Timothy Williams

Contemplation – The Soul of Liberty

Contemplation – The Soul of Liberty 940 788 SVDP USA

As a young man, Bl. Frédéric Ozanam considered himself, like his father, to be a monarchist, seeing government on earth as an expression of the divine principle of authority. He was inspired especially by the example of St. Louis, King of France, whose monarchy represented “the sacrifice of a single person for the good of all… which I revere with love.” [Letter 77, to Falconnet, 1834]

Following the restoration of the French monarchy in 1813, the Ozanam family returned to France from Italy, where Frédéric had been born. Yet the church, now restored to legality in France, had not fully regained the confidence and trust of the people. Indeed, as further revolutions continued to develop, social philosophies that rejected the church became more popular – not least the philosophy of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, whose “technocratic” vision relied on a belief not in spiritual power, but in industry and science.

It was a group of young Saint-Simonians who would challenge Frédéric and his Catholic friends to “show the good of the church” in 1833. In answer to the challenge, they would choose to serve the poor as Christ did – with love and friendship; “not only as an equal, but as a superior.” [O’Meara, 229]

This continuing work pointed Frédéric towards the best alternative to Saint-Simonianism and its more revolutionary successors. He saw how important it was “to make equality as operative as is possible among men; to make voluntary community replace imposition and brute force...” [Letter 136, to Lallier, 1836]

For Frédéric, liberty was much more than a political slogan, it was a gift from God. Indeed, as he wrote to a political ally who was an unbeliever, “I believe [our] cause to be more ancient and, therefore, more sacred” Liberty, equality, and fraternity, he explained, did not come from the revolution of 1789, but from Calvary. [Baunard, 301]

As our church teaches, “Man can turn to good only in freedom, which God has given to him as one of the highest signs of his image.” [CSDC, 135]

Because it was best able to preserve equality and liberty, Frédéric concluded that “democracy is the natural final stage of the development of political progress, and that God leads the world thither.” Therefore, he asked, “are not the men of the Church and the men of the people to be found side by side at the foot of the tree of liberty?” [Baunard, 281]

Liberty is both a gift from God, and a pathway to His truth, and so, as Frédéric said, “Christianity will be the soul of Liberty.” [Baunard, 290]


Do I celebrate liberty as a gift from God, for me and for all?

Recommended Reading

Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam

Daily Prayers June 27 – July 1

Daily Prayers June 27 – July 1 940 788 SVDP USA

Monday, June 20:

Lord, Your words of love,
Not shouted once,
but whispered constantly,
Settle within my open heart.
They strengthen and comfort me.
Help me to serve You.
Help me to share You.

Tuesday, June 21:

Lord Jesus, the calm in the storm
Lord Jesus, the peace in my heart
In crashing storms
Through times of trial
The one set of footprints
For difficult miles
Lord Jesus, the calm in the storm
Lord Jesus, the peace in my heart

Wednesday, June 22:

Lord Jesus, Your word within me
And I, a brick in Your church
Help me beckon Your children
Through living my faith
In mind, in body, in soul
And in service for love alone

Thursday, June 23:

Whatever ails my body, Lord,
Illness, injury, pain, weariness,
Matters not to me
If You will but forgive me
And heal my soul

Friday, June 24:

Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening
Yours is the word of life.
My eyes are cast towards the heavens
To seek the eternal light.
For the kingdom, the power, the glory,
And I are Yours with which to make
A labor of love unceasing,
In Your name and for Your sake.

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

Contemplation – Ambitious Dreams

Contemplation – Ambitious Dreams 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Vincentian vocation, the Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul reminds us, is “a vocation for every moment of our lives”. [Rule, Part I, 2.6] Our call to serve is more than a call to serve the neighbor, more than a call to attend meetings, but a call to live our faith fully in our family lives, our professional lives, and our participation in our communities.

This was the vocation modeled for us by our founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam. Throughout his life, Frédéric continued his own Home Visits as a member of the Society, but also became a widely known advocate for the poor, whose L’ere nouvelle newspaper influenced public discussions. He served in the National Guard in 1848 and ran for public office (unsuccessfully) that same year, all in addition to his professorship and his vocation as husband and father.

