Tim Williams

Contemplation — My God, I Give You My Heart

Contemplation — My God, I Give You My Heart 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Our Rule repeatedly emphasizes the importance of prayer to our vocation. We pray often, the Rule reminds us. We live “a life of prayer and reflection, both at the individual and community level,” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] Prayer is central to our lives and to our vocation. So, as in all things, we must ask: what does St. Vincent teach us about our life of prayer?

In a general audience in November 2020, Pope Francis expressed four characteristics of prayer, given to us through Christ’s example. [General Audience, 4 Nov 2020] The first of these is the primacy of prayer; prayer is “the first desire of the day.” We listen, we encounter God from our first moment of consciousness.

Similarly, St. Vincent de Paul urged that we should “always do whatever you can so that, prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX:29] Vincent himself began each day with “mental prayer,” interiorly seeking God’s guidance. The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission would later incorporate this practice for all the priests and brothers of the mission.

We are only human, and it is easy to seek coffee first – to try to physically jolt ourselves into the energy we need to get up and to get going. But how full are our hearts when we open them instead, first thing each day, to God? Caffeine may well make our hearts beat faster, but prayer will make them beat more insistently, more persistently, more patiently, and more purposefully.

Coffee doesn’t give us the empathy to understand the neighbor as we would a brother or sister. Coffee doesn’t help us to form relationships based on trust and friendship. [Rule, Part I, 1.9] Coffee is indeed a joyful way to help us greet the day, but coffee is only physical. It warms us from the outside in.

Prayer fills us from the inside out, from where God touches us most deeply so that His love may take root and grow to where we can share Him and His love with all those we encounter. But first, and to start each and every day, we must open our innermost hearts to Him.

On awaking, his biographer Joseph Guichard said, St. Vincent would begin each day by crossing himself and saying, “My God, I give You my heart.” May we follow his example, not only in our words, but in our devotion, our practice of prayer, and in our hearts – every day.

Contemplate

As a Vincentian, a Catholic, a Christian, how do I greet each day?

Recommended Reading

500 Little Prayers for Vincentians

Contemplation — Practice Makes Perfect

Contemplation — Practice Makes Perfect 1080 1080 SVDP USA

When we become Vincentians, whether as active or associate members, one of the things we promise is to live our Rule. This is, of course, a promise we should make only after reading it! Although our Rule is relatively brief, it’s still a little long to memorize. So, in order to live it, we need to reread it from time to time, by ourselves and with our Conferences. It seems like a tall order to live by some lengthy set of instructions, and few people are naturally inclined to try to do that. But the Rule, in its essence, is not a lengthy set of instructions at all. There are some specific instructions, such as how to elect a president, and how long the term of office is, but the Rule is primarily a spiritual document.

Like the rules of various religious orders, it is meant less to prescribe a long list of actions and behaviors, but to describe what a Vincentian looks like. For example, the Rule tells us that Conferences meet “in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity, and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8] That’s it. One sentence. It doesn’t go on to describe the specific steps we must take to live this part of the Rule, so how do we know if we are living it? One way to measure this is to ask ourselves whether a visitor to our Conference write the words above to describe our meetings. Would we describe our own Conference meetings with these words?

To live our Rule means not only to do the things, such as our home visits and other person to person service, but to truly internalize our spirituality, our traditions, and our virtues. If I have to remind myself from time to time, to be patient, gentle, kind, and understanding, that’s okay. At some point, I will no longer just be acting gently, but I will be gentle; I will no longer be doing Vincentian things, I will be Vincentian.

We promise to live our Rule, and Vincentians keep their promises! We can only do this fully by reviewing that Rule from time to time, and asking ourselves, “Do these words describe the way I act as a Vincentian? Do they describe my Conference?”

Do I “serve the poor cheerfully”? Do I “form relationships based on trust and friendship”? Do I help the neighbor “to feel and recover their own dignity”? Do I “never forget the many blessings I receive from those I visit”? [Rule, Part I, 1.8ff] We reread to remind ourselves, so that we can practice, and become better.

To be a Vincentian is to have a particular way of living our faith, and to pursue our primary calling as Christians, as Catholics, and as Vincentians: to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. And we all know the old saying: practice makes perfect.

Contemplate

What parts of the Rule describe me and my Conference? What parts do not?

Recommended Reading

The Rule (especially Part I)

Contemplation — He’s Right Over There

Contemplation — He’s Right Over There 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Vincentians are people of prayer – it is central to our vocation. Equal to it, though, is our commitment to go out and do. In the doing, we receive God’s transformational grace; we grow closer to perfect union with Christ by serving Him exactly as he has asked us to do, in the person of the poor.

