Timothy Williams

Contemplation – Filled With God for the Day

Contemplation – Filled With God for the Day 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are people of prayer. Together as Conferences, we pray to open and close each meeting, retreat, and reflection; we attend Mass together on our Vincentian feast days; we ask God’s blessings upon each other and upon the neighbors we serve. We are, as Blessed Frédéric often said, “united in works and prayers.” [Letter 135 to Bailly,1836]

Our Vincentian vocation, though, is not limited to our Conference meetings or to our works, but is “a vocation for every moment of our lives.” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] Our call to prayer is an individual one. We hear this call repeated throughout our Rule: we “pray before personal encounters or visits” [Part I, 1.7]; we promote “a life of prayer and reflection;” and our “personal lives are characterized by prayer…” [Part I, 2.2]

Saint Vincent de Paul famously began each day with three hours of prayer. And what better way to start the day? Conversing with a God who loves us so much, St. Vincent taught, we will “rise promptly and joyously.” [CCD X:101] Beyond that, he advised, “prayer being your first occupation, your mind may be filled with God for the rest of the day.” [CCD IX:23]

We humble ourselves in prayer, but dwell “more on His strength than on [our] own weakness” in the hope that He will accomplish His good in us and through us. In prayer, we abandon ourselves to what Vincent called “His paternal embrace,” [CCD V:166] and what Frédéric called “the maternal guidance of Providence.” [Letter 310 to Amelie, 1841]

Finally, in our individual prayer, we remember not only to lay out our own needs before God, but the needs of our Vincentian friends. Frédéric once described this mutuality of prayerful intentions as the “one rendezvous where Christian souls are sure of meeting and conversing together.” [Letter 493 to Dufieux, 1843]

Vincentians are people of prayer. It is the basis of our friendship, of our meetings, and of our service. It is through our prayer that we daily recommit ourselves to our vocation, to each other, and to Divine Providence.

Amen!

Contemplate

Is prayer a part of my day — every day?

Recommended Reading

15 Days of Prayer With Blessed Fredric Ozanam

Contemplation – The Joy of Angels

Contemplation – The Joy of Angels 940 788 SVDP USA

To trust in Providence and to do God’s will are two sides of the same coin. After all, without trust in His Providence, doing His will would be merely a chore that would quickly become burdensome. Instead, it should be for us a source of joy!

Our Rule tells us that our Conference meetings are held in a spirit of “Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4] How quickly that spirit of joy went missing in the early days of the Society, Blessed Frédéric recounted to his friend Léonce Curnier, when the Conference began “fulfilling [its] duties from habit,” and was “stricken with a general discouragement.” [Letter 90, 1835]

How could it be otherwise if we merely deliver bread and pay bills; if we let our works become … work?

Like our Patron, we seek to “love God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows,” [CCD XI:32]  That sounds an awful lot like work, but it is a labor, quite explicitly, of love! Knowing this, we soon see that however challenging it may be at times, “those very things that we thought would cause us pain, on the contrary give us joy.” [CCD X:50]

Charity itself is not work, but love – the love of God. That is why, as St. Vincent teaches, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] The outcome is never up to us, but when we seek to do His will, we can trust the outcome to His providence.

And so, through prayer, discernment, and reflection, individually and in our Conferences, we seek to know God’s will. As Vincentians, our ultimate goal is for God’s will to become our own, so that “it will be no longer [we] who love, but Christ who loves through [us]” [Rule, Part I, 2.1]

Benet of Canfield, a great influence on St Vincent, taught that God’s will is “all the whole spiritual life.” That is why, for Vincent, “the goodness of God, the Will of God, the pleasure of God, and the joy of God” were of one piece. [CCD X:86]

To do God’s will is not to labor in vain, but to serve in hope, and to rejoice in hope!

At the beginning of every Conference meeting, we say the Lord’s Prayer, asking that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. “Not as it is in Hell, where it is done of necessity,” Bl. Frédéric once explained, “nor among men, where it is often done with murmuring, but as it is in Heaven, with the love and the joy of angels.” [Baunard, 343]

Contemplate

When I feel that I am doing His will, do I open my heart to joy?

Recommended Reading

Instead of reading, watch this particularly joyful rendition of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth.

Contemplation: A Voice That Speaks To Our Hearts

Contemplation: A Voice That Speaks To Our Hearts 940 788 SVDP USA

On his way to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus, feared Roman tormentor of the early Christians, was struck from his horse, temporarily blinded by a great bolt of lightning, and commanded by Christ Himself to cease his persecution. Soon after, he began to preach God’s word as Paul the Apostle.

For most of us, our moments of conversion are not so obvious. Instead, they require senses that are both open and willing to perceive a light, silent sound, a tiny whispering voice, a voice that speaks only to our hearts.

God speaks often enough to our heart,” St. Vincent assures us, “it’s up to us to be attentive to His voice…” [CCD X:128] It’s easy for a quiet voice to be lost in the moment; to be drowned out by our daily stresses. It’s easy to let those stresses harden our hearts.

As Vincentians, we are called to see Christ’s face in those we serve. We pray and prepare to see Him before every home visit. Shouldn’t we also seek to hear His voice?

The voice that says to us “I need your help,” also is whispering, quietly but insistently, “I am here.”

If we don’t understand Him immediately, that’s okay. God speaks outside of time; His voice is still there to be heard when we pause to reflect on our experiences, to discern what He is telling us. We do this through individual contemplation and prayer, but also through Apostolic Reflection within our Conferences, relying on what Father Hugh O’Donnell describes as St. Vincent’s “absolute conviction that ‘God is here!’”

