Contemplation: Fulfilling His Promise

Contemplation: Fulfilling His Promise

Contemplation: Fulfilling His Promise 1080 1080 SVDP USA

A young Vincentian, complaining about Conference meetings, noted that the members seemed discouraged, that they were just doing good works “by habit”, and that the meeting “is nearly always concerned with business, it seems long.” It’s no wonder members with this experience question the Rule’s requirement that we meet twice a month. [Rule, Part I, 3.3.1] Who would want to be subjected to that twice a month? Yet the International Council General’s commentary makes clear that twice a month is only a minimum — Conferences are expected to meet every week “to talk about all the issues — concerning the poor, and concerning God.[Rule and Commentary]

It would seem they are talking about two very different sorts of meetings. Indeed, that young Vincentian didn’t seem to be attending Conference meetings whose purpose, as the Manual tells us, is “less to conduct business than to celebrate and deepen its unity for essentially spiritual reasons.” [Manual, 18] And it seems unlikely that he was complaining about the meetings the Rule describes as being “held in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4]

It’s easy to fall into habits formed in business, or other organizations, in which meetings become a place, as the old joke goes, “where minutes are kept, and hours are wasted.” Conference meetings in the Society are meant to be a sacred place where members pray, reflect on their service and their faith, and grow in friendship and holiness together, not in isolation. We are not a service delivery organization, and we never have been. We serve for love alone. Our primary purpose is our growth in holiness, and as Frédéric explained, “fidelity to meetings, and union of intention and prayer are indispensable to this end”. [182, to Lallier, 1838]

When our meetings become too business-focused, it shouldn’t be a cause for discouragement, but a cause to rededicate our meetings to prayer and friendship. After all, that young, complaining Vincentian was Frédéric Ozanam, and he was writing about the very first Conference less than two years after it was formed. [90, to Curnier, 1835] Shortly after that letter, the first Rule was written – the Rule that reminds us still that “members meet as brothers and sisters with Christ in the midst of them, in Conferences that are genuine communities of faith and love, of prayer and action.” [Rule, Part I, 3.3]

The spiritual reflection is not merely a checkbox on the agenda. It is the main reason we meet, and the time we devote to it should reflect that. When we spend our time together in this way, we will find, as Frédéric soon did, that “by seeing each other more often, we love one another all the more; seeing even more of us gathered together in the name of Him who promised to be among those who gather in his name, one feels all the more keenly that his promise is fulfilled.” [1372, to the General Assembly, 1838]


Do I invite Christ to my Conference meetings, reflecting with my friends on our service in His name?

Recommended Reading

The Manual – especially “Conference Meetings” p. 18 – 19

  • Thank you for posting this. I’m printing it and am going to reference it at our next Conference meeting. My favorite sentence: “We are not a service delivery organization and we never have been.” Yes yes, we have our food and vouchers, and lately an increasingly depressing amount of rent and utility payments are being made by us, but if we are not strengthening our spiritual connection with God and inviting and inspiring our neighbors to do the same, we might as well be driving for Amazon. Again, thanks.

  • I have been very impressed with these Contemplation emails. They just recently began to show up in my inbox and I’m very grateful. I will forward them on to our members but is there a way that those who wish to, can sign up? Thanks

  • I find that relationships are very important when working for charities that help those less fortunate. We at times can become too corporate and giving could be considered just a job. Prayer in doing is key as we all know. If we do things just to get things done, we are losing the point. Gathering together with others that help the poor is so nice., Getting to know each other and networking can be very rewarding in helping others., thanks for this nice article!

  • I really do not know of conferences or districts that meet twice a month. However we are always in communication via email or phone calls. Once the past practice of monthly meetings has been established it would be very difficult to commit to two. In fairness though the conferences, when they get together to serve their neighbors-in-need always start out with prayers. So the Vincentians do get their “growing in holiness” that way.

    Brian in MI

    • Timothy P Williams February 14, 2024 at 12:31 pm

      It’s probably important here to note that meeting twice a month is not optional – it’s the minimum required by the Rule.

      In my own experience, I find a “culture” of meetings can spread within Councils. I’ve visited (and a member of) Councils in which all Conferences meet weekly, and nobody thinks that’s too much. I’ve also encountered Councils where meetings are less frequent, and even below the minimum, and it always tends to be because members have come to view them as business meetings – which they are not.

      Can a Conference conduct their business via email and phone? Absolutely! But that’s never been the primary reason for Conference meetings nor the primary purpose of the Society.

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