But for Frédéric, these roles were not separate from his Catholic faith; they were the full expression of a faithful life. His was a vision of “a community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties” through lives of witness by people in “science, the arts, and industry, into administration, the judiciary, the bar” – our whole lives. [Letter 290, to Amélie, 1841]

In this, he foresaw the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, recognizing that the same friendship that unites us as communities of faith in our Conferences, unites us also with the neighbors we serve, and with all the Conferences in our One Society. But it is not “exhausted in relationships between individuals but spreads into the network formed by these relationships, which is precisely the social and political community; it intervenes in this context seeking the greatest good for the community in its entirety.” [CSDC, 208]

Charity is love; the love of God for his own sake, and the love of our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. [CCC, 1822] This is the love we mean we say we serve “for love alone” and it is the love we mean in our “vision of the civilization of love”. [Rule, Part I, 2.2 & 7.2]

Frédéric envisioned a “network of charity and social justice encircling the world” [Rule, Part I, 2.4] – a network formed by those resolved “to become better themselves in order to make others happier.” His vision calls us, each of us and all of us, to give ourselves fully to God and the neighbor.

These,” he said, “Are ambitious dreams…” [Letter 290, to Amélie, 1841]


How can I personally live my faith more fully in every part of my life?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns

Contemplation: A Union of Hearts

Contemplation: A Union of Hearts 940 788 SVDP USA

Subsidiarity, Pope Pius XI taught, is a “most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy”. [Quadregesimo Anno, 79]  Indeed, more than ninety years later, it remains one of the four core principles of Catholic Social Doctrine. [CSDC, 160] Given Blessed Frédéric’’s influence on the Church’s social teachings, it should come as no surprise that subsidiarity is and has always been a core principle of the Society, also.

Our Catechism explains that subsidiarity means that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order” leaving most decisions to the smallest associations, beginning with the family. Subsidiarity, it further clarifies, “aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies.” [CCC, 1883-1885]

For the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, this means that most of the decisions are made by Conferences, which are “as close as possible to the area of activity” and that in this way, “the Society promotes local initiatives within its spirit.” [Rule, Part I, 3.9]

This principle has been recognized since the Society’s earliest days. When Léonce Curnier was starting a new Conference in Nîmes in 1834, he wrote to Frédéric, seeking guidelines that the Paris Conference had followed. In his reply, Frédéric cautioned his friends against tying themselves down with “rules and formulas”, and instead being guided by Providence through the circumstances around them. After all, he explained, “the end that we set ourselves in Paris is not completely the same as that you set yourselves, I think, in the province.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

In an 1841 Circular Letter written when he was serving as our first President-General, Emmanuel Bailly reflected on the formation of Councils during the Society’s rapid growth, explaining that Councils are “rather a link than a power” because from each Conference to the Council General and back, “there is neither authority nor obedience; there may be deference and advice; there is certainly, above all, charity; there is the same end, there are the same good works; there is a union of hearts in Jesus Christ, our Lord.” [Circ. Ltr. 14 Jul 1841]

In our social teachings, subsidiarity affirms “priority of the family over society and over the State” as the “first natural society”. [CSDC, 209, 214] Our Society was born as a single Conference. The principle of subsidiarity reserves to each Conference great freedom to act according local circumstances, conditions, and considerations It equally imposes a responsibility to be faithful the Scripture, to our Rule, and to our worldwide network of friends in this One Society.


Faithful to the spirit of the founders, how can I use “creative imagination” to better serve the neighbor?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation – Infinitely Loved

Contemplation – Infinitely Loved 940 788 SVDP USA

Conference Meetings, the Rule tells us, “are held in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity, and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4] Like so much that we read in our Rule, this is less a set of instructions about exactly what we must do than it is a description of what a Vincentian, or Vincentian Conference looks like. So, does this describe my Conference? Would an outside observer describe our meetings that way?

Is our attitude towards one another that of family members, brothers and sisters, comfortable in each other’s presence, united in purpose and love? Do we think of our fellow Vincentians as burdens, or do we instead exemplify the old Boys Town motto, “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother?”

Our first Rule said that ours would be a “model of Christian friendship” because of our brotherly (and now also sisterly) love. What would our visitor see in our Conference meetings that might cause him to describe us in this way?

Our spirit of simplicity, following the teaching of St. Vincent de Paul, “consists in doing everything for love of God” and always “saying things simply, without duplicity or subtlety, being straightforward, with no evasion or subterfuge.” [CCD XII:246] Do we say what we mean to one another? Do we welcome our fellow Vincentians’ honesty and frankness? Is the whole dialog of our meetings one of people unafraid to share and unafraid of disagreement? Do we disagree without being disagreeable?

Finally, are our meetings not only joyful, but held in a spirit of “Christian joy”? More importantly, what does that mean? Should our meetings always be filled with laughter and singing? It hardly seems as if they could be – and after all, as Pope Francis teaches in Evangelii Gaudium,” joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty.” But Christian joy, he continues, “adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”

Fraternity, simplicity, and Christian joy, then, are not merely actions we take, but expressions of who we are as Vincentians, joined in our commitment to each other and to the neighbor, serving in the hope that that we may share the joy of God’s infinite love.


