these past months, analyze what worked and what did not work, and then build on the successes. This may cause us some degree of consternation as we are going to have to face the reality that one of our core principles, the Home Visit, probably is not going to look the same.

So, what could these changes look like? One way, I believe that we must make a conscious and concerted effort to increase our collaborative efforts with other organizations who can help us fill the gaps in our charitable ‘delivery model.’ Going to the poor does not always have to be going to their place of residence, as preferable as that may be. We can learn much about the sufferings of those in need by being in their communities and learning from others who serve.  I have seen organizations here in Georgia that have set up service centers in the local communities, using houses of worship and other physical locations to deliver assistance safely with appropriate social distancing and the ability to have better access to the technology necessary to provide access to needed services. Being in the community means that instead of relying solely on the parish property as our ‘base of operations’, we go to the poor where they live; not the house in which they live, but the community in which they live. I believe that will also give us a fuller and more realistic perspective on the challenges and realities that are faced by those we serve. And we can increase outreach and collaboration to become more effective in offering holistic and impactful support.

We also have the unique opportunity to create volunteer and service opportunities for those who in the past may have not considered the Society as they discerned how they wanted to live out their faith. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that in the past we have sometimes (oftentimes) not valued those who want to serve, but do not want to do Home Visits or attend bi-weekly meetings. That has, I believe, left many young people and people with unique and important talents, no choice but to look elsewhere. If we maintain a stance of rigidity and adherence to practices that are not aligned with the reality of tomorrow’s world, we will continue to see a decline in our membership and eventually see that new world reality pass by and leave us behind. The work we do is much too important for us to let that happen. Let us commit to finding new ways to leverage technology, innovation, and new thinking so that we can make a greater and lasting impact.

Some may balk at these ideas and say that we must adhere to the past to maintain our values and principles. But I say we can look to Frédéric for inspiration and guidance on that probable change. “Let us do without hesitation whatever good lies at our hands,” said Frédéric Ozanam.  And what is at our hands today and will be tomorrow is not what may have been at our hands yesterday.

So, let us continue that use of the ‘good at our hands’ to accomplish the one and only thing that matters; “We are here on this earth to accomplish the will of Providence,” said Frédéric Ozanam.

John Berry
National Council Vice President
Southeast Region

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old expression that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and I suspect most of us can confirm this from our own personal experience. Nobody wants advice from a sourpuss; many will even decline a helping hand offered from beneath a furrowed brow. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in her poem Solitude:

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.

It turns out that cheerfulness is not simply a nice thing to offer but is a necessary component of our Vincentian virtue of gentleness.

It is true that some people, as St. Vincent de Paul once explained, are gifted by God with a “cordial, gentle, happy manner, by which they seem to offer you their heart and ask for yours in return,” while others, “boorish persons like [himself,] present themselves with a stern, gloomy, or forbidding expression…” [CCD XII:156]

But a virtue, our Catechism tells us, is “habitual and firm disposition to do good.” [Catechism:1833] Habits, good and bad, can be changed, and our disposition towards cheerfulness can be natural, or it can be acquired.

St. Vincent reminded his missioners of Christ’s great gentleness through His own sorrows, His own suffering. Throughout His passion “no angry word escaped Him,” and even at the moment of His betrayal He greeted Judas as “friend.” [CCD XII:159]

As in all things, we seek to follow Christ’s example, to accept our own suffering, as Vincent once said, “as a divine state,” confident that our true hope lies in doing His will. And if we truly seek to “serve in hope,” our very countenances should shine with confidence, hope, and good cheer – especially so every time we are blessed to serve Christ in the person of His poor.

As Vincent reminded Louise: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84]

Contemplate: What is keeping me from smiling, and how can I surrender it to God?

Recommended Reading: Vincentian Meditations

Contemplation – Our Gifts to God

Contemplation – Our Gifts to God 940 788 SVDP USA

We often use the term “charism” when describing our Vincentian Spirituality. During this week in which we celebrated the 404th anniversary of Vincent’s homily at Folleville on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, which marked the first mission. it seems like an appropriate time to examine our shared Vincentian charism.

We sometimes simplify the meaning of charism to talents we may have, and surely our talents are gifts. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit run deeper.

The Church defines charisms as “graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church…” [Catechism: 799] Like the word grace itself, the root of the word charism comes from a Greek word referring to gifts or favors. These gifts are given to all of us freely and gratuitously.

If we think of our charisms as the seeds in the parable of the sower, we should seek to become the rich soil that yielded a hundredfold what was sown. [Mk 4:1-20] The gifts themselves are our calling – how we use them in the service of God and His Church is our answer.

Or to paraphrase the late writer and motivational speaker, Leo Buscaglia, “Your [charisms] are God’s gift to you. What you do with them is your gift back to God.”

We also recognize special charisms given to individuals or groups that inspire the founding of religious families within the church, such as the Congregation of the Mission, which dates its founding to that 1617 mission in Folleville.

At that time, and even more so as he contemplated it in his memories, St Vincent discerned the special charism that had been given to him, and that he freely shared with all who sought – and seek – to follow his way.

The Vincentian charism calls us to “love God with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows;” to trust in God’s providence; and to follow Christ’s teaching to see and serve Him in the person of the poor. This is the specific way in which we, as Vincentians, seek to live the Gospel daily.

These things are not instructions, or burdens – they are gifts to us!

What we do with them, is our gift to God.

Contemplate: What personal charism do I try to return to the church “one hundredfold?”

Recommended Reading: Praying with Vincent de Paul

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