St. Vincent once offered an interesting analogy for the balance between contemplation and action, likening it to the dove that eats its fill, then chews more food only in order to feed it to the little birds. In the same way, he said, we “gather light and strength for our soul in meditation, reading, and solitude on the one hand, and then to go out and share this spiritual nourishment with others.” [CCD XI:33]

Yet we also acknowledge the truth that it is really we who receive. And so, our person-to-person service becomes mutual, as Frédéric taught that it must be. From us, the neighbor receives not only some material relief, but the assurance that God has not abandoned or forgotten them; that He loves them so much he sends us to listen and to pray with them. We, in turn, receive a true revelation and a conversion of our hearts.

In the life of St. Vincent, we note several important moments of conversion, transforming him from the young, ambitious priest seeking benefices and connections, to the humble servant of the poor. In 1617 especially, when he received the confession of the poor farmer in Gannes, and later that year encountering the poor farming family in Châtillon. Like most of us, he was not converted in a blinding flash on the road to Damascus. Instead, through a series of experiences, some of which he may not have even noticed at the time, his heart was turned fully towards Christ.

Spiritually, he had been influenced strongly by the teaching of several mystics, especially Benet of Canfield, whose Rule of Perfection would be echoed fifty years later in the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission. Yet he could be somewhat dismissive, at times, of mystic visions of God.

What Vincent came to understand viscerally through his own encounters with the poor is that if you wish to have a vision of Christ, well, he’s right over there! He is asking for food, or shelter. He is begging to be seen. If you want a revelation of His will, listen; listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart to the cry of the poor.

We give our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves; we serve the will of God and of the poor in providing material assistance and prayer. When we do so, two or three of us together, the Christ who sent us is, as He promised, there with us, making every encounter a moment of revelation and conversion if we seek it.

Contemplate

When did I last see Christ, and what did He reveal to me?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation — Something of the Glory of God

Contemplation — Something of the Glory of God 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule tells us that our “journey together towards holiness” is made primarily in four ways: visiting the poor, attending our Conference meetings, praying, individually and communally, and transforming our concern into action. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Our visits to the poor are the central and founding activity of the Society; the activity that defines our particular way of being Christian. We don’t make our visits alone. Yet the visit itself is not our primary purpose. As Blessed Frédéric explained, “visiting the poor should be the means and not the end of our association.” [Letter 182, to Lallier, 1838] Our calling to see Christ’s face in the poor whom we visit is not a practical tool to facilitate material assistance, it is a reminder of Christ’s own teaching.

Few Conferences are small enough or busy enough that every single member has the opportunity to visit the poor every week, but that doesn’t mean growth in holiness is limited only to the home visitors! Instead, this is one reason that “Conferences meet regularly and consistently, usually weekly, but at least every fortnight (twice a month).” [Rule, Part I, 3.3.1] By meeting to share our encounters with the poor, we enable all the members of our Conferences to grow closer to Christ at every meeting.

We open and close our meetings with prayer, share in spiritual reflection, and support each other in our work. Our meetings ”are held in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4] Beyond the Conference meetings, we also seek to live individual lives of prayer, believing, as St. Vincent taught, that beginning our days with prayer, our “mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX, 29] We pray the rosary together, and celebrate Mass together, especially on our Vincentian Feast Days.

Finally, true to the spirit of our Patron Saint, we seek to transform our prayer into action, our contemplation into effective love. This commitment is the fruit of the relationships we form with the neighbor and with each other. It is the zeal with which we pray for, and work for “the full flourishing and eternal happiness of every person.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1]

We journey together towards holiness because God creates us as social beings, whose relationship with God is reflected in our own social relationships. [CSDC, 110] United with each other and the poor, we recognize that “something of the glory of God shines on the face of every person”. [CSDC, 144]

The four aspects of our shared Vincentian journey are not separable. Through them, “we strive to develop a three-fold relationship with God, the poor and one another”. [Rule, Part III, St. 5]

Contemplate

To which of these four things (visits, meetings, prayer, action) can I seek to more fully dedicate myself?

Recommended Reading

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Chapter 3

A Week in Prayers October 24 – October 28

A Week in Prayers October 24 – October 28 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Monday, October 24

Lord Jesus, make me small,
Make me the least
Make me the last
Make me the servant
Make me the one who follows
Let me be Your disciple.
Amen

Tuesday, October 25

Lord bless my small works of charity,
So that they may be like the seed
Whose roots are planted firmly
And whose branches reach skyward.
Though I may never see it grow
Help me plant the seed,
And bless the neighbors that I serve.
Amen

Wednesday, October 26

Lord Jesus,
Help me to suffer as You did,
With gentle resignation
To the will of the Father,
And love for Your people
Your neighbors, Your friends.
You turned the humility of the cross
Into the glory of the resurrection.
Lead us to glory, O Lord!
Amen

Thursday, October 27

O Jesus, my Jesus,
Alone on the cross,
How can I serve You today?
With humble devotion,
With love for the Father,
With troubles enough for the day.

