Contemplation — The Greatest Need

Contemplation — The Greatest Need

Contemplation — The Greatest Need 1080 1080 SVDP USA

The parable of the good Samaritan is a Vincentian favorite, and a powerful allegory for our own home visit, reminding us that Christ calls us very directly to serve the neighbor. Perhaps this beloved parable can also shed some light on what our Rule calls “adaptation to a changing world.” [Rule, Part I, 1.6]

The Samaritan cleaned and bandaged wounds, transported the robber’s victim on his own mule, and found shelter for him. Today, other than perhaps performing basic first aid, we would leave all the rest of that work to the paramedics. It isn’t that we’re lazy. Quite the contrary. In our time, it would be irresponsible for us not to call 911 immediately. To find help is also to help.

It would be rare, in our day and age, to find a bloodied robbery victim lying in the street as people look the other way as they pass, and equally rare that the victim’s only possibility for help would be from a stranger passing by. Yet there remain in our modern world many who are overlooked, ignored, or found too burdensome to assist, even if they are not always lying in our path. The Samaritan stopped to help. Vincentians must first “seek out and find those in need and the forgotten.” [Rule, Part I, 1.5]

In many cases, the emergency aid we offer by paying bills, or providing food and clothing are just as urgent as the bandages the Samaritan provided, but as we build relationships with the neighbor, we also identify and help prioritize other needs, not all of which can be referred to other organizations.

In this age of the internet, social media, phones in our pockets that can connect us with thousands of people, and with all the knowledge of history and science literally at our fingertips – with a thousand Facebook friends, people are lonelier and more isolated than ever.

Just as the robber’s victim lay bleeding on the side of a dusty road until one person cared enough to stop, so too do so many of our neighbors lie in desperate need of a connection that they perhaps can’t fully articulate themselves, but it is written on their hearts. It is written also on our hearts, because we are made by God to live in community – in communion – with one another. Each of us draws the others closer to God through our love. When we go to the neighbor it is our presence that matters most.

And when you think about that challenge given to Frédéric and his friend so many years ago, it was not a challenge to see how many bundles of firewood could be delivered; it was a challenge to show the good of the church in the modern world. The answer to the challenge was to go to the poor just as Christ came to us.

Anybody can give money. You can even do it online. Like the Samaritan, our founders chose to give of their time, their possessions, and themselves. Let us, as Jesus commanded, go and do likewise.


When I offer assistance, do I truly stop on my path to give my love, talents, and time?

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  • Thank you. It gives us much to contemplate. We must also leave a part of ourselves with those in need.

  • Our conference is the Conference of St. Benedict Church, Covington, KY. Our inspiration is the Bible itself and those who have lived and are living Biblically. When I became the Conference president, I read in one of the SVdP manuals that I was supposed to have some sort of vision. So I said our vision would be “Meaningful Work, Spiritual Connection.” Just four clear words that would apply not only to the people we serve but to us as well. I was quite proud of this vision. But we all know about pride. All I really needed to do was to look to our own conference patron saint, St. Benedict himself, who said “Ora et labora” – prayer and work. Not only did he reduce “my” vision from four words to three, he got the order right.

    The Good Samaritan parable is indeed a powerful allegory for what we as Vincentians do. And we do think that the first thing the Good Samaritan does is to literally stop the bleeding and bandage the wounds. But as Allen Hunt, author of “Nine Words” says, that unlike the two Jewish leaders that passed by, “the Samaritan gets off his donkey and does something.” This seems so obvious. Of course you have to get off your donkey first before you can help someone. But the two important Jewish leaders weren’t able to do it. They were presented with the exact same scenario and were given the same opportunity as the Samaritan, but for whatever reason they could not and did not help. Another important part of the story is not reflected upon. What did the Samaritan do after he bandaged the wounds, took the man to the innkeeper, and paid money for him? He left. He had formed a very short-lived but legitimate Friendship, but then he had to be off about his own business and life, although we can be sure that if another needed his help at some point he’d react in the same way all over again. But he had established a good starting point for the injured man to get back to living his own authentic life.

    You have stated, and stated well, that . . . “many of our neighbors lie in desperate need of a connection that they can’t fully articulate themselves but it is written on their hearts. It is written also on our hearts, because we are made by God to live in community – in communion – with one another. Each of us draws the other closer to God through our love. When we go to our neighbor it is our presence that matters most.” And it does matter the most. But it’s not everything, and it’s not enough.

