Tim Williams

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness 940 788 SVDP USA

New friends are silver, they say, and old friends are gold. Maintaining our friendships during this long year of absence and isolation has been challenging.

As Blessed Frédéric Ozanam once explained, friendships, when we are separated, can be nourished via letters, which are a “truly an epistolary meeting where one always gains and never loses.” [Letter 142. 1837]

Surely our modern conference calls and videoconferences have served us as ably as the letters of another era, yet even in these modern days, “friendship being a harmony between souls…cannot subsist in a prolonged absence.” [Ibid]

As challenging as it is to maintain our friendships without meeting in person, it is nearly impossible to form new ones, as we are called to do with the neighbors we serve. On Home Visits, we learn not only from words and facial expressions, but from the full circumstances and surroundings; body language; interaction with others in the home; things we can only experience in person.

All friendships are strengthened by spending time together, whether sharing a meal, a conversation, a movie, or other recreation. But our Vincentian friendship is a special bond, whose “strongest tie… is charity… It is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82 1834]

This friendship is more than recreational, more than mere “silver or gold.” It is one of the Essential Elements of our vocation, formed, nourished, and strengthened at every Conference meeting and home visit.

Indeed, the first edition of the Rule in 1835 declared that “the unity of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will be cited as a model of Christian friendship… which …will make of all our hearts one heart, of all our souls one soul…

It is through our friendship that we answer our calling to “journey together towards holiness.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] In our Conference meetings, where we gather together in His name; in prayer, where our voices joined; on our Home Visits, where we serve as He asked us to serve; there, as He promised, Christ will be in our midst.

As grateful as we are for technologies that have kept us connected during this time, one of the blessings we look forward to as we return to normalcy in coming weeks and months is the renewal of our living friendship. Vincentian friendship, like our relationship with God, is ultimately not intended to be a long-distance relationship.

Contemplate

When gathered with my Vincentian friends, do I look for Christ in our midst? Do I find Him?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

Contemplation: Our Labor of Love

Contemplation: Our Labor of Love 940 788 SVDP USA

On the very first page of our Rule you will find a truly remarkable statement: “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.3]

All modern communities thrive by specialization; farmers farm, builders build, writers write, and so on. Within the community of charitable and philanthropic organizations, there also tends to be specialization; shelters for the homeless, food pantries for the hungry, utility assistance, legal aid — the list, especially in this generous nation, is nearly endless.

Through specialization, each of us contributing what we are best able to contribute, more needs can be met overall, and this is obviously to the good!

But the Society of St Vincent de Paul not only lacks a specialty, it would seem that we explicitly dismiss specialization.

Or do we?

Vincentians are called, above all else, “to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.2]

Our service, our works, are the means towards growth in holiness; we’re called to see the face of Christ in those we serve, to fulfill His teaching, and to draw others to Christ through our example of charity.

And so, on our Home Visits, when we observe not only additional material needs, but ways in which we might help to alleviate the causes of the neighbor’s distress, we eagerly seek to do so, through our individual efforts, and through our many special works, from Thrift Stores to disaster relief; from tutoring to prison ministries.

None of these works stems from an ambition merely to provide greater amounts of material assistance, but from a commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, then, does have a specialty, but it is the charity, not the works.

We’re not, after all, the Society of Rent Assistance, or of Groceries; we are the Society of St Vincent de Paul, called by the example of our patron to “love God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.”[CCD XI:32] Charity itself is not a work; charity is love. No work offered in love is foreign to us.

And if we truly seek to serve Christ, how can it be otherwise?

Contemplate
Do I serve my neighbor for love alone?

Recommended Reading
Vincentian Meditationsespecially 23. The Vincentian Witness

Contemplation: God’s Gift, Wrapped in Humility

Contemplation: God’s Gift, Wrapped in Humility 940 788 SVDP USA

Have you ever seen somebody, puffed up with himself, stride into a room, clearly expecting to be the center of attention? Sometimes we hear people mutter, “He thinks he’s God’s gift to us…”

It’s a shame that this expression is used as a derisive commentary on personal vanity, because, when you think about it, aren’t we all “God’s gifts?” That seems like an easy thing to understand when we refer to a newborn infant as a “gift from God.”

