One of the most treasured tenets of our Vincentian spirituality is trust in Providence. When our treasuries run low, we trust in Providence to refill them. When we are not sure of the path to take, we trust in Providence to guide us. But Providence is more than simply a generous donor, or a wise friend, and our trust demands much more from us than simply expecting things to work out well.
In our households and our businesses, we prudently set aside money for “rainy days” rather than spend it all on payday, because we have obligations – bills – that will remain, even if our income does not. But what about the works of the Conference, particularly the assistance we give to neighbors in need? These are not, strictly speaking, obligations, and there is no amount of saving up that will assure we can meet them. As an earlier edition of the Rule explains, our works, “being entirely optional, should be from day to day; besides, nothing is more Christian than to trust one’s self to Providence and to count upon its inexhaustible care when the work is undertaken for God. To make a reserve, to have before us a disposable capital which we never touch, to lay out beforehand a budget as in a relief association, are proceedings essentially contrary to the spirit of our Society.” [Rule, 1898, 87]
Our tradition seems almost to defy common sense. Surely it is better to set aside money for those neighbors who will certainly call us next week than to give it all out today! Or, perhaps, giving all we have to meet today’s needs makes the most sense. After all, if a homeless shelter had three vacant beds, who would ever turn away a mom with two kids just to keep those beds open for tomorrow?
The needs presented to us are as unique and unrepeatable as the images of God who present them, and we can never know in advance the best way to help. This is why we are called to “assess each home visit as a unique encounter and … not set predefined limitations on the amount of help to be given or the type of help to be given or the number of times to help someone.”
This apparent conflict between prudence and Providence is as old as the Society. As Bl. Frédéric once explained, “in such a work it is necessary to give yourself up to the inspirations of the heart rather than the calculations of the mind. Providence gives its own counsel through the circumstances around you, and the ideas it bestows on you. I believe you would do well to follow them freely and not tie yourselves down with rules and formulas.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]
To trust in Providence means to abandon ourselves completely to the will of God, and it is from Providence that both donations and the needs of the neighbor are placed before us. If we have the means, we give generously. When we are poor ourselves, we give what little we have. Money can be saved in a bank, but it isn’t money we are trying to save.
Are there times I let worry about tomorrow’s funds obscure the needs before me today?