O Jesus, my Jesus,
The way, truth, and life,
How can I serve You in love?
By serving my neighbor,
Loved as myself,
For the sake of the Father above.
Amen

Friday, October 28

God the Father,
Lord of all,
Give me the strength to serve.
Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Show me the way of life.
Holy Spirit,
Come to me,
Light my heart on fire.
Amen

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

A Week in Prayers October 17 – October 21

A Week in Prayers October 17 – October 21 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Monday, October 17

Lord, lay Your hands
Upon my weary head
Give me peace in my heart
And strength for the journey

Amen

Tuesday, October 18

Lord, You have sent me in Your name
To bear wordless witness
Through works of charity
Help me to find Your blessed poor
And to bring them comfort and hope

Amen

Wednesday, October 19

O Lord, you have called me,
O Lord, You are here
Watching me always
Removing all fear
Walking beside me
Drying my tears
O Lord, I have sought You
O Lord, You are here

Amen

Thursday, October 20

Lord Jesus standing before me
In poverty and deprivation
With hands outstretched
To offer and to receive
I, Your lowly servant
Stretch out my hands to You
To join in Your poverty
To give for love alone
Receiving Your grace in humility
And gratitude

Amen

Friday, October 21

O Lord, I long to see Your face!

Greet me in Your doorway,
Greet me on the street,
Greet me in the face and heart
Of everyone I meet.

Greet me with Your poverty,
Your sadness, or Your fear.
I’ll see Your face at last, O Lord,
And know that You are here.

Amen

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

Contemplation — The Vincentian Tradition

Contemplation — The Vincentian Tradition 940 788 SVDP USA

The Catholic Church teaches the importance of tradition in addition to Scripture. It is through tradition that the divine revelation is passed along from the Apostles to us. Tradition and Scripture “form one sacred deposit of the word of God”. [Dei Verbum, 10] It should be no surprise then, that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is governed by both the Rule and by the traditions of the Society. [cf Rule, Part II, 7.4]

The Rule, of course, has been revised from time to time over the past 187 years, often in order to incorporate accumulated traditions into the Rule itself. One of the changes made to Part III of the Rule in the most recent revision (in 2018), was to slightly change the wording of Statute 7 to allow Conferences a little more flexibility in conducting their meetings, specifically so that they might have meetings wholly dedicated to spiritual reflection, but not necessarily including the “business” items of the agenda every week.

After all, “the end of the Society is especially to rekindle and refresh … the spirit of Catholicism,” Bl. Frédéric wrote, explaining further that “fidelity to meetings, and union of intention and prayer are indispensable to this end”. [Letter 182, to Lallier, 1838] In other words, while our home visits are the primary means to our growth in holiness, we cannot achieve that growth without meeting together regularly in prayer and reflection.

The Manual further explains our Rule and is one of the best resources for understanding our traditions. In the case of the meeting agenda, for example, the Manual makes clear that “Every Conference meeting includes a spiritual component that promotes active participation and discussion.” [Manual, p. 18] While there is not a prescribed form for the spiritual reflection, both the Rule and Manual explain that the center of it is discussion and sharing between members.

Writing about the meetings of the first Conference, Bl. Frédéric related that they were reading and discussing The Imitation of Christ, and the Life of St. Vincent de Paul in their meetings, for example. [Letter 175, to Lallier, 1838] More recently, using tools such as the Spirituality of the Home Visit booklet, many Conferences have begun using home visit reports as the basis for their reflections. In this way, all members, not just the visitors, benefit from the visitors’ experience. In turn, by adding their own insights, they enrich everybody’s growth.

Through our spiritual reflections, we seek to explicitly connect our service, spirituality, and friendship. This is one of our most precious traditions, if we believe, as Bl. Frédéric did, “that visiting the poor should be the means and not the end of our association.” [Letter 182, to Lallier, 1838]

Contemplate

How can I better foster shared growth in holiness in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

The Manual

A Week in Prayers October 10 – October 14

A Week in Prayers October 10 – October 14 940 788 SVDP USA

Monday, October 10

Lord, in Your glory,
Lord, in Your power,
You rule both heaven and earth.
Lord in Your mercy,
Lord, in Your love,
You heal my heart and soul.
Amen

Tuesday, October 11

God of mercy,
Grant Your mercy to me.
God of hope,
Grant Your hope to me.
God of love,
Grant Your love to me.
Fill my heart, O Lord,
Fill my soul to overflowing.
Amen

Wednesday, October 12

Holy Spirit, live within me!
Fill my heart with love, joy, and peace.
Join my heart to those in need
With patience, kindness, and generosity.
Soften my heart to serve
With faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Amen

