SVdP Formation

Contemplation: Thy Will Be Done

Contemplation: Thy Will Be Done 940 788 SVDP USA

We often use the word “discernment” simply as a synonym for decision-making, with an added sense of prayerful consideration. While this captures part of the meaning, discernment could also be considered the opposite of decision-making. When we discern, we seek not our best option between two choices, but true insight into God’s will in the situation. But how can we do that?

A friend of mine once asked a fellow Vincentian who was explaining the constraints of his Conference guidelines, “Is that how you will explain it to St. Peter?”

Discernment, he was suggesting, isn’t so much the actual decision, but the process by which we arrive at it. In this, he echoed St. Ignatius of Loyola, who argued in the Spiritual Exercises that to make the best choice, we should always “consider what procedure and norm of action I would wish to have followed in making the present choice if I were at the moment of death.”

In other words, while the decision itself is important, how we go about making it is even more important. Recall St. Vincent’s teaching that “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] How, then, can I share the love of God (charity)? How can I do God’s will, not mine? In this way, all choices become a single choice; a choice by which we are called to live our whole lives.

Father Hugh O’Donnell’s definition of Vincentian Discernment cuts to the heart of it: “Discernment is a prayer-filled process through which each of us can discover the difference between what is my will and what is God’s Will.”

At the heart of it, discernment is meant to lead us to the discovery of God’s plan – for us, for our lives, and for our Vincentian organizations. To help us, we often follow the process that Fr. O’Donnell explained, which begins with what St. Vincent called “unrestricted readiness.”

In unrestricted readiness, we set aside our anxieties about whether we are right, how we will convince others, or even about how things will turn out. Instead, we enter into discernment with both our minds and our hearts wide open to accepting God’s will.

Simple decision-making is about closing off all choices but one. Discernment is about opening ourselves to the one true choice.

Contemplate

Do I sometimes let my own biases or pride blind me to God’s will for me and for my Conference?

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Discernment and Apostolic Reflection by Rev. Hugh O’Donnell, CM

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

Contemplation: The Holy Joy of Your Heart

Contemplation: The Holy Joy of Your Heart 940 788 SVDP USA

In our dedication and zeal, we sometimes feel as if we cannot rest as long as there are neighbors in need of our help. As laudable as this sentiment may seem, in practice it serves neither ourselves or the neighbor if we do not pause for both mental and physical rest.

Writing to a missioner who had labored without rest for many weeks, St. Vincent urged him to slow down: “Have you somewhat moderated your excessive fervor? I beg you, in the name of Our Lord, to do so.” [CCD II:27] Of another priest, whom Vincent believed may have literally worked himself to death, he remarked, “In short, his zeal made him do more than he was able.” [CCD II:375]

Of course, St. Vincent was not afraid of hard work! After all, it was he who said we must “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” [CCD XI:32] Yet we also must be mindful that “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The harder we work ourselves without respite, the less able we will be to continue the work. And so, advising St. Louise not to feel guilty about her own exhaustion, Vincent once went so far as to tell her, “I am ordering you, moreover, to procure for yourself the holy joy of your heart by all the relaxation you can possibly take…” [CCD I:145]

There is always more work to be done, but there is only one of you. We prepare to follow God’s will by resting our hearts in His peace and love, filling ourselves to overflowing so that we may share that love with the neighbor. We must also reserve and recover our physical strength through rest, knowing that “There is no act of charity that … permits us to do more than we reasonably can.” [CCD II:68]

In a sense, pushing ourselves to do more than we reasonably can could be seen as an act of vanity; believing ourselves so indispensable that our efforts cannot be spared. But trusting in providence doesn’t mean only that the money or materials resources we need will be provided, it is trusting that God has called enough people to do His work, as well.

When you think about it, when we insist on carrying too much of the load ourselves, we can even rob others of the opportunity to serve more fully!

Our Rule reminds us that work in our Conferences comes “only after fulfilling the family and professional duties.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] Certainly among those personal duties is care for our own well-being, including rest and relaxation.

Caring for ourselves is not just for ourselves. As Vincent once reminded Louise, “Increase your strength; you need it, or, in any case, the public does.” [CCD I:392]

Contemplate

How can I better share God’s love by sharing God’s work?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation: Man’s Best Friend

Contemplation: Man’s Best Friend 940 788 SVDP USA

Ours is a ministry of presence. For all the bread, for all the rent, for all the material things we may at times provide, there is nothing more important, nothing more valuable, and nothing more lasting than simply to be in the presence of our neighbors in need.

This is sometimes difficult to remember because we Vincentians are people of action. We want to identify the problem and fix it! Efficient “interviews,” though, are not what makes the Society unique. There are hundreds of agencies ready to dig for information in the name of solving the problem.

But what the suffering poor need much more than a thorough form to fill out is somebody who will sit with them; who will share their sadness, if only for a moment. Like a true friend.

