Vincentian Spirituality

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 – 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: 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: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them?

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them? 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are called to serve the hungry, the homeless, the poor — all those who are suffering or deprived. Doing this work can sometimes lead us to discouragement, because we see so many problems we cannot solve, and we know that today’s groceries won’t satisfy next month’s hunger.

And after all, who are we to try to ease the suffering of others when we are weighed down by burdens of our own?

Writing to his lifelong friend Ernest Falconnet, Bl. Frédéric once confided that many times he felt burdened by his own problems and worries, but then he went “into the dwelling of a poor person confided to my care. There, because so many unfortunates have more to complain about than I, I scolded myself for being discouraged.” [15 Days of Prayer, p.81]

The poor will always be with us, as surely as our own hunger will return each day. This is why our Rule reminds us, we “should never forget that giving love, talents, and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Pt. I, 3.14]

Our primary purpose is not the feeding, but the sharing, and in the end, whatever loaves and fishes we have to offer will be enough for God’s plan, if we share them for love alone. And as we comfort, we will in turn be comforted, just as the five loaves and two fish, shared by Christ’s disciples, returned to them as twelve baskets filled with food.

To invert the old saying, “there because of the grace of God go I.” There to the poor; there to the hungry; there to deprivation and to sadness; there to Him who beckons us; there to Him who comforts and redeems us, even as we, “weak Samaritans,” seek to offer comfort.

As Bl. Frédéric taught, the poor are “the messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and charity…” [O’Meara, p. 177]

How can we ever tire, or be discouraged, when what we offer is to Christ Himself? As Frédéric realized when those impoverished families lifted his spirit:

“From that time on, how could I not love them?”

Contemplate

In giving, do I keep my heart open to receiving?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat   More a novel than a biography, this is an inspirational story of Frédéric’s life.

Contemplation – Being That Kind of Person

Contemplation – Being That Kind of Person 940 788 SVDP USA

Why does it sometimes seem difficult to withhold judgment when we visit our neighbors in need?

In his famous essay “The Undeserving Poor,” [Serving in Hope, Module IV] the late Bishop Kenneth Untener explains how easy it is to serve a poor child, because they can’t help it if they’re poor, and they haven’t the ability to work their way out of it.

They are not the ones that are difficult to serve – it’s the ones who seem to be the cause of their own problems; the ones we help up only to see them fall again. You know – those kind of people.

In his biography of Sister Stanislaus Malone, Nun with a Gun, biographer Eddie Doherty recounts the story of Sister Helen, an older nun who once told an alcoholic to leave and not come back, saying “it would be a waste” of time and resources to keep helping him when he would only start drinking again.

The man left, but not before reminding her that she did not know the temptations he had faced.

After he left, Sister Helen sobbed at her own failure of charity, saying, “What right had I to assume he would succumb again to the evils of drink? How many battles has he won? Nobody knows. I think only of the battles he has lost – and the battles I myself have won.”

It is easy to remember that time we beat temptation, or pulled ourselves out of difficulties by our bootstraps, and to let it color our judgment of the failures of others. We forgive and forget our own failures of will or of virtue, because deep inside we understand that our failures don’t define us; that however our own stumbles may be seen by others, we are “not that kind of person.”

It was because of this human fallibility that St. Vincent taught that we should “get in the habit of judging events and persons, always and in all circumstances, for the good. If an action has a hundred facets to it…always look at its best side… even though intelligence and human prudence tell us the contrary.” [CCD XI:638]

Perhaps this is part of Christ’s meaning when he commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mt 22:39] Love is offering not only our assistance, but our understanding, our patience, and the benefit of the doubt.

Because we are all made in His image, and we are all “that kind of person.”

Contemplate

How can I better “see the good” in all circumstances?

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Meditation II – especially 10. Expecting and Seeing

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)

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old expression that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and I suspect most of us can confirm this from our own personal experience. Nobody wants advice from a sourpuss; many will even decline a helping hand offered from beneath a furrowed brow. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in her poem Solitude:

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.

It turns out that cheerfulness is not simply a nice thing to offer but is a necessary component of our Vincentian virtue of gentleness.

It is true that some people, as St. Vincent de Paul once explained, are gifted by God with a “cordial, gentle, happy manner, by which they seem to offer you their heart and ask for yours in return,” while others, “boorish persons like [himself,] present themselves with a stern, gloomy, or forbidding expression…” [CCD XII:156]

But a virtue, our Catechism tells us, is “habitual and firm disposition to do good.” [Catechism:1833] Habits, good and bad, can be changed, and our disposition towards cheerfulness can be natural, or it can be acquired.

St. Vincent reminded his missioners of Christ’s great gentleness through His own sorrows, His own suffering. Throughout His passion “no angry word escaped Him,” and even at the moment of His betrayal He greeted Judas as “friend.” [CCD XII:159]

As in all things, we seek to follow Christ’s example, to accept our own suffering, as Vincent once said, “as a divine state,” confident that our true hope lies in doing His will. And if we truly seek to “serve in hope,” our very countenances should shine with confidence, hope, and good cheer – especially so every time we are blessed to serve Christ in the person of His poor.

As Vincent reminded Louise: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84]

Contemplate: What is keeping me from smiling, and how can I surrender it to God?

Recommended Reading: Vincentian Meditations

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