You, too, are “God’s gift” to your brothers and sisters. So am I. This is not a validation of our vanity — quite the opposite! In vanity, we make ourselves the center. By contrast, as God’s gift, I am not for me, I am for you. God is the center. He carefully created us, wrapped us, and sent us.

To be God’s gift, then, is a call not to vanity, but to our Vincentian virtue of humility in which we accept 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]

Following Christ’s call to serve Him in the person of His poor, Vincentians seek to share not only our time, our talents, and our possessions, but also ourselves in a spirit of generosity. [Ibid]

And in giving, we receive.

As Fr. Hugh O’Donnell explains in an article titled Apostolic Reflection, “God is present in each person and in the community.”

In other words, while each of us is a unique creature of God, all of us together, as a group, also are a unique instance of God’s grace. The group does not change when a new person enters — it becomes an entirely new group, enriched by receiving another gift from God.

The vain man sees himself not only as the gift, but as the giver; the one who should be thanked. We are called to offer God’s gift, wrapped in humility, seeking nothing in return. Miraculously, when we do so, this gift of love will be multiplied.

What a wonderful exchange of gifts; what a wonderful celebration!

For we truly are the gifts when God is the Life of the party.

Contemplate

Are there times I try to keep this gift to myself?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them?

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them? 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are called to serve the hungry, the homeless, the poor — all those who are suffering or deprived. Doing this work can sometimes lead us to discouragement, because we see so many problems we cannot solve, and we know that today’s groceries won’t satisfy next month’s hunger.

And after all, who are we to try to ease the suffering of others when we are weighed down by burdens of our own?

Writing to his lifelong friend Ernest Falconnet, Bl. Frédéric once confided that many times he felt burdened by his own problems and worries, but then he went “into the dwelling of a poor person confided to my care. There, because so many unfortunates have more to complain about than I, I scolded myself for being discouraged.” [15 Days of Prayer, p.81]

The poor will always be with us, as surely as our own hunger will return each day. This is why our Rule reminds us, we “should never forget that giving love, talents, and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Pt. I, 3.14]

Our primary purpose is not the feeding, but the sharing, and in the end, whatever loaves and fishes we have to offer will be enough for God’s plan, if we share them for love alone. And as we comfort, we will in turn be comforted, just as the five loaves and two fish, shared by Christ’s disciples, returned to them as twelve baskets filled with food.

To invert the old saying, “there because of the grace of God go I.” There to the poor; there to the hungry; there to deprivation and to sadness; there to Him who beckons us; there to Him who comforts and redeems us, even as we, “weak Samaritans,” seek to offer comfort.

As Bl. Frédéric taught, the poor are “the messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and charity…” [O’Meara, p. 177]

How can we ever tire, or be discouraged, when what we offer is to Christ Himself? As Frédéric realized when those impoverished families lifted his spirit:

“From that time on, how could I not love them?”

Contemplate

In giving, do I keep my heart open to receiving?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat   More a novel than a biography, this is an inspirational story of Frédéric’s life.

Contemplation – Being That Kind of Person

Contemplation – Being That Kind of Person 940 788 SVDP USA

Why does it sometimes seem difficult to withhold judgment when we visit our neighbors in need?

In his famous essay “The Undeserving Poor,” [Serving in Hope, Module IV] the late Bishop Kenneth Untener explains how easy it is to serve a poor child, because they can’t help it if they’re poor, and they haven’t the ability to work their way out of it.

They are not the ones that are difficult to serve – it’s the ones who seem to be the cause of their own problems; the ones we help up only to see them fall again. You know – those kind of people.

In his biography of Sister Stanislaus Malone, Nun with a Gun, biographer Eddie Doherty recounts the story of Sister Helen, an older nun who once told an alcoholic to leave and not come back, saying “it would be a waste” of time and resources to keep helping him when he would only start drinking again.

The man left, but not before reminding her that she did not know the temptations he had faced.

After he left, Sister Helen sobbed at her own failure of charity, saying, “What right had I to assume he would succumb again to the evils of drink? How many battles has he won? Nobody knows. I think only of the battles he has lost – and the battles I myself have won.”

It is easy to remember that time we beat temptation, or pulled ourselves out of difficulties by our bootstraps, and to let it color our judgment of the failures of others. We forgive and forget our own failures of will or of virtue, because deep inside we understand that our failures don’t define us; that however our own stumbles may be seen by others, we are “not that kind of person.”

