Contemplation: To Know Fully

Contemplation: To Know Fully

Contemplation: To Know Fully 1080 1080 SVDP USA

In his 1978 book, God and the Astronomers, astrophysicist Robert Jastrow concludes that the astronomers, following science alone to scale the mountain of ignorance, would, when reaching the truth at its peak, be “greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” This metaphor captures a truth at the heart of our vocation, since the founders were challenged by those who scoffed at the church’s role in the “modern world.”  Then, as now, the truth we serve is much deeper and more permanent than the temporary circumstances of the times in which we live.

In Frédéric’s time, many philanthropic associations formed whose goal was to get material resources out to as many people as possible, using every modern efficiency of the day. As Frédéric observed, after “only a year in existence … they already have large volumes of resumés.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] He went on to contrast those works with what he’d been challenged to show: the true good of the church.

The Society’s purpose is not service delivery, but charity — love. Our success is not measured by the quantity of dollars or food we may distribute, but by the quality of the relationships we form. In the recent pandemic, we were forced to make do with alternate forms of contact, rather than home visits. While being grateful for the ability to continue to serve, we quickly saw they were only “half a loaf.”

In 1834, Blessed Frédéric explained that “at-home assistance is one of the best rendered charities and one that produces the best results”, especially, he continued, “in these times when help is generally dispensed with such culpable indifference.” [Doc. 1457, report on works, 1834] As Pope Francis explains, we set aside our own wishes and desires in serving the vulnerable. “Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ that closeness and tries to help them. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” [Fratelli Tutti, 115]

It’s a well-known axiom that most human communications are non-verbal. We pick up cues such as social context and body language from other people even when we are not aware of them consciously. There really is no substitute. The Apostle Paul even explains arriving at holiness and understanding by contrasting an image in a mirror with seeing face to face, when he will “know fully, as I am fully known.”

Recent psychological research has compared the effects of remote and face-to-face communication. Their conclusion has been that relationships and communication are not only better formed face to face (“fully known” you might say), but that face-to-face meeting is even associated with better mental health. If only today’s researchers had consulted Frédéric Ozanam first. Not to worry – when they reach the mountaintop, he will be waiting for them there…in person.


Do I truly stop to see and to know the neighbor in front of me?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity, especially “Home Visits in the Vincentian Tradition

  • why am I a Vincentian….at first it was to stop the scammers….by asking the right questions without it being an inquisition….it changed to paying back for all the Blessings I have received and follow a plan the Lord has for me…am I striving to be HOLY… just a good and faithful servant by assisting those who turn to my Catholic church ……

  • Steven Leonard Messina January 22, 2024 at 10:54 am

    Beautiful stated…

    Thanks so much for these wonderful reflections.

  • Do I truly stop to see and to know the neighbor in front of me?

    That question presupposes that you stop to smell the roses.

    What if you do “better” online with “seeing” the roses captured by Richard Avedon or National Geographic? While you can’t smell the array you can appreciate the beauty.

    Online connections are similar, even if not seen but definitely heard. You have to listen full on. You form a picture not based on what you see such as dress or mannerisms ( I had someone back in the just phone days say, gee I thought you were white when meeting in person) but the “cut” of the person. You can even become endeared from words spoken, enough to see the face of God in those who call upon us to get to the in person step.

    However, you become a Vincentian because you can feel good visiting NIN. It’s not being nosy or aggressive or anything negative like a policeman with a warrant to search the premises. It is a privilege to be invited in to sit down and chat, whether it will result in a financial transaction or not. That’s the difference, human contact in real time. But, it is happily, not the only way to make a difference in someone’s life. You know that if you had a military pen pal where you exchanged correspondence frequently but never met in person.

    But, I prefer to touch lives the Vincentian way with no less appreciation for those who touch lives in other ways. God blesses all helpers!

  • For me, seeing the face of Christ in people who are drug addicted, rude, agitated or aggressive is a challenge. Showing kindness and compassion towards others isn’t always easy but is facilitated through God’s grace and mercy.

  • Being a Vincentian to me is a way of expressing my love for God!

  • I value your way to bridge out of poverty
    It is a living example of people being accompanied by middle class and wealthy people. They realize it is basically by accident of birth that people are defined economically
    We can choose to respond and becoming sel-responsible and balanced by the partners we define
    Thanks for contemplating in a world of action
    John Phelps – Life Directions

  • Thank you for this article. Even now after COVID some parish conferences make phone visits by phone, not in person. Some conferences even have their monthly meetings by Zoom rather than in person.. The central staff have even eliminated the central Archdiocese office and now work by phone and computer out of their home. What attracted me to SVDP society many years ago was the person-to-person contact with the poor and each other. Now it, in some places, has just become another service agency.

    • Timothy P Williams January 30, 2024 at 5:58 am

      I’m sorry to hear that, but we are creatures of habit, and it may take more time for some people to redevelop the habit of person-to-person service. I think you touch on something very important in mentioning the meetings as well as home visits. When we think of recruiting new members, especially, but we don’t meet in person…what, exactly, are we asking them to join? The remote meeting is an adjustment we can sometimes make based on extreme circumstances, for members who already know each other it can work for a while. But over time, the bonds weaken, and there is little to offer new members.

      As you say, we then become just a “service agency.” This is not a modern challenge; it is something both Vincent and Frederic warned about in their time.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      • Thanks, Tim, for your beautiful and thought-provoking articles.

        When we meet face-to- face with our neighbors, I feel we come away feeling more blessed, to have met them. We get to share our love, our prayer, and our kindness with them. We can see how they are working so hard and trying to do their best.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

    Skip to content