Timothy Williams

Contemplation — Hearts Filled with Joy

Contemplation — Hearts Filled with Joy 1080 1080 SVDP USA

The primary purpose of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the spiritual growth of its members. We seek, by serving the poor, to see His suffering and to grow closer to Him and welcoming the neighbor into His love. All this suffering serves a purpose in God’s plan, but that does not mean we serve in sadness!

Vincentians receive many dimensions of God’s grace as a result of our home visits, but perhaps the most important dimension is joyful grace. We are like children who have just cleaned up their rooms without being asked, racing to tell our parents what we have done! We are bursting with pride not only because know this will please our parents, but because in the course of our cleaning we saw for ourselves that it was good.

Similarly, we have sat in the pew and listened to the words of Gospel of Matthew many times, and many times we have nodded along as Christ explains the Judgment of Nations. It all makes sense – serve the least among us, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger…probably most of us can recite it by heart. But as Army General Norman Schwartzkopf once said, “You almost always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

And so we are filled with joy as we fulfill God’s will through our works. But our hearts are doubly filled with this joyful grace of God as we realize that we have encountered Christ Himself – exactly as he told us we would.

We go to the homes of the poor and, as Vincent explains, we “find God there!” [CCD IX:199] This is a source of wonder not because it is so surprising, but precisely because it is not. Christ’s word is fulfilled through our actions and our hearts are filled with joy!

When we think about finding new members to join with us in our Conferences, or to form new Conferences, extending this worldwide network of charity, no “recruiting pitch” should be necessary. We have been in the presence of a loving God and have in turn shared His love with others. This joyful grace fills us to overflowing – why would we not want that for all of our friends? Why would we not invite them to share in our joy? Why would we keep it to ourselves?


Do I hesitate to share this great joy of God’s grace with my friends?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

Contemplation — Spiritual and Religious

Contemplation — Spiritual and Religious 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Perhaps you have friends who say “I am spiritual, but not religious.” For Vincentians, our spirituality is not only religious, it is our very special and specific way of living our Catholic faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that there are many and varied spiritualities that have been developed throughout history, and that “the personal charism of some witnesses to God’s love for men has been handed on… so that their followers may have a share in this spirit.” [CCC, 2684] For us, that “refraction of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit” is the charism of St. Vincent de Paul.

Unlike many well-known saints, Vincent never wrote a treatise about his spirituality; there is no Vincentian Summa Theologica, Introduction to the Devout Life, or Spiritual Exercises for us to study. We can learn a great deal by reading the words he spoke in conferences and letters, but more importantly, we learn through his example, his actions, passed down to us through more than 400 years of Vincentian Family tradition, and especially through our primary founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

It seems only right that our spirituality is learned first through action. After all, as Vincent once said, we must “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows”. [CCD XI:32] Two hundred years later, Frédéric would found the Society by declaring “Let us go to the poor!” [Baunard, 65]

Ours a spirituality of action, of doing, of serving. At the same time, we pray “both at the individual and community level” with our own lives “characterized by prayer, meditation on the Holy Scriptures and other inspirational texts and devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary”. [Rule, Part I, 2.2] Our prayers always include reflection on our service, reminding us, as Frédéric put it, that “visiting the poor should be the means and not the end of our association.” [Letter 182, to Lallier, 1838]

We trust in Divine Providence, in the love and the abundance of God. We do not worry about running out of resources – everything that is given to us belongs to the poor already, and “members should never adopt the attitude that the money is theirs, or that the recipients have to prove that they deserve it”. [Manual, 23] We trust, with Frédéric, that to do works of charity, “it is never necessary to worry about financial resources, they always come.” [Letter 121, to his mother, 1836]

Finally, and most importantly, we see, we serve, and we love Jesus Christ in the person of the neighbor whom we serve. As St Vincent taught, “you go into poor homes, but you find God there.” [CCD IX:199] As Frédéric taught, the poor “are for us 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, 1836]

Through these actions, we grow closer to Christ. This is our spirituality. This is our religion.


How often do I share my Vincentian spirituality with other Catholics?