It was because of this human fallibility that St. Vincent taught that we should “get in the habit of judging events and persons, always and in all circumstances, for the good. If an action has a hundred facets to it…always look at its best side… even though intelligence and human prudence tell us the contrary.” [CCD XI:638]

Perhaps this is part of Christ’s meaning when he commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mt 22:39] Love is offering not only our assistance, but our understanding, our patience, and the benefit of the doubt.

Because we are all made in His image, and we are all “that kind of person.”

Contemplate

How can I better “see the good” in all circumstances?

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Meditation II – especially 10. Expecting and Seeing

Fred Talks – Our Timeless Home Visit

Fred Talks – Our Timeless Home Visit 462 472 SVDP USA

Fred Talks Are Back!

Fred Talks are short videos that offer information on topics like Vincentian Heritage, Traditions, and Spirituality. Each video is five minutes or less! What Vincentian can’t spare time for that?

Fred Talks are also great to share with other members of your Conference, or with fellow parishioners who may be curious about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director, produces the Fred Talks series.

In this newest edition, titled “Our Timeless Home Visit,”  Tim reminds us that Home Visits have never been the easiest way to help serve our neighbors in need — even before the pandemic that’s gripped us over the past year. But just because it’s not always easy doesn’t mean it’s not important — both for our own spiritual growth AND bring the face of Christ to those we serve.

Be sure to check back periodically in the E-Gazette and on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for new Fred Talks!

Contemplation – Our Unlimited Resources

Contemplation – Our Unlimited Resources 940 788 SVDP USA

In the course of its 188 years, many have marveled at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s great freedom of action, seeking always to help those in need in the best way possible. As our Rule says, “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.” [Rule, Part I, 1.3] There is only one explanation for this: love.

In 1933, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Society’s founding, an editorial in The Tablet, a Catholic newspaper in Brooklyn, observed that “The Society is great because it follows in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior… He was not interested in ‘cases’ or ‘clients,’ but in men, women, and children.”

We are called to form relationships with those in need, to understand them as we would a brother or sister. Like brothers or sisters, like neighbors, like friends, we always want to do what is best for a person we value and love. Because of this, the members who made the visit are assumed by their fellow Vincentians “to have a special insight into the best way to give help.” [Manual, p. 27]

Ours is not the “The organized charity, scrimped and iced, In the name of a cautious, statistical Christ,” from John Boyle O’Reilly’s poem. Rather, with Bl. Frédéric, we believe that “in such a work it is necessary to give yourself up to the inspirations of the heart rather than the calculations of the mind.” [Letter 82, To Curnier, 1834]

The poor are accustomed to standing in line, taking a number, or filling out a form to try to “qualify” for the assistance they desperately need. They are reduced to numbers in the eyes of many agencies. To many in their communities, they are invisible. To us, they are “the sacred images of that God whom we do not see, and not knowing how to love Him otherwise shall we not love Him in [their] persons?” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1837]

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is not an agency; our help does not come with strings attached, because while agencies’ resources are limited, ours are not. Our funds belong to the poor already, so we “never adopt the attitude that the money is [ours,] or that the recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, p. 26]

More importantly, the resource we share on every single visit, is ourselves. But the ultimate reason that no work of charity is foreign to us is that the greatest resource we have, is one that multiplies as it is shared: love.

Contemplate: Are there times that I “budget” my love?

Recommended Reading: The Spirituality of the Home Visit – Read, but also keep your own journal!

A Medallion in the Mosiac

A Medallion in the Mosiac 200 258 SVDP USA

On a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to the United States in the fall of 1845, a Vincentian priest, John Timon, carried with him a copy of the Rule of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Having met members of this young Catholic lay organization during his travels, he was so impressed with their works and zeal that he wished to share this book with friends back home in St. Louis.

Within weeks of his return, a group of some of the most prominent men in the frontier city of St Louis gathered at the church now known as the Old Cathedral, and held the first meeting of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in the United States on November 20, 1845.

In celebration of the 175th Anniversary of this event, the National Council has published a book, and commissioned a commemorative coin.

