On the very first page of our Rule you will find a truly remarkable statement: “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.3]
All modern communities thrive by specialization; farmers farm, builders build, writers write, and so on. Within the community of charitable and philanthropic organizations, there also tends to be specialization; shelters for the homeless, food pantries for the hungry, utility assistance, legal aid — the list, especially in this generous nation, is nearly endless.
Through specialization, each of us contributing what we are best able to contribute, more needs can be met overall, and this is obviously to the good!
But the Society of St Vincent de Paul not only lacks a specialty, it would seem that we explicitly dismiss specialization.
Or do we?
Vincentians are called, above all else, “to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.” [Rule, Pt. I, 1.2]
Our service, our works, are the means towards growth in holiness; we’re called to see the face of Christ in those we serve, to fulfill His teaching, and to draw others to Christ through our example of charity.
And so, on our Home Visits, when we observe not only additional material needs, but ways in which we might help to alleviate the causes of the neighbor’s distress, we eagerly seek to do so, through our individual efforts, and through our many special works, from Thrift Stores to disaster relief; from tutoring to prison ministries.
None of these works stems from an ambition merely to provide greater amounts of material assistance, but from a commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, then, does have a specialty, but it is the charity, not the works.
We’re not, after all, the Society of Rent Assistance, or of Groceries; we are the Society of St Vincent de Paul, called by the example of our patron to “love God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.”[CCD XI:32] Charity itself is not a work; charity is love. No work offered in love is foreign to us.
And if we truly seek to serve Christ, how can it be otherwise?