    Our mere presence is not enough. Even wonderful loving caring actions are not enough. You’ve stated that our neighbors cannot articulate their need of a direct spiritual connection. It is therefore necessary for us to help them. We do this by Saying Something. We do this by Evangelizing. As Catholics, we fall into this thinking that our example alone is enough. This is nonsense. If ever there was a man who could inspire by deeds alone, who would that be? The only man it could be was Christ. He could literally walk on water. He could heal with a touch. He could raise the dead. He himself could not be killed. If ever there was a man who could inspire people with his deeds alone without saying a single word, it was Him. Did He rely only on His deeds? He did not. He spoke, and He spoke often. Think about what a thin book the New Testament would be if Christ never spoke.

    But, we might argue, we’re not Him. How do we know what to say without coming across as religious do-gooders? And that’s a fair argument. So what we do is to utilize the gifts he has given us. We have his Word in the Bible. We have our priests and sisters to inspire us. We have the ancient saints like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, modern saints like Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa, and Catholic authors like the aforementioned Mr. Hunt and Matthew Kelly, who says we should not merely dabble in generosity but astonish with it. And we have the obvious thing that you already stated, but is so often overlooked. We have our community – our Communion – with each other.

    And we in the St. Vincent de Paul Society are not using this last resource to the fullest, if at all. We have meetings devoted to how many food packages and clothing vouchers and $$$ we gave out, and the Spiritual Poverty of our whole cities is barely mentioned. This needs to start being addressed at Council meetings, and/or at separate Evangelization Meetings. If we don’t start doing this, even if we still make home visits, we aren’t inviting our people to a New Way of Life. And if I’m not bringing the Holy Spirit along with the food and clothing vouchers, then I’m just the Amazon driver and everything is free.

    God also gave us the twelve greatest marketers in human history, thirteen if you count St. Paul. What were they selling?

    They were selling God’s grace. But, our neighbors in need might question,
    Q: What is that?
    A: Grace is an underserved gift.
    Q: How do I get some?
    A: You ask God for it.
    Q: How much can I get?
    A: As much as you want.
    Q: How much does it cost?
    A: It’s totally free.

    Now if we can’t sell that, there is something seriously wrong with us. We need to continue our good actions and work, but we also need to articulate, to speak up, to Evangelize.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking article.

    • Timothy P Williams October 18, 2023 at 1:28 pm

      Thank you, Tom, for your thoughtful comments. You are right that our success should not be measured in dollars, cents, or number of people served. We sometimes confuse “charity” with “works” when they are two separate things, and we can lose sight of our primary purpose – our own growth in holiness.

      That is why it is we who are first evangelized first through our works. After all, we are encountering and serving Jesus Christ, just as He asked. Our works are the primary means for our growth in holiness – the primary purpose of the Society. Certainly, we introduce ourselves as Catholics and Vincentians, and we always offer to pray for the neighbor during our home visits. But those visits are the pouring of the oil and applying of the bandages. They are not the time (especially that first visit) for proselytizing, or “selling”. As our first Rule, written 1835, put it:

      “Another point no less worthy of our consideration is the discretion which should accompany zeal for the salvation of souls. All fervor is not holy or accepted of God. All times are not suitable for instilling new and Christian teaching into the heart. We must know how to wait for God’s own time and to be patient as He is.”

      If we are truly forming “relationships based on trust and friendship” as our Rule calls us to do, it may be helpful to look at the way we evangelize with our other friends. Do we normally interject an invitation to attend Mass at neighborhood barbecues? Among co-workers, do we explain the Eucharist? Perhaps sometimes we do if the conversation naturally flows in that direction. Similarly, when the neighbor asks about our church, we should always share. Those conversations are more likely to occur in later visits, once a relationship is established and we have earned their trust through our humility and gentleness.

      Our call is to evangelize in the model Pope Saint Paul VI described in Evangelii Gaudium as our “wordless witness”. As our patron, Saint Vincent de Paul, once said of our service, we should be “more reserved in their presence, more humble and devout toward God, and more charitable toward your neighbor so that they may see the beauty and holiness of our religion and be moved to return to it.” Just so, Saint James says “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

      We are there not to sell, but to give of our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves. We feed the hungry because the hungry one is Christ. And that most certainly is enough.

  • It is such a tremendous joy to be a part of this wonderful ministry, where we heed the advice of our Lord and our Popes that the Church exists in order to evangelize. Here we are, oh Lord;; we come to do your will. Jesus never fails! ❤️

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