Blessed Rosalie Rendu, who taught and inspired the earliest members of the Society, genuinely enjoyed being in the company of the poor. She would often go to the soup kitchen and spend hours there in conversation. In Queen by Right Divine, biographer Kathleen O’Meara recounts that men who “came for their plate of rice and beans” would often confide to Rosalie “almost unawares, some secret of moral or physical misery worse than the hunger they had come to assuage.” [P. 73]

They didn’t share their stories in response to a list of questions, or an application form; they opened up to a friend who cared about them, who respected them, and who loved them. Somebody who was with them because that was where she wanted to be.

Our Rule calls us to “establish relationships based on trust and friendship.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.9] It was trust and friendship that led those men in the soup kitchen to open up to Rosalie; her trust in them, and her friendship towards them, inspired them to respond in kind.

In 1869 Florence Nightingale found that patients often responded more to dogs than to people. Modern science has found that a dog’s presence can not only relieve anxiety but can even lower blood pressure. Dogs seem to sense when a person is sad, and simply sit alongside them, asking nothing in return. People even open up and speak to dogs about their problems.

A dog doesn’t answer, offer advice, or solve your problem. He’s just there, fully and completely, for you.

Imagine if we could take the first steps towards the holy example of Blessed Rosalie by learning from the example of “man’s best friend!”

Contemplate

On my Home Visits, do I sometimes interrupt the silence?

Recommended Reading

A Heart on Fire – especially III. “A Network of Presence and Charity”

Contemplation – Filled With God for the Day

Contemplation – Filled With God for the Day 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are people of prayer. Together as Conferences, we pray to open and close each meeting, retreat, and reflection; we attend Mass together on our Vincentian feast days; we ask God’s blessings upon each other and upon the neighbors we serve. We are, as Blessed Frédéric often said, “united in works and prayers.” [Letter 135 to Bailly,1836]

Our Vincentian vocation, though, is not limited to our Conference meetings or to our works, but is “a vocation for every moment of our lives.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] Our call to prayer is an individual one. We hear this call repeated throughout our Rule: we “pray before personal encounters or visits” [Part I, 1.7]; we promote “a life of prayer and reflection;” and our “personal lives are characterized by prayer…” [Part I, 2.2]

Saint Vincent de Paul famously began each day with three hours of prayer. And what better way to start the day? Conversing with a God who loves us so much, St. Vincent taught, we will “rise promptly and joyously.” [CCD X:101] Beyond that, he advised, “prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX:23]

We humble ourselves in prayer, but dwell “more on His strength than on [our] own weakness” in the hope that He will accomplish His good in us and through us. In prayer, we abandon ourselves to what Vincent called “His paternal embrace,” [CCD V:166] and what Frédéric called “the maternal guidance of Providence.” [Letter 310 to Amelie, 1841]

Finally, in our individual prayer, we remember not only to lay out our own needs before God, but the needs of our Vincentian friends. Frédéric once described this mutuality of prayerful intentions as the “one rendezvous where Christian souls are sure of meeting and conversing together.” [Letter 493 to Dufieux, 1843]

Vincentians are people of prayer. It is the basis of our friendship, of our meetings, and of our service. It is through our prayer that we daily recommit ourselves to our vocation, to each other, and to Divine Providence.

Amen!

Contemplate

Is prayer a part of my day — every day?

Recommended Reading

15 Days of Prayer With Blessed Fredric Ozanam

Contemplation – Putting Ourselves First?

Contemplation – Putting Ourselves First? 940 788 SVDP USA

To become a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to dedicate ourselves to serving others, to “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” We hope that our works always are characterized by the Vincentian virtue of selflessness.

And yet, as Bl. Frédéric put it, “it is in our own interest first of all that our association has been established, and if we assemble under the roof of the poor, it is at least equally for them as for ourselves, so as to become progressively better friends.” [82. To Curnier, 1834]

It is an idea he repeated often, and one that remains in our Rule today, “that the end of the Society is especially to rekindle and refresh … the spirit of Catholicism…and that visiting the poor should be the means and not the end of our association.” [182 to Lallier, 1838]

If the Society was formed in our own interest first, what happened to selflessness? Even Frédéric once remarked on the “egoism which is at the bottom of our work…” [82. To Curnier, 1834]

Recalling the Society’s founding, when the young Catholics were challenged to show the good of the church in the world. Frédéric’s answer was not merely to bring bread and firewood to the poor, but, through these works of charity, to share Christ’s love and promise of salvation.

Our works feed our charity, and our charity feeds our friendship, which is what Aquinas calledthe friendship of charity, which is God.”

This friendship grows through our “community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties and preparing [us] to become better … in order to make others happier.” [290, to Amelie, 1841]

As the Apostle John reminds us, “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

We make our home visits for love alone; the most important thing we share with our neighbors is ourselves.

In other words, if our purpose in the Society is to better ourselves, it is ultimately for the benefit of others; to make of ourselves more worthy gifts.

Contemplate

Do I see the face of Christ in my fellow Vincentians?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Louise de Marillac, especially Meditation 14: Love One Another

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