Mom passed away years ago, but she left each of us a cookbook of family recipes. Over the Christmas break, I prepared to bake her blue ribbon-winning coconut pound cake for one night’s dessert. I laid out all of the contents in front of me, followed the directions and eventually had the cake batter ready to put into the oven. That’s when I noticed that I had left out one ingredient – the flaked coconut!
I had used some coconut extract, which is a great invention if you otherwise would need to squeeze actual coconuts, so there was some flavor. And it was still a pound cake. If needed I could have explained that “generic pound cake” was the original intent, not the county fair recipe, but Mom might have struck me down with a spiritual rolling pin! Fortunately, there was still time to add in the flakes, re-stir, and pop it into the oven. Dessert and many calories ensued.
How often do we start on a project, have something change on us, and then we just “make do?” As Society members, we get a great idea, and lay out all of the plans and “ingredients.” Then real life happens, and we no longer have the time, talent or funds we originally envisioned. Or we get so excited about one of the specifics that it changes the nature of the original project. The result is still good, and maybe even very good. What it might not be, however, is Vincentian.
The omission or change of one detail may have had us drift from the parameters of our charism or our Rule. That event may still be an excellent service project, but it became one that any social service agency or nonprofit could have conducted. Sometimes we leave out, or forget, one of our Essential Elements of Spirituality, Friendship, and Service. Yes, it’s a committee meeting, for example, but if it doesn’t have all three Elements, it isn’t a Vincentian meeting.
Fortunately, we have a Society of St. Vincent de Paul recipe and all the basic ingredients right in front of us. It’s called our Mission Statement. Check off the ingredients with me: A network of friends. Gospel Values inspiration. Growth in Holiness. Build a more just world. Personal relationships. Service to people in need. These are all just as vital as flour and eggs are to a cake batter.
Need some extra flavorings? Look no further than our Society’s seven Cultural Beliefs, and sprinkle as many of them as possible liberally throughout your recipe.
Maybe you are the Bobby Flay of Society activities and don’t need a written recipe. Most of us, however, aren’t master chefs as much as we are technicians who (usually) are good at following directions such as a recipe. We refer as needed to the wisdom and successes of our founders and others who have come before us to create, or re-create, what still works in today’s many local neighborhood “kitchens.” There is always room for new innovations, but we agree as members to stick to our Rule just as bakers rely on their basic formulas to make bread rise. We hope to rise, too!
Just as mom left us her family cookbook so that her descendants could enjoy the fruits – and meats and veggies and desserts – of her labors, trials, and errors over a lifetime, our Society founders and other leaders wrote down for all of us members today what they learned, experienced and envisioned. In my case I can’t remember mom’s recipes, nor can I recite our Rule. I can, however, tell you where it is all written down for me to review when I need it.
When I pulled mom’s cookbook off the kitchen shelf, I could not help but remember her and smile. When I quite regularly pull the Society’s Rule off my office shelf to look up a particular Statute, I smile in memory of Blessed Frederic and all the others who have left us such a rich and powerful legacy of good governance and Vincentian values. Neither are just books; they are blessings!
May your Conference cook up something wonderful, and wonderfully Vincentian, in 2023!
Yours in Christ,