Blessed Frédéric, layman and primary founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, is considered the primary role model for members of the Society. In his words and in his deeds Frédéric leaves us with an example of charity and virtue. At the same time, his words can remind us of our own frailty and of the needs of the neighbors that we serve.
Writing from Lyon, where he was at the time starting out in the practice of law and living with his elderly mother, Frédéric shared with his friend Francois Lallier his experience of what has been called “one of the deepest forms of poverty”:
“At the moment,” he wrote, “I am suffering a malady which will appear strange in a town where I have so many relatives and friends; I mean isolation.” [Letter 173, 1838]
As a lawyer, he argued before the court, and spoke with colleagues and clients daily, but never shared personal conversations. He tended to his mother, who was ill, but could not unburden himself without upsetting her in her frail state.
And so, in the midst of a bustling city, the city in which he’d grown up, in a profession that required interaction and conversation, he nevertheless felt alone.
Don’t the poor whom we serve often live and work in some of the most crowded areas of our cities? Don’t they walk down streets filled with people? They walk right past us, in our coffee shops and restaurants, or we breeze past them, phones pressed to our ears, without so much as a glance, or a smile.
To whom can they speak? With whom can they share their thoughts, their needs, their hopes, their discouragements? Who will hear them? Who will listen?
Perhaps the increased isolation we all have experienced this past year will help us to better appreciate our Essential Element of friendship, meant to be shared not only with each other, but with our neighbors in need.
Perhaps, like Frédéric, we will “appreciate now by its privation the whole value of the spoken word, how much more it cultivates thought than the dead letter of the greatest writers.” [Letter 173, 1838]
In the poor we are called to see Christ, the Incarnate Word. With our words we share not just information, but what our Rule [2.5.1] calls us to share: ourselves.
How can I better offer words of comfort, healing, and friendship?