Contemplation: Not to Be Forgotten

Contemplation: Not to Be Forgotten

Contemplation: Not to Be Forgotten 656 656 SVDP USA

There are thousands of agencies, organizations, and individuals who offer assistance to the poor. In our Conferences we often get to know them and refer neighbors to them when it seems they may be better able to provide for the needs we’ve encountered. We live in a very wealthy nation, filled with generous people. What is it then, that sets the Society apart? What do we bring to the neighbor?

In Frédéric’s time, also, there were other organizations, many of them better funded than the fledgling Society. Yet, he observed, “help is generally dispensed with such culpable indifference.” [1457, Report, 1834] Now, as in Frédéric’s time, our primary purpose in visiting the neighbor is not merely to bring them material assistance. Anybody can do that, and if we measured success in bread alone, it could probably be delivered more efficiently by Amazon, but if we believe as we say, that the hungry one is Christ, surely we are called to do more than toss a loaf of bread on His porch.

In a beloved scene from the 1947 movie Monsieur Vincent, the saint explains that “Only because of your love, and your love only, will the poor forgive you for the bread you’re giving them.” More important than what we give is the manner in which we give it – not carefully measured out from our treasuries, but poured out from our hearts. For Frédéric, this devotion is what prevented Conferences from “degenerating to welfare bureaus.” [182, to Lallier, 1838] The assistance we offer is guided by “the inspirations of the heart rather than the calculations of the mind.” [82, to Curnier, 1834]

And after all, a loaf of bread or an electric bill are only temporary comforts; bringing more of them doesn’t really make them less so. As Frédéric observed, “a donation of bread and money is very meager compared to the support our religion requires us to bring for the comfort of sick souls.” [1457, Report, 1834] As our Rule still reminds us, “Vincentians should never forget that giving love, talents, and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14]

We are called to serve in hope; not the hope of a paid bill, a full belly, or a word of practical advice. All those things, as important as they may be in the moment, will pass. We are called to bring with us what Pope Benedict XVI called the “great hope that cannot be destroyed.” [Spe Salvi, 35]

The poet Maya Angelou once said that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So it is with the neighbors we serve. They will forget the groceries or the light bill; those things anybody can bring. But through our visit, they will feel no longer ashamed, no longer forgotten, no longer alone. They will feel loved — by us, and by the God who sent us.


Do I, in my actions and my manner, always reassure the neighbor of God’s love?

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  • Robin Wilkinson, SSVdP Oakland District Council, February 26, 2024 at 10:15 am

    We as Vincentians have this within our soul and our being.
    There is no question that we are ,” The Society of St Vincent de Paul “.
    you can count on us that we are there for all our Friends in Need.
    Come to Detroit, we know how to do it right!!
    please National, visit us.

    • Timothy P Williams February 27, 2024 at 1:43 pm

      I will be in Detroit next weekend, giving a retreat for your Board of Directors, and I will be there again in April to give a talk at your General Assembly – I am looking forward to it!

  • So many of our neighbors are grateful just to bee heard. Our gift of listening is often the biggest gift we bring to the lonely, the desperate, the abandoned by friends and family. I have actually had a neighbor thank me for a hug. A Hug. Imagine in our own lives when we have taken that kind of human contact for granted?

    • Timothy P Williams February 28, 2024 at 10:22 am

      This is my personal experience through many hundreds of home visits over the years – and especially in my relationships with the homeless. It is very difficult (for us) when we don’t have the means to help, but the fact that we care enough to visit, to listen, and to pray carries people through a lot; the fact that somebody knows your name, and wants to know how you are doing. We never stop trying to help, but that’s never really the main point of the visit.

      • Tim,
        Your message was “right on”. This is from 2 Vincentians’ from your “old” group with St. Elizabeth Seton in Plano Tx. You gave us a wonderful start and we are trying our best daily to live up to the standards we learned from you.
        I still can read some of your comments in the records of our original neighbors 10 years ago. They are inspiring. You and Zoe shined with Christ’s love and compassion. Thank you for your stellar example, Hank and Janice Mappes

        • Timothy P. Williams March 12, 2024 at 10:05 pm

          I was in Plano a few weeks ago, Janice, and went to Mass at the new Seton. I saw Mike Seibold at Mass – I was hoping I’d run into you guys, too!

  • Hands down this is one of the most ridiculous analogies of our service to our Neighbors in Need. So it is more important to give our love over paying their bill. The two acts go hand in hand. I can’t imagine not paying the NINs electric bill and not showing them live with that act of charity. So very sad that the person who wrote this article thinks that they are inspiring us to give more of ourselves in our service to our NIN. They obviously have not done an interview with a NIN whose power was just turned off with children in the house. Yes we show them Christ’s love and then we get the POWER BACK ON.

    • Timothy P Williams February 27, 2024 at 2:30 pm

      Thank you for your honesty, Jerry. I’m very sorry my essay was unclear. It isn’t an analogy at all, it’s a description of our vocation, whose primary purpose, as we know, is not our charitable works, nor the material assistance we offer.

      One of Frederic’s favorite books of the Bible was the Letter of James, which reminds us that: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16) St. James is not telling us to choose one or the other. He is telling us that, while important, the paying of the bills is not the priority in itself, but as an expression of our love for God and neighbor.

      Paying the bills is important (it’s why the neighbor called us!) but it is never more important than the love we bring. If it were, we could do all of this through online forms, without ever meeting the neighbor. How then, would they, and we, grow closer in community, and be drawn closer to God? In what sense would we then be the visible signs of Christ’s church that we are called to be, evangelizing through the example of our faith?

      There are many times, of course, that we simply don’t have the funds to provide for every material need, but we don’t simply walk away from the neighbor. As Blessed Frederic explained, we should “Go to the unhappy poor with your offering, no matter how small it may be. If we had but the widow’s mite to offer, the poor will at least have had the consolation of having clasped the hand of a friend…”

      Thank you again for taking the time to read and to comment, my Vincentian friend. Pray for me.

  • Martin Joseph McNally February 27, 2024 at 2:28 am

    In our conference (St. Mary’s, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) we try to not only listen to the people we visit, but we share parts
    of our own lives with our friends. We share stories and experiences from our own lives that relate to what our friend
    is going through. This makes the home visit more of a shared experience rather than just helping them with rent or food
    or electric. This is our way of being the love of Christ to that person or family.

  • Wonderful Contemplation. We have to feel good and thankful for our time with SVdP.

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