Our hearts are converted in many small moments, calling us sometimes to leaps, but more often to smalls steps of faith, “content to see the stone on which we should step without wanting to discover all at once and completely the windings of the road.” [Letter 136. To François Lallier, 1836]

Like Saul walking in blindness down the road to Damascus, we take our first, stumbling steps, however small they are, knowing that “God is especially pleased to bless what is little and imperceptible: the tree in its seedling, man in his cradle, good works in the shyness of their beginnings.” [Letter 310, to Amelie, 1841]

Contemplate

Reflect on a recent Vincentian experience. Can you hear God’s voice?

Recommended Reading

Apostolic Reflection with Rosalie Rendu

Contemplation – Putting Ourselves First?

Contemplation – Putting Ourselves First? 940 788 SVDP USA

To become a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to dedicate ourselves to serving others, to “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” We hope that our works always are characterized by the Vincentian virtue of selflessness.

And yet, as Bl. Frédéric put it, “it is in our own interest first of all that our association has been established, and if we assemble under the roof of the poor, it is at least equally for them as for ourselves, so as to become progressively better friends.” [82. To Curnier, 1834]

It is an idea he repeated often, and one that remains in our Rule today, “that the end of the Society is especially to rekindle and refresh … the spirit of Catholicism…and that visiting the poor should be the means and not the end of our association.” [182 to Lallier, 1838]

If the Society was formed in our own interest first, what happened to selflessness? Even Frédéric once remarked on the “egoism which is at the bottom of our work…” [82. To Curnier, 1834]

Recalling the Society’s founding, when the young Catholics were challenged to show the good of the church in the world. Frédéric’s answer was not merely to bring bread and firewood to the poor, but, through these works of charity, to share Christ’s love and promise of salvation.

Our works feed our charity, and our charity feeds our friendship, which is what Aquinas calledthe friendship of charity, which is God.”

This friendship grows through our “community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties and preparing [us] to become better … in order to make others happier.” [290, to Amelie, 1841]

As the Apostle John reminds us, “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

We make our home visits for love alone; the most important thing we share with our neighbors is ourselves.

In other words, if our purpose in the Society is to better ourselves, it is ultimately for the benefit of others; to make of ourselves more worthy gifts.

Contemplate

Do I see the face of Christ in my fellow Vincentians?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Louise de Marillac, especially Meditation 14: Love One Another

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness

Contemplation – Together Towards Holiness 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

Contemplation: Our Labor of Love

Contemplation: Our Labor of Love 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

Or do we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate
Do I serve my neighbor for love alone?

Recommended Reading
Vincentian Meditationsespecially 23. The Vincentian Witness

Contemplation: God’s Gift, Wrapped in Humility

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

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

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

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

To be God’s gift, then, is a call not to vanity, but to our Vincentian virtue of humility in which we accept that “all that God gives us is for others and that we can achieve nothing of eternal value without His grace.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1]

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

And in giving, we receive.

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity

Contemplation – The Joy of Communion

Contemplation – The Joy of Communion 940 788 SVDP USA

Our journey towards holiness will be more fruitful, our Rule says, if it includes “devotion to the Eucharist” [Rule, Part I, 2.2] which “plays a major role in Vincentian spirituality.” [Manual, p.65] The Eucharist unifies us and sends us forth.

The spiritual dimension of our Vincentian Formation teaches us that our pathway is a shared one, that we are meant to grow in holiness together as members of a community of faith.

Bl. Frédéric once said that although they might not be with him, when he received Communion he was “in close touch with my friends, all united to the same Saviour.” [Baunard, 381] After his mother’s death, he said that he believed that when the Savior visited, his mother “follow[ed] him into my poor heart.” [Baunard, 158]

In this, he echoed St. Louise, who reminds us that “Holy Communion with the Body of Jesus Christ causes us truly to participate in the joy of the Communion of Saints in Paradise.” [Spiritual Writings, A.15]

The Eucharist, which takes its name from the Greek word for giving thanks, is a gift we receive because Christ’s love is “inventive to infinity.” [SVdP, CCD XI:131] Having received Him, we must thank God “by our desire to honor Him in all the actions of our lives.” [St. Louise, Spiritual Writings, A.15]

Following Mass, filled with the “power of conviction,” [Baunard, 342] Bl. Frédéric always visited the poor of his Conference on his walk home. As his biographer Monsignor Baunard put it, he “returned to Our Lord, in the person of His suffering poor, the visit which he had just received from Him in the Holy Eucharist.” [Baunard, 209]

And so, having taken the Body of Christ into our own, we see that Jesus brings “not only Himself … but also all the merits of His mysteries.” [Spiritual Writings, M.8B]

Sending Louise on a mission, Vincent advised her to go to Communion on the day of her departure, so that Christ may “bless your journey, giving you His spirit and the grace to act in this same spirit, and to bear your troubles in the way He bore His.” [CCD I:65]

This sacrament is central to our Vincentian Vocation for the same reason it is the church’s “foundation and wellspring.” [Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 5] Through the Eucharist we are united not only with Christ, but with our entire human community; we are fortified, strengthened, and called to serve them as He served us. Our service to the poor is the expression of our devotion to the Eucharist.

Contemplate
How can I give thanks for the Eucharist in my Vincentian service?
Recommended Reading

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Encyclical Letter of Pope Saint John Paul II

Contemplation – Our Unlimited Resources

Contemplation – Our Unlimited Resources 940 788 SVDP USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplation – It Would Be Ungrateful Not to Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplate

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

Recommended Reading

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

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