Contemplation — Let Us Open Our Hearts

Contemplation — Let Us Open Our Hearts

Contemplation — Let Us Open Our Hearts 1080 1080 SVDP USA

When we think about the meaning of friendship, particularly as one of our three Essential Elements, we could hardly have a better role model than Blessed Frédéric Ozanam. Friendship was so central to his life, and to the founding of the Society, that two of his biographers chose to highlight this in the titles of their books: The Great Friend, by Albert Schimberg, and My Friend Ozanam, by Pere Lacordaire.

Shimberg says of Frédéric that he “had a genius for friendship, which was for him a communion of spirits, a meeting of minds. He poured out his heart in letters to his friends, was happy when they were happy, shared their disappointments and griefs, let them share his joys and sorrows, gave them counsel and asked for theirs. Above all, his friendship was an apostolate. He prayed with his friends; in life and after death he asked for their prayers.” [Shimberg, 313]

In Frédéric’s words and actions we see friendship’s intimate connection to both service and spirituality, and it is through this connection that it becomes essential – the essence of the Society. In addition to praying for and with one another, he wrote, “the strongest tie, the principle of a true friendship, is charity, and charity could not exist in the hearts of many without sweetening itself from outside. It is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834]

This particular character of friendship in the Society is the means by which we arrive at consensus in our decision-making. We trust one another enough to be honest – to speak with simplicity. Indeed, honest disagreement between friends can only strengthen the friendship. “Let us dare to contradict each other sometimes: truth and concord will end up by banishing strife,” Frédéric wrote to Auguste Materne. “Let us open our hearts and discuss things with wisdom. Our friendship will only become firmer.” [Letter 11 to Materne 1830]

And so it always should be in our Conference meetings. No member should ever feel unable to express disagreement, and no other member should take disagreement as an affront. We are joined together with the common purpose of growing in holiness by serving Christ in the neighbor. It is through the simplicity born of friendship that we reach consensus and alter our plans for the better. Without spirituality, our service is merely work. Without friendship, we won’t “journey together towards holiness…” [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

It was in all three essential elements that Frédéric wished us to grow. May we share in his hope that “as each of us grows older, may we also grow in friendship, piety, and zeal for good!” [Letter 157, to Le Taillandier, 1837]


Is having and being a friend always at the center of my Vincentian service and spirituality?

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The Frédéric Ozanam Story

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