When we retire, or ultimately when God call us home, we think about what we accomplished. We also think about what we have left behind for others who follow behind us. Did we destroy things in our wake, do little or nothing, or leave a foundation of strength for others to continue to build upon?
It’s not about me, but as examples I’m proud to be an Eagle Scout but much prouder to have helped dozens of other young men to reach the same rank. I’m a pretty fair communications pro, but there are a dozen even better nonprofit PR professionals who survived working under me to become leaders. Most dear to my heart, the time and attention invested along with my wife to raise a child pays dividends every day with a young high school teacher and coach who calls me Dad. You doubtless have many of your own great examples!
It is often not about personal lineage but about culture and experience. As Vincentians we live out in practice the lessons of Vincent, Louise, Frederic, Rosalie, and others who served before us. We often ask how we might undertake a project in the way a former President would have done it, or certainly how the Society’s culture prescribes as written down in our beloved Rule.
God gives each of us gifts at different times in our lives, be they time or talents, friendship or funds, hope or help. How do we spend them now for the greater good, and then how do we leave some of them behind for the next generation of our family, and for our next generation of our Vincentian friends? These are questions for us as individuals, as a family, and even as a Conference.
The poor will always be with us. The challenges of today, however, may look quite different tomorrow, and may even be in different places. For example, America looked quite different 100 years ago. The Church is experiencing today the result of not paying attention to demographic changes that happened slowly over the decades. Real estate did not move with the population and demographics or languages. Jobs moved. Infrastructures crumbled. Economies shifted for better or worse. Our own families dispersed across the country and even the world.
Fortunately, the Society serves everywhere, and we can take a national, even global approach to poverty and disaster relief. We can build new Conferences while combining others when parishes are forced to close. Through Twinning, we can move resources from more advantaged areas to those in need. Our legacy as the Society stays the same; we serve people where they live.
As an older social construct in America, the Society can think and act across time. At more than 177 years old, we have seen it all – wars, pandemics, depressions, you name it – and we’re still here and still serving. We might make adjustments and deliver our works differently to fit the times and the safety requirements, but we are still here, two at a time and at your door, help in hand as the Face of Christ. That’s a legacy to keep going, isn’t it?
When we come together for the National Assembly in Baltimore, we will talk about our legacy as individuals and how each of us can take action to reflect what is likely already in our hearts. We can commit to continue to serve the Society in serving our beloved poor after we ourselves are called home. We will go home to rest, but our resources will be able to work on our behalf by those who come after us. And we can do this with just a little planning with our families and our advisers.
Legacy gifts are not at all exclusive to the wealthy. Anyone can, and should, have a will to protect their family. Many of the bequest gifts we receive at the National Council are from working people who leave a small to moderate amount, and these gifts are added together with many others to make a huge difference. You know, just like your Vincentian service now.
Vincentians don’t try to wish away the problems of the poor; we help families to solve them. We can do the same for the desired future of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul itself. Rather than just hope for its strong and sustainable future, we can help to build it. We can do this in part through prayer, yes of course, but also through the simple yet intentional act of thoughtful, prayerful giving. I ask you to join me in this legacy activity in the near future.
Yours in Christ,