Do my Conference meetings fill me with Christian joy?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

Contemplation – The Light From Within

Contemplation – The Light From Within 940 788 SVDP USA

Saint Vincent de Paul famously said that it is our vocation to “set people’s hearts on fire, to do what the Son of God did. He came to set the world on fire in order to inflame it with His love.” [CCD XII:215] These are inspirational “marching orders”, but what, in a practical sense, do they mean? How do we go about lighting that fire?

As always, our patron teaches that we must focus first on the interior. If we wish to set the world on fire, in other words, we must do so using the fire within our own hearts. When we examine the fire in our hearts, we recognize very quickly that our love, our charity, must be truly all-consuming. This is the love, the charity, that sets the world on fire.

Vincent asks us to examine our charity by its effects. What are the things we do, the ways in which we behave that result from our charity? How will it be known to others (and to ourselves)?

The first thing animated by charity is to do to others as you would have them do to you. How simple that sounds! It is so obviously good as a sentiment that virtually everybody in our culture knows this teaching, from children to the aged, and to one extent or another we measure our acts of kindness by this measure. True charity in our hearts is more than a disposition to kindness. Instead, we cannot help but “to do for our neighbor the good that a person has the right to expect from a faithful friend.” [Ibid, 216]

Another effect of our charity is that we bear with one another. No one on earth is perfect; everybody has imperfections and faults. Vincent calls us to examine our own faults, our own failings, and our own weaknesses first. When we realize how much we need the forbearance of others, we will naturally be more willing to bear with the neighbor, who in no case is more in need of mercy and forbearance than we are. As our Rule says, because we are conscious of our own frailty and weakness, our hearts beat with the heartbeats of the poor, and so we do not judge them. [Rule, Part I, 1.9]

In charity, we need not learn to empathize, because we simply “can’t see someone suffering without suffering along with him, or see someone cry without crying as well. This is an act of love, causing people to enter one another’s hearts and to feel what they feel…” [CCD XII:221]

In charity, our love for the neighbor is for God’s sake, and our love for God is for the neighbor’s sake, for who loves another has fulfilled the law. Charity is the light within us, the source of the flame that lights the world on fire.


How often do I act in charity because I simply cannot act in any other way?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation – Challenges, Young and Old

Contemplation – Challenges, Young and Old 940 788 SVDP USA

But, you say, how can we draw youth to us? We call them eagerly, and no one comes.” So said the President General of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in a Circular Letter. It is an ironic problem for the Society to face, the challenge of recruiting more youth members to join an organization that was founded by 19 and 20 year-olds.

It is an inexorable reality of human life that we all grow older, even if we are Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The founders themselves remained Members for the rest of their lives, long after graduating from the Sorbonne. The photos we have are of white-haired men, not college students.

We always recognize and celebrate longtime Vincentians at our General Assemblies, as we should. Their example of dedication is inspiring. Lest we forget, though, the longest-serving among us, like the founders, began in their youth!

Ours is still – or should be – a Society for young Members. Indeed, our Rule calls on “Members of all ages” to “strive to preserve the spirit of youth”. [Rule, Part I, 3.5] Doing this does not mean trying to listen to the latest music, learn the latest slang, or pass ourselves off as young. After all, the first Conference, despite its youth, was quite out of step with its own times and fads, but in touch with something more radical, something more disruptive, something deeper, something greater, something…younger.

The young seek what we all seek, because all of us, young and old, have God’s word written on our hearts. As a young Frédéric Ozanam put it, the young have felt “the hunger for truth crying out” but have been left empty by “the barren philosophy of the modern Apostles” in which they “have not found food for [their] souls.”

The religion of your forefathers appears before you today,” he continued. “do not turn away, for it is generous. It also, like you, is young. It does not grow old with the world. Ever renewing itself, it keeps pace with progress, and it alone can lead to perfection.” [Baunard, 20]

It is not enough, then, to “call them eagerly”, unless we also “welcome young Members into all Conferences.” [Rule, Part I, 3.7] Their youthful enthusiasm revitalizes the older Members, while the timeless experience of serving the poor deepens the spirituality of the young.

That Circular Letter was not written by the current President-General – although it could have been. It was written by Adolphe Baudon in 1851. It turns out that seeking young members is not only an ironic challenge for the Society – it is an old one.


How can I truly be more welcoming to young Members?

Recommended Reading

A New Century Dawns (especially Chapter 10: A Saint for the Campus)

Daily Prayers May 23 – May 27

Daily Prayers May 23 – May 27 940 788 SVDP USA

Monday, May 23:

Come Holy Spirit, breath of God
Like the wind on the water,
That fills the sails;
Like the breeze in the forest,
That rustles the leaves;
Like the powerful gusts,
That drive the storm;
Like a quiet sigh,
From the depths of my soul;
Live within me, speak to me,
Fill me with the Truth.

