Tim Williams

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 – The Opposite of Selfless is Self

Contemplation – The Opposite of Selfless is Self 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule informs us that the Vincentian virtue of selflessness is “dying to our ego with a life of self-sacrifice; members share their time, their possessions, their talents and themselves in a spirit of generosity.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] To share generously is surely virtuous behavior, but as St. Vincent always emphasized, it is the internalization of virtue that is most important.

True selflessness is more than simply sharing. As St. Louise explained, in order for our service to be pleasing to God, it must proceed from a good heart, with no thought to our own pleasure in giving, or to our own reputations. Without this self-denial, “our actions are empty noise. In them there is only self-love; and such self-love banishes the pure love of God…” [Sp.Writings, 536]

Bl. Frédéric echoed this notion of self-love driving out God’s love. He explained that there are two kinds of pride: to be overly satisfied with ourselves, and to be consumed with our own shortcomings, even to the point that we fail to act because we believe ourselves inadequate. “Thus,” he wrote, “love grows weak and self-love hides beneath this trumped-up austerity of our regrets.” [160 to Lallier, 1837]

Recall that our Rule says that selflessness begins with “dying to our ego.” Ego is the Latin word for I. We die to ourselves. As the Apostle declared: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

The opposite of selfless, then, is not selfish, but self!

Our success, our money, our comfort, however great or small, are God’s gifts to us. As the story of the rich young man illustrates, it can be devastatingly difficult to give them away; so difficult, in fact, that even Christ’s disciples wondered how anybody could make it to heaven.

But beyond our possessions, our very selves are also God’s gift, and also are meant to be given away. Selflessness, as St. Louise expressed it, is to give “Him my full consent to operate in me by His power whatever He willed to see accomplished.” [Sp. Writing, 270]

Virtue begins with doing but ends with being. By emptying ourselves of self, we empty ourselves also of the doubts that can keep us from doing God’s will. We cannot will ourselves into heaven. We can only seek to make God’s will our own, and for God all things are possible.

Contemplate

What am I hanging onto? What am I keeping to myself?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Contemplation – Behold, I Make All Things New

Contemplation – Behold, I Make All Things New 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians serve in hope! Not merely the hope of a paid light bill, but the hope of Christ’s promise, the hope of new life, and the hope of a church that “is ever renewing itself…” [Ozanam in Baunard, 20]

The neighbors we serve often lack hope – any kind of hope. Burdened with material needs, with worries for their children and for their future, it is difficult to offer eternal hope when, as Mahatma Ghandi once explained, “To them God can only appear as bread and butter.”

In our empathy for the neighbor, it can be all too easy for us at times to feel overwhelmed, burned out; to share the neighbor’s despair rather than the Savior’s hope. Our neighbor’s continuing struggles weigh us down, and we allow ourselves to forget the great power of love over even the greatest forms of deprivation.

Whatever resources our Conference has, however great or small, we offer freely and generously. And when we offer food to the neighbor who can only see God as bread, remember that Christ offers Himself to us as bread. All of the material assistance we give is foremost a sign of Christ’s love. In that love, we welcome the neighbor into communion with us, and with the God who sent us.

It is for love alone that we continue, through home visits, through special works, and through systemic change programs, to walk with people out of poverty. It is for love alone that we can say, “this relationship does not end when we pay the bill this week. You matter.”

There is never a need to be frustrated, or to wonder why the land will never lack for needy persons. As St. Vincent taught, it is through our humble devotion to God and our charity toward the neighbor that they might see the beauty and holiness of our faith. [CCD VIII:208] The needs we seek to alleviate may be of this earth, but the hope we bring is not.

We gather on our home visits in His name, and He, as He promised, is there. He is there in the suffering of the neighbor, and He is there also in the prayer and in the hope that we offer, wiping away all tears, saying “Behold, I make all things new.”

Contemplate

How can I better share hope?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

Contemplation – To Give and Receive with Joy

Contemplation – To Give and Receive with Joy 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old saying about gift-giving, that “it is the thought that counts.” In a similar way, the assistance, or gifts, that we offer to the neighbor must be more than “appeals from below,” but instead gifts of true love, of putting the needs of another before our own.

As so often is the case, Blessed Frédéric offers us a wonderful example. On New Year’s Day of 1852, Frédéric was unable to relax and enjoy the day with his family, unable even to eat the candies his beloved daughter Marie offered him. He couldn’t stop thinking of the young family that had sold their chest of drawers, the young mother’s treasured family heirloom, so that they could pay other bills.

When he told his wife Amélie of his desire to bring them the chest as a gift, she reminded him that the husband, suffering some health issues, might not be able to work in coming weeks, and it would be more practical to give them the money that would have purchased the chest in smaller amount in coming weeks.