Thursday, October 13

Lord Jesus, with every step I take,
I seek to follow Your way.
With every prayer and action
I seek to know the truth.
Through Your great love and mercy,
I seek eternal life.
Amen

Friday, October 14

I praise Your name, O Lord,
I seek to do Your will
At all times,
Even, and especially,
When it is difficult.
And with You at my side
I will not be afraid.
Amen

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

Contemplation — Breathe Deeply

Contemplation — Breathe Deeply 940 788 SVDP USA

The word “spirit” has its roots in the Latin verb spīrāre, meaning “to breathe.” If we think, then, of the Holy Spirit as the breath of God, it seems easier to open ourselves to that spirit, to the wind upon the waters, and the breath of life. When we feel ourselves filled and moved by the Holy Spirit, we are literally inspired.

The founders of the Vincentian Family received a special grace from God, a charism. For St. Louise, her inspiration began following a period of great doubts, a dark night of the soul in which she began to doubt even the immortality of her soul. On the Feast of Pentecost, 1623, which commemorates the descent of the Spirit on the apostles, Louise prayed and felt herself suddenly relieved of all her doubts. [SWLM A.2]

This experience was so powerful that she wrote down all that she believed the Holy Spirit had spoken to her and carried that piece of paper, the account of her lumière (“light”) folded in her pocket for the rest of her life. It remains in the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity to this day.

The great peace that she instantly felt was threefold: first, that she would receive a new Spiritual Director (which would turn out to be St. Vincent); second, that she would one day fulfill her “first vow” to live a consecrated life in service of the poor; and third, that as long as she had her belief in God, the rest would be assured.

Importantly, nothing really changed in her daily life. She wouldn’t meet Vincent for another two years, the founding of the Daughters of Charity, in which she would live her religious vocation, was eight years away. In other words, she received a great interior peace solely through the movement of the spirit; not through an external event or change in her circumstances. Nothing that had been troubling her was resolved, but her heart had been changed.

The light she carried with her from that day forward helped her to see in the people and events of her life the Providence and Will of God; to further discern her charism – our charism – to serve Jesus in the poor and in each other.

Louise, “aware of [her] own brokenness and need for God’s grace” [Rule, Pt. I, 2.2] opened herself to the working of the Holy Spirit, exactly as we are called to do. Just as we breathe out only in order to breathe in again, we empty ourselves of self not to remain empty, but in order to be filled by God. And to be inspired, we breathe deeply.

Contemplate

How can I be more open to be moved by the Holy Spirit?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation: Falling Forward

Contemplation: Falling Forward 940 788 SVDP USA

There is a commonly used exercise in corporate training events called a “trust fall.” In it, one person stands with his back to the others, with arms crossed and eyes closed, then simply falls backward from a platform, trusting his team members to catch him. The point is not to overcome a fear of falling, but to build trust that you will be caught before crashing to the floor.

In a similar way, St. Vincent teaches us to “abandon all that we love to Him by abandoning ourselves to all that He wishes, with perfect confidence that everything will turn out for the best.” [CCD VIII:298] To abandon all that we love seems to be a very demanding call, but it is the same one to which Christ calls us.

As Vincentians, we are called to abandon ourselves to His will by hearing the cry of the poor whose calls often interrupt us, demanding that we abandon our plans for that evening, or our precious free day, or an activity we enjoy, in order to serve Christ in their persons.

Indeed, we are called to share not only our time, but our talents, our possessions, and ourselves. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] You might even say that we are called to share, to abandon, “all that we love” to God in the person of His poor. Sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back too quickly when we pay the bill, and sometimes we wallow in regret too deeply when our whole Conference treasury is not enough.

But the Home Visit is not a math problem – it is an encounter with Christ, and an opportunity to imitate Christ. We don’t know, before the visit, whether we have the means to meet the material needs that will be presented to us. All that we know is that Christ is calling, and we must answer – it is the call, and the will, of God. So, if we begin our works of charity with the understanding that we are doing God’s will, then we must accept that the outcome of those works also will be His will.

We serve not with resentment for what we have given up, nor with regret that we haven’t been given enough, but with the joy of knowing that we are serving Christ exactly as he asked us to do, with exactly the gifts we have been given to share.

We serve in hope not that the light bill will be paid, but in the hope of eternal union with Christ and with the neighbor, trusting that the gifts we have been given are enough. We serve in hope, we serve in faith, and we serve in love.

We don’t fall backward, but forward, our hearts and our eyes open, and our arms spread wide. Our whole vocation is a “trust exercise” – trust in Providence.

Contemplate

Do I sometimes place more trust in myself than in Divine Providence?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

    Skip to content