Meticulously researched by Raymond Sickinger, Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College, this book includes stories of key people, places, and events in the growth and development of the Society in the United States.

Sickinger, also a biographer of Frédéric Ozanam, tells us about Thomas Mulry, who was instrumental in drawing together the seven Superior Councils into a single National Council, and was elected its first president. His life was a model of Christian charity, and of lay Catholic devotion to inspire us.

From Thomas Mulry through Ralph Middlecamp, the book shares insights about all of our National Council Presidents, their priorities, and the accomplishments of the National Council under their leadership.

The book’s title is taken from another anniversary of the Society, its 100th, when our leadership assessed our history to that point, finding the Society to be ”a medallion in the mosaic of Vincentian works.”

Take some time to be inspired by reading these stories, and add the book and coin to your shelf in celebration of these remarkable 175 years, and in dedication to building the next 175!

Contemplation – It Would Be Ungrateful Not to Hope

Contemplation – It Would Be Ungrateful Not to Hope 940 788 SVDP USA

To trust in Divine Providence is to seek the will of God. This trust does not come for free – we must invest in it our patience, humility, gratitude, and hope.

St. Louise advised the Daughters to “remain at peace until Divine Providence lets you know what It is asking of you.” [Sp. Wri., 249] Often filled with anxiety when things did not go according to her own plans, Louise had learned that abandonment to God’s will requires patience for God’s timing, even when we have already embarked on God’s work.

As Vincentians, we know that in serving the least among us, we are doing God’s will, because he very specifically, and explicitly told us to do exactly this! So, when we run into things that feel like obstacles in the course of our works, we must not be discouraged or anxious. “Having begun His work in us,” St. Vincent taught, “He will complete it.” [CCD XI:31]

If the money seems low in the treasury, but it is enough to help the needs before us now, then it is enough. God knows and will provide for our needs, now and next week, “particularly those which human prudence can neither foresee nor meet,” as St. Louise put it. [Sp. Wri., 174]

As Frédéric put it, we should remain “content to see the stone on which we should step without wanting to discover all at once and completely the windings of the road.” [Letter 136]

Or to use an old cowboy saying, “Dance with the one that brung ya.”

It takes great humility to set aside our own prudence and foresight, earned over many years of worldly experience, with faith that God will provide. At the same time, it is an act of profound gratitude.

If we are thankful, as we pray at every Conference meeting, for the many blessings he has already bestowed on us, then as St. Louise explained “we would be the greatest ingrates in the world” if at the first obstacle we were to abandon our trust in the Providence which has so far given us all that we need. [Sp. Wri., 174]

Trust in Providence is not only for the work of our Conferences, but for every part of our lives. For each time we set aside our anxieties, for each day we let the day’s own troubles suffice, we will be reassured once again of God’s abundance and love, which we receive that we might share.

And in time we will say with Bl. Frédéric that Providence “has for some time granted me so many favors that I would be ungrateful not to hope.” [Letter 365]

Contemplate

Do I sometimes let pride in my own wisdom override my trust in Providence?

Recommended Reading

15 Days of Prayer with Bl. Frédéric Ozanam (especially 14 – Providence)

SVdPUSA Texting

SVdPUSA Announces New Texting Program

SVdPUSA Announces New Texting Program 2560 1707 SVDP USA

These days, our phones are bombarded with calls we’d rather not answer, and our inboxes are flooded with emails from online stores and political campaigns. It can be hard to reach through the noise and connect with the people and ideas that really matter.

The National Council is pleased to announce that it’s now easier than ever to stay in touch with us! You’re invited to opt-in to text communications from the National Council. All you have to do is text JOIN to (844) 464-2992.

When you sign up, you’ll receive a Vincentian contemplation and reflection from National Director of Formation Tim Williams sent straight to your phone every Monday morning. We may also send you periodic news updates or occasional opportunities to support the work being done by the National Council.

Says National Director of Fundraising Programs Nathan Martin, who helped spearhead the program, “Vincentians are called to journey towards holiness. My hope is that every time we email out a Monday Contemplation, we are helping Vincentians on that journey.”

The National Council is partnering with SmartConnect to share the benefits of this program with local Conferences and Councils. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Nathan Martin, National Director of Fundraising Programs, or John Hosack from SmartConnect at (727) 463-9987. Or visit their website to learn more.

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