Although he first agreed that this was indeed practical, he remained unconsoled, explaining to Amélie that even a fraction of what they’d spent on their own amusement and gifts could have brought true joy to that poor family. She agreed, and urged him to go.

Frédéric left his home, purchased the family’s chest, and along with a porter he’d brought with him, delivered it to them. When he returned home, all sadness had left him; his face was glowing with his own joy.

When we make our home visits, we often help the neighbor to prioritize needs, so that we can care for the most urgent of them first. Like Frédéric, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that the most urgent needs are not always material; that when we are refreshed by joy and by love, our burdens become lighter.

We are called to form relationships based on trust and friendship with the neighbors we serve; not coldly assess the books, but to seek their good, even before our own. In doing so, we will receive in joy exactly what we give.

It is truly better to give than to receive, and better still to be a cheerful giver. With joy we will drink the waters of salvation!

Contemplate

How can I bring not just assistance, but joy to the neighbor?

Recommended Reading

The Gospel of Luke

12-16-2021 Daily Prayer

12-16-2021 Daily Prayer 940 788 SVDP USA

Daily Prayer for Thursday, December 16, 2021:

What did I come here to see, Lord?
Why have I come to Mass?
To see Your suffering, hung like art,
In the Stations of the Cross?

What did I come here to see, Lord?
Why do I visit the poor?
To see Your suffering, see Your face,
In the neighbors that I serve?

My living God in the Eucharist,
My salvation in Your poor,
My living God that I may serve;
That’s what I’ve come to see.

Amen

Written by National Vincentian Formation Director, Tim Williams.

Current SVdP Leaders Take Inspiration From the Past in Newly Published Articles

Current SVdP Leaders Take Inspiration From the Past in Newly Published Articles 1344 1792 SVDP USA

Two articles by current SVdP leaders look back at the Society’s roots, in the latest issue of De Paul University’s Vincentian Heritage Journal. National Director of Formation Tim Williams shares with us two new articles by Ray Sickinger, Ph.D., and Ralph Middlecamp.

François Lallier, Friend of Frédéric, Co-Founder of the Society

As a young law student at the Sorbonne, François Lallier noticed another student speaking out boldly in class, defending the Church against attacks on it by professors and fellow students. After class one day, he saw this young man outside, at the center of a group who were listening to him intently. Lallier took this opportunity to introduce himself to Frédéric Ozanam, and that, to paraphrase the closing line of Casablanca, was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Lallier, along with Ozanam, four other students, and Emmanuel Bailly, would together found the Society of St. Vincent de Paul just a few short years after this meeting, but their friendship would continue undimmed for the rest of Frédéric’s short life.

In an article published in the newest Vincentian Heritage Journal, Raymond Sickinger, Ph.D., National Council board member and Professor Emeritus of history at Providence College, tells the story of this founder using sources most Vincentians have not previously read, including Circular Letters Lallier wrote while serving as Secretary-General, his personal correspondence with his friend Ozanam, his speeches, and other documents.

Lawyer, judge, gentleman, and Vincentian, François Lallier’s story is an important part of our heritage.

Read François Lallier: One of the Pillars of the Building Started

Emmanuel Bailly, Mentor and Co-Founder of the Society

In the Ozanam Orientation, we learn that of the seven founders of the Society, there were six college students and one “older gentleman.” In 1833, Emmanuel Bailly was 39 years old.

National President Ralph Middlecamp, avid student of the Society’s heritage and history, shares in the latest issue of the Vincentian Heritage Journal the fascinating story of Père Bailly, whose offices hosted the first Conference.

Newspaper publisher, businessman, and college professor, Bailly was from a family with strong Vincentian roots, his father having been entrusted with some of Saint Vincent’s papers to safeguard during the French Revolution.

While his business ventures had varying degrees of success, his commitment to mentoring young men and defending the faith were unwavering. Bailly was truly a father figure to the young men who elected him as President of that first Conference, which earned him the nickname Père (father). He also served as Spiritual Advisor, and was discovered to have contributed generously to the secret collections at the early meetings.

It was Bailly’s deep knowledge of the Rule of the Congregation of the Mission that helped him, as co-author of the Society’s Rule in 1835, to guide its basic structure and outline.

Middlecamp’s article offers fascinating details of Bailly’s interesting life, family, and connections.

Read Emmanuel Bailly: The Advisor and Friend of Christian Youth

SVdP Daily Prayer Can Now Be Found on the Blog!