Recommended Reading

The Manual (especially 3.2, Vincentian Spirituality)

Contemplation — A Simple Aspiration

Contemplation — A Simple Aspiration 1080 1080 SVDP USA

We celebrate the great vision of our primary founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam who, along with six others, started that first Conference which has since grown to literally encircle the world, as he had envisioned. [Rule, Part I, 2.4] Lest we confuse vision with ambition, though, Frédéric’s oft-stated goals for himself and the Society were simply to become better, and to do a little good. On its face, this may seem to be a contradiction. After all, how does one reconcile a vision of charity and justice sweeping across France and the world, restoring the church, and making the world better with the humble personal aspiration simply to do a little good, or to become better?

In Frédéric’s estimation, the Society’s rapid growth was not the work of its members, least of all himself, but had grown so rapidly only through Divine Providence, through which it also had “been allowed to do a little good”. [Letter 141, to Ballofet, 1837] He understood, exactly as St Vincent had repeatedly taught, that any success we may have, or that our Society may have, is entirely the work of God, not ourselves. Indeed, the whole point of the work is not the earthly result, but our own growth in holiness; our “becoming better.”

While their works, as Frédéric hoped, may indeed “[erase] little by little the old divisions of political parties” and “make it a moral country”, it won’t because of a grand strategy, but because the members seek “to become better themselves in order to make others happier”. [Letter 290, to Amélie, 1841]

Remember, we seek “to help relieve suffering for love alone, without thinking of any reward or advantage for [ourselves]”. [Rule, Part I, 2.2] If the world changes, it changes – that’s up to God. We’re called to serve selflessly, to “do all the good we can, and trust to God for the rest.” [Baunard, 81] To become better, then, is not a matter of earning accolades; it is something we do for others, and for God.

Indeed, as Frédéric once advised his friend Ernest Falconnet, “it would be a thousand times better to languish in obscurity for half a century, edifying others with a spirit of resignation and doing some little good, than to be intoxicated for a few brief months with worldly pleasure”. [Baunard, 349]

Ours is “a vocation for every moment of our lives”. [Rule, Part I, 2.6] We seek to do a little good, to become better, because, as Frédéric wrote, as “a Christian, a believer in God, in humanity, in country, in family, never forget that your life belongs to them, not to yourself”. [Baunard, 349]

It may seem a simple aspiration, to become better, but simple does not necessarily mean easy. We grow in holiness together, each of us and all of us, seeking to fulfill God’s will by doing a little good, and there can be no greater aspiration than that.


How can I become better, and do a little good, today?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat

Contemplation — On Our Way

Contemplation — On Our Way 1080 1080 SVDP USA

One of the central activities of the Conferences and Councils of the Society is formation. Because we often use this word as a synonym for “training” we can begin to think of it as an isolated event, something to check off on a list when we join the Society or enter into specific positions. But formation is not a single event – it is a lifelong journey of becoming…of becoming what?

As Vincentians, we have chosen a specific way of being Catholic, and this way, this vocation, forms us. The Foundation Document on Vincentian Formation, adopted by the Society more than twenty years ago, suggests four different dimensions of formation, closely mirroring the areas outlined in Pastores dabo vobis, an apostolic exhortation on the formation of priests.

Our human formation, the basis for all formation, begins with our actions, which are shaped by our virtues. We become by doing, we build habits of virtue in order to become virtuous. For Vincentians, these include the Cardinal Virtues, the Theological Virtues, and our Vincentian Virtues.

Our spiritual formation has to do with the transcendent aspect of our nature; the aspect in which we are truly made in God’s image. Our spiritual formation reminds us that we are created to live in community. The model of the Holy Trinity reminds us that the eternal life is a shared life, and that our path to it is also shared. As Vincentians, we pray and reflect together often. Our spiritual reflections and prayers in each Conference meeting are a vital part of our ongoing formation. Our individual prayers, retreats, Mass – and prayers shared with the neighbor are all part of our spiritual formation. We journey together towards holiness. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Our training falls within our intellectual formation. The efforts we make to learn the practical aspects of our vocation, to learn about poverty, and about specific works and programs. But our intellectual formation also demands that we take the time to read about our heritage, the words and deeds of our saints and blessed, as well as to devote time to personal study of Holy Scripture.

Finally, ministerial formation comes from a commitment to our vocation as mission, accepting our service as a means to our growth, and remaining open to all ways to serve, including servant leadership.

Our particular way of being Catholic, our particular process of becoming, is our Vincentian vocation. We follow, in every part of our lives, our Vincentian pathway towards becoming what Christ calls us to be, “perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


In what way was I formed today? How did I grow closer to holiness?

Recommended Reading

Faces of Holiness

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.


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.


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.


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]


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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

    Skip to content