The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is blessed with many active youth and young adult members, whose fresh enthusiasm for the Lord’s work infuses all of us with renewed energy in our vocation. Like the first Conference, formed by young men barely out of their teens, we seek out and welcome young members! For the rest of us, though, our own advancing age does not excuse us, as our Rule reminds us, from striving “to preserve the spirit of youth.” [Rule, Part I, 3.5]
Blessed Frédéric often invoked the spirit of youth in his speeches and writing, beginning when he was a student. He was acutely aware that others might find him “very rash to propose [his] young man’s ideas,” [Letter 85, to Bailly, 1834] yet he proposed them anyway. He even went so far as to once say that his ideas really were not even his own, but “the echo of the young Christian people among whom I live.” [Letter 97, to Curnier, 1835]
It was Frédéric’s vision not only that a network of charity might encircle the world, but that renewing the faith in young people would carry on throughout their lives, and in turn light a fire in the hearts of their countrymen. Recognizing the Society as “a vocation for every moment of our lives,” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] he believed it could help to prepare “a new generation which would carry into science, the arts, and industry, into administration, the judiciary, the bar, the unanimous resolve to make it a moral country and to become better themselves in order to make others happier.” [Letter 290, to Amelie, 1841]
Throughout his life Frédéric continued not only to call on young people to serve, but to be energized by the fire of the young people in his classes and in the Society, by what our Rule calls their “enthusiasm, adaptability and creative imagination.” [Rule, Part I, 3.5]
As Vincentians, we grow together in holiness and in friendship, challenged by youth to greater energy and ambition; tempered by age to seek the achievable; each of us at our stage in life blessed by the gifts of all the others, united in work that is ageless and timeless.
Founded 188 years ago, the Society itself “is not old,” wrote Ozanam biographer Monsignor Louis Baunard. Rather, “it is, and continues to be, young with eternal youth, with the youth of Charity that knows not decay.” [Baunard, 416]
“Life is however not standing still,” Frédéric wrote late in his life, “and I shall have to seize whatever little youth remains…and to keep my 18-year-old promise to God.” [Baunard, 331]
As I grow older, how do I keep my promise to God young?