Contemplation: To Become Better

Contemplation: To Become Better

Contemplation: To Become Better 720 720 SVDP USA

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the largest lay Catholic organization in the world, with about a million members and volunteers in 155 countries around the world. As the primary founder, and inspirational leader of the earliest Conferences, we can very fairly say that Blessed Frédéric Ozanam left a very large legacy – he literally changed the world. Yet we know him to have been a very humble and modest man. Although there is no record of him saying this actual phrase that is often attributed to him, it is very fair to say that he truly sought in his life “to become better, and to do a little good.”

How could such a modest goal become such a great, apostolic legacy? Perhaps it would be better to ask how it could not. After all, the very Kingdom of Heaven, Christ taught, is grown from the smallest of seeds. Frédéric accomplished great things not by setting out to accomplish great things, but by setting out to make himself better by growing closer to Christ, and to share the good news with others. This was his vision for the Society, too, as a “a community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions” made up of members resolved “to become better themselves in order to make others happier.” [Letter 290, to Amélie, 1841]

Frédéric believed that the church offered the solution to “the social question” precisely because it was not of this world; because through the saving word of Jesus Christ we will be able to place all questions in their proper place, and be united by love, not divided by material concerns. At the same time, he recognized the great challenge of this, and asked the very same kinds of questions we often ask ourselves: Am I holy enough? Who am I to try to teach others the path to holiness?

As Frédéric once put it, “how does one make saints without being a saint oneself? How do we preach resignation and courage to the unfortunate when we feel devoid of it ourselves? How do we reproach them for things we too are guilty of?” We’re challenged, he said, when we see “we are equals in infirmity and in virtue often inferior to those we are visiting.” [1372. Report to Gen’l Assly, 1838]

In his deep and lifelong kerygmatic commitment, Frédéric recognized that it is we who are first evangelized when we see that it is Christ we serve, that love of neighbor can never be separated from love of God, and that our own growth in holiness makes each of us not a mighty tree, but something much greater – a tiny mustard seed.

To seek personal holiness might seem, Frédéric conceded, a “motive of personal interest, this egoism which is at the bottom of our work.” [Letter 82, to Curnier, 1834] But we only become better by becoming smaller, greater by becoming more modest, and we change the world by first changing ourselves.


Am I holy enough?

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15 Days of Prayer with Blessed Frédéric Ozanam

  • This is beautiful! I absolutely love it. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your Contemplation, I look forward to them every week. This one was very personal to me, because we all have our doubts about our ability to serve our neighbors.
    The Lord chose us, so He knows we can do his work and he gives us the tools and the will to carry out that work.
    God Bless and keep the Love of Christ and the wisdom of our founders reaching our eyes, ears and hearts.

  • This is an inspiring piece of writing, thank you. The question sometimes comes up if one person can change the word. Frederic did indeed change it. Other bad actors in history have done it as well, but they raised their armies to destroy. Frederic raised his army around the world to comfort and to heal. I think we do have to be on guard for false modesty masquerading as true humility though. We can think “my actions can’t have a giant impact” and that gives us an excuse to not do anything. As you state, planting the mustard seed can have a huge impact.

    In fact, on home visits we form a team. We tell our people that we will plant the seed by helping them with our town’s excellent resources. We then ask them to water the seed by following through on job, food, and spiritual connection help. Then we all pray together to God to make the seed grow.

    It would be fascinating to see a video of one of Frederic’s home visits in the 1800s. But I hear that the cell phone footage wasn’t very good back then. Frederic probably also had the same problem we have now, that nobody would answer his cell phone calls.

    The twelve greatest evangelizers/marketers in history were also twelve very regular guys. If we don’t follow the example of both the apostles and Frederic’s evangelizing, nothing will really ever change or improve in the long term for our people no matter how much food or money we can put up. Again, thanks for this inspiring writing.

  • This is a beautiful piece of writing that speaks to what is Real and True, and I am deeply touched and grateful to have received it today because it affirms what I have come to realize as a volunteer at our local St. Vincent De Paul Pantry. When I chose to become a volunteer several years ago, I simply wanted to do something substative and “Good” as a newly professed Catholic still very much influenced by a life time of being quite secular. During the passage of the past several years, my fellow volunteers and the Neighbors who come to the pantry and the spiritual reflections at the beginning of our monthly meetings have helped me to experience what is eloquenty spoken to in this writing. It is humbling and a gift of hope and supportive inspiration both. And it gladens my heart to be a Vincentian.

  • Jerold E. Mueller COL CE USAR Ret January 15, 2024 at 9:08 pm

    Tom: Well said.

    We often don’t realize how far and wide Vincent and Frederick cast their net.

    Can you fathom the fact that there are 48,000 Parish Conferences Worldwide.
    Hard to believe–if in don’t Google it.

    I have been a member for 30 years, our conference has grown to have nearly 20 ministries and over 125 members.,,
    all from that tiny mustard seed.

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