SVdP Daily Prayer Can Now Be Found on the Blog! 940 788 SVDP USA

Daily Prayer for Wednesday, December 15, 2021:

God in Heaven, God on earth,
From God I shall not part,
God Who comforts sorrows,
God within my heart,

God of endless glory,
God Whose Son was raised,
God, the Holy Spirit,
I gladly sing Your praise!

Amen

Written by National Vincentian Formation Director, Tim Williams.

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 – True Charity is Always Poor

Contemplation – True Charity is Always Poor 940 788 SVDP USA

Conferences, following the example of St. Vincent de Paul, are expected to keep detailed and accurate records of contributions, donors, and assistance provided to neighbors in need, and to report them periodically to their Councils. There can be a temptation, looking back on the numbers, to puff up our chests about all the good that we’ve done, but these reports are only a testament to accountability; they are not a measure of the success, much less the value, of our works.

Writing about the loss of the earliest records of the first Conference in 1835, Bl. Frédéric mused that while those records might have been a source of pride, “God, who wishes that the left hand not know what the right hand has given, permitted us to lose title to what might serve only to bestow on us ridiculous vanity.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835]

“Charity,” he continued, “must never look behind it, but always before, because the number of its past benefits is always very small, and the present and future misery it solaces is infinite.”

In his Circular Letter of 1837, Secretary-General François Lallier (one of the Society’s founders, and a close friend of Frédéric’s) sounded a similar note, describing those that “throw at random a few handfuls of money that the poor despise as mere crumbs and are of no avail.” [VHJ, Vol 36, Iss 1]

Works of charity are works of love; we measure their value first in our own transformation; our growing closer to Christ. Through this, we also hope to draw others closer to Christ; “to stir up irresistible questions” by our witness, as Pope St. Paul VI said. “Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them?” [Evangelii nuntiandi, 21]

Christ Himself recognized that the smallest of material contributions can be the very largest when they are the most that we can give. And as Our Rule teaches, “our tender interest, our very manner, will give to our alms a value which they do not possess in themselves.” [Rule, 1835 Intro]

Our Conference Annual Reports, of course, are vital documents. They represent our commitment to accountability – to each other, to our donors, to tax laws, and most importantly to God Himself, who calls us to this ministry. But the totals at the bottom of the page, whether they are large or small, represent only our circumstance, not the degree of our success.

As Lallier explained, we “offer very little, because we are little and because true charity is always poor like those whom it relieves. But we have the charity of the heart that can multiply our mite a hundredfold, and the poor who feel such things welcome us with honour.” [VHJ, Vol 36, Iss 1]

Contemplate

Do I ever feel ashamed when I can’t “do more?” Am I tempted to boast about how much we’ve “spent?”

Recommended Reading

The Rule – especially Part I

Contemplation – The Soul of Our Souls

Contemplation – The Soul of Our Souls 940 788 SVDP USA

Bl. Frédéric’s wife Amelie once said that she had never seen him wake up or fall asleep without making the sign of the cross and praying. In fact, “he never did anything serious without praying.” [Manual, p.65] Following his example, Vincentians are people of prayer.

St. Vincent taught that prayer is a “lifting of the mind to God … to go to seek God in himself. It’s a conversation of the soul with God, a mutual communication in which God tells the soul interiorly what He wants it to know and do.” [CCD IX:329] But prayer is not a monolog. As much as we may feel we have to tell Him, or ask Him, prayer is also a time to listen.

Vincent explained that there are two forms of prayer: vocal and mental. Vincentians certainly pray aloud and together often: during the opening and closing prayers at meetings; prayers with the neighbor on Home Visits; and of course, while attending Mass together.

“In every Conference throughout the world and in their personal lives, Vincentians raise their prayers to God, united with the prayer of Christ, on behalf of one another and their masters the poor, whose suffering they wish to share.” [Rule, Part I, 2.3]

But we are also called to pray in the second form, mental prayer; silent meditation or contemplation. This mental prayer, St. Vincent explained, can take place in two ways. First, by listening to His word in scripture and seeking to understand its meaning and inspiration for us. Second, through contemplation, in which “the soul, in the presence of God, does nothing but receive what He gives… God himself inspires it with everything it may be seeking, and much more.” [CCD IX:330]

We are beggars before God, the Catechism teaches, but also reminds us that “prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.” [CCC:2559-2560] God thirsts for us! He seeks us first and offers us in return the living water.

Through our “life of prayer and reflection,” then, we not only seek God, but He seeks us. He touches our hearts and feeds our souls, and just as our souls give life to our bodies, our prayers give life to our souls.

That is why St. Vincent said that “prayer is the soul of our souls.” [CCD IX:327]

Contemplate

Be silent, looks towards heaven, open your heart, and listen.

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paul

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