Tuesday, May 24:

Dear Father, dear Spirit, dear Savor of Man,
How can I serve You today?
With all of my heart,
With all of my mind,
With all of my strength,
With all of my spirit,
With all of my joy.

Wednesday, May 25:

Holy Spirit, breathe upon me
Fill me with the Divine love
That shares itself without diminishing
Nourish me with the Truth
So that I may make Christ known
By the works I offer in His name

Thursday, May 26:

Father in Heaven
Lord of all time
Thank You for this moment
You have given me
Help me to live it wisely
From birth to death
With the joy and hope
Of Your Kingdom to come

Friday, May 27:

Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
I rejoice in Your life and Your light.
You are present to me
In the wind and the sea,
And the smile on the face of a child.
Daily Prayers are written by Tim Williams, National Vincentian Formation Director. 

Contemplation – The Whole Secret

Contemplation – The Whole Secret 940 788 SVDP USA

My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Christ said to Pilate, when asked if He was “King of the Jews”. Indeed, He went on to explain, if it were, there would be armies of angels fighting to free Him from His earthly captivity. In this, Christ modeled for us what St. Vincent de Paul often called “holy indifference” – a detachment from worldly suffering and reward in order that we might better discern God’s will.

Before His passion, Christ had already explained that we must “seek first the kingdom,” that same kingdom which is not of this world. We must, like the birds who neither reap nor sow, like the grass that neither works nor spins, let each day’s troubles be enough for the day. In short, He calls us to trust in providence.

Where does this leave our neighbors in need? Does trust in providence mean that they are on their own, or that we need not “give them the necessities of the body”? On the contrary, Bl. Frédéric once cautioned that we must not let our detachment turn into discouragement from our duties! This, he said, was ”the whole secret and the whole difficulty of the Christian life.” [Baunard, 423]

While we constantly seek to discern God’s will in different circumstances, we already know that “the same authority which tells us that we shall always have the poor amongst us is the same that commands us to do all we can to ensure that there may cease to be any.” [O’Meara, 230] For the poor, it is we who are called to be God’s instruments, providing for their needs as best we can, and by this work, reminding them of God’s love and their hope.

Detachment, indifference, or unrestricted readiness is not an excuse to neglect our works of charity but instead is the necessary condition to pursue them tirelessly and selflessly; to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. As we remind ourselves on each home visit, it is Christ we serve in the person of the neighbor; the same Christ who sent us, the same Christ who awaits us.

“We must think,” Bl. Frédéric said, “as if we were to quit the earth tomorrow, and we must work as if we were never to leave it.” [Baunard, 423]


How can I better offer up my own rewards and my own suffering to God?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

Contemplation – Where Charity is Practiced Cheerfully

Contemplation – Where Charity is Practiced Cheerfully 940 788 SVDP USA

Commenting on Conference meetings, President-General Jules Gossin wrote that “In France, what even the best men fear most is boredom; and, in that respect, the men of every country are more or less French.” He went on, in his Circular Letter of November 1, 1847, to say that “Boredom is to a Conference what smoke is to a beehive.”

Much of the responsibility for avoiding boring meetings rests on the Conference President and other leaders. Indeed, the Manual stresses that “meetings should not be lengthy” and goes on to suggest ways in which leaders can keep the meetings short, but meaningful. While a tight agenda is important, though, the Manual also explains that “the Conference meets less to conduct business than to celebrate and deepen its unity for essentially spiritual reasons.” [Manual, Ch. 2]

Indeed, this drift towards pure business meetings became a problem in the very first Conference, of which Bl. Frédéric wrote “the session is nearly always concerned with business, it seems long.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] As a result, he said, they were losing their enthusiasm, not growing in friendship, and many were becoming discouraged.

In almost all cases, the meetings, the works, and the Conference itself can be rejuvenated with a renewed focus on keeping the Spirit at the center of our meetings, bringing to them once again what our Rule describes as “a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4]

As St. Vincent reminds us: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84] Our laughter not only erases tensions between Members and alleviates boredom, but makes our meetings more welcoming for new and potential Members!

In that 1847 letter, Jules Gossin observed the importance of laughter in Conference meetings, noting that although you don’t go in in hopes of “provoking occasions of hilarity” it is nevertheless the “Conferences that afford the most generous relief to the poor are those in which charity is practiced cheerfully.”


Is there joy and laughter in my Conference meetings? Do I help to foster it?

Recommended Reading

Instead of reading this week, let’s pray together.

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