Dear Vincentian Friends,
Over the years, I have observed a few things about the Conferences that regularly attract new members. Here are three notable characteristics that I see in these Conferences. First, they engage members frequently in activities that involve direct contact with neighbors in need. Second, they pray together and share their personal spiritual journeys. Third, the members enjoy each other’s company and share a sense of humor. I hope all of that sounds like your Conference.
We often focus on the first two points, but we should not underestimate the importance of the third. Last month in his annual Circular Letter, our international president, Renato Lima de Oliveira, announced that this year we would study Jules Gossin, our second international president. Gossin also wrote annual Circular Letters giving advice to the members of the Society.
In his letter dated Nov. 1, 1847, Gossin wrote, “No Conference offends against propriety or charity, because laughter is allowed amongst its members. Sometimes laughter is even excellent: it revives attention, prevents sleep, excites cordiality and appeases too violent discussions. It would no doubt be improper to go to a Conference meeting in hopes of finding or provoking occasions of hilarity. We must, on the contrary, consider attendance at the Conference as a serious duty. But it is no contradiction to consider a Charitable Society quite seriously, and at the same time to yield to the free and communicative gaiety that pervades it at certain times.”
Economic conditions were extremely poor in late 1847. France was in a depression, and revolution was in the air again. In 1847 most of our members were young professional men. Jules Gossin was an older, well-established lawyer and magistrate; like Emmanuel Bailly, he was a bit of a father figure to them. He was very experienced in working with the poor of Paris and knew the challenges our members faced. In this tense environment, he takes the time in his annual letter to encourage them to enjoy each other’s company and suggests that they welcome humor in their meetings.
This is still good advice for us today. The work we do can be difficult and discouraging. We know that we need to have a spiritual foundation for our efforts. We rely on God’s grace to get us through, but our work is made easier when we serve with friends who can find occasions to laugh.
I enjoy studying the history of our founders because I see how they had the same thoughts and struggles that we have today. We are part of a long line of Christians trying to live out our faith by serving our neighbors in need. Gossin shared his lived experience, which can still be meaningful to us today. Here is a gem found in the same letter quoted above, and it’s a piece of advice I have found to be profoundly true: “Of all the consolations which we can afford the poor, the greatest and rarest is that given by our ear, when we listen to them.”
Father figure that he was, Jules Gossin ended this – his final presidential Circular Letter – by encouraging the members to moderate their use of the “pipe, cigar and cigarette” and to “resolve to buy bread every day with what we save.” He observed that “soon we shall be both surprised and delighted at enjoying better health and at having supported some poor person.”
Some form of moderation may be part of our Lenten practice at this time of the year. We can take Gossin’s advice and “resolve to buy bread every day with what we save” to support those needing our help. Let’s also take his advice by making our Conference meetings enjoyable. Does anyone want to share a humorous Lenten story?
Serviens in spe,
National Council President