Who We Are

Vincentian Spirituality

The desire to help the poor and others in need is part of what calls and drives the Vincentian who is the volunteer, lay member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Vincentians also view this service as a way of acting on their faith and responding to God’s call to love God and our neighbour.

The word “spirituality” comes from the Greek. Translated, it means soul or simply spirit. Let us look at the “soul” of the Society. What makes us who we are? What is the interior driving force which gives life and purpose to all we do? More…

Sure we are a community, the word “community” means that we have common interest and “unity” means we work together for a common purpose. In that sense, one might say we are not very different from Lions Club, Kinsmen, or any other community-based, community-driven organization. But we are more than just a community. We are a community of Christians. It is, in the words of St. Paul, the love of Christ that drives “Caritas Christi urget me”. Our commitment is to daily respond to Christ’s invitation to grow closer to Him, to one another, and to spread the message of His love wherever we go.

When a person joins the Society and becomes a Vincentian in a Conference that is usually embraced by his/her parish, that person embarks on a deep, or deeper, journey of faith. This journey is anything but boring and meaningless. It can easily be that, however, if we just see our work as carriers of groceries, or vouchers. And it will be, or become, that unless the work is nourished daily by a vital and living spirituality that continually gives new meaning, purpose, and life to who we are, who Christ is, and what we do as Vincentians. Jesus is always the STAR.

The world that observes our visits might measure our purpose in numbers: how many homes we visit; how many vouchers we give out; how many Christmas baskets we distribute. Or it may measure our success by our financial reports: the number of furniture stores we open; the number of inner city rooms we provide, or meals we serve. If these are the only yardsticks that measure our success and value, then we surely are doing a lot of good… but a lot of good that can be done by any other service agency in the community. Frederic Ozanam had a greater vision for us. It is our soul, our spirituality, that makes us different. It is our personal relationship with Christ that transforms our good words and actions to the level of grace and spiritual power for us and those we serve, We work in the power of the risen Jesus, filled with the awesome gifts of His Holy Spirit. And that’s why ours is a special vocation, nourished by daily reading of the Word… for he/she who is ignorant of the Word is ignorant of Christ, St Jerome says: nourished by the Sacraments, especially Eucharist; nourished by fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Society: nourished by frequent prayer, to our Lady and the Saints, especially our patrons.

 

The definition of the Vincentian Vocation:

Our spirituality, our character, is described for us in the opening words of our rule: “The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic organization of lay persons that seeks, in a spirit of justice and charity and by person-to person involvement of its members, to help those who are suffering”. When you and I joined the Society, therefore, we committed ourselves to compassion – to helping the poor, the alienated, the lonely, the suffering,

Let us take a look at that definition of a Vincentian a bit more closely:

You are a member of a Catholic organization; more…

The Vincentian spirituality is the spirituality of the Church. We do not operate in a vacuum as we show compassion for the needy. We go out as Catholics, as members of the Church founded by Christ. We are the hands, eyes, ears and speech of our all-loving God, empowered by Baptism and the Holy Spirit to bring light, peace, hope to those we visit. Never can we go arrogantly; always we remind ourselves that the poor are our masters. We stand on HIS WORD: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME; THEREFORE HE HAS ANOINTED ME. HE HAS SENT ME TO BRING GLAD TIDINGS TO THE POOR, TO PROCLAIM LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES, RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND AND RELEASE TO PRISONERS. TO ANNOUNCE A YEAR OF FAVOR FROM THE LORD” {LUKE 4: 18). So, the compassion we are called to show as Vincentians is not our own personal, emotional feelings of pity or do-good-ism but the compassion of Christ.

You belong to a Catholic organization of LAY PERSONS. The commitment to compassion is not just reserved to a few people in the Church community, not just to the priest who meets the needy at his door or to nuns. It is a commitment that has to be shared by all of us in imitation of Jesus our Lord. All four Gospels tell how compassionate He was. We find that theme most especially in Luke. Remember the banquet where the poor, lame, crippled were invited; remember the good Samaritan, the Prodigal, the widow of Nain, the sinful woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house. All show how infinitely compassionate Jesus was. He is equally compassionate with us and his grace empowers us to act likewise.

We belong to a Catholic organization of lay persons who ACT IN A SPIRIT OF JUSTICE AND CHARITY. The motivation for our Vincentian commitment to compassion is not just charity, but justice. You help the poor and needy not only because you feel like it: BUT JUSTICE DEMANDS IT. The goods of the planet belong to every person on it. To the extent possible, each follower of the Lord is obliged to seek redress where injustice reigns. Charity demands it we pray fervently for it!

Another aspect of Vincentian spirituality is that we belong to a Catholic organization of lay persons acting in a spirit of justice and charity through PERSON-TO-PERSON INVOLVEMENT WITH THE NEEDY. Again, we follow the approach given by Jesus Himself.             Examine how personal Jesus is with every single one of us. He called Peter no more and no less personally that He calls you and me. He invites us to a close, personal encounter with Him. He taught us to cal1 God ‘Abba”, which really means “daddy”. The measure of our response is related to another question He asks: “What have you done to your brother? To your Sister?” Those who say they love God but ‘”hate” their brother or sister are liars. If you do not really love your brother or sister whom you see, how can you love God whom you do not see? We are called to lay down our lives. That call for some may even mean martyrdom but for every single follower of Jesus it means affirming, assisting, forgiving, and loving the way our Father loves us.

Finally, our justice and charity, our person-to-person involvement, our commitment are directed to a special group of people with whom Christ identifies very closely: THE SUFFERING AND NEEDY. Those who watched Mother Theresa hold the dying on the streets of Calcutta spoke of the change that came over their faces: the sadness and pain faded away, overcome by gentle love communicated by Jesus Himself through this saintly soul. To the measure we give Him permission, He will do the same with us. You might have heard Jean Vanier tell the story of a visit to one of the L’Arche communities in Japan. He was told by the Director that there was one person in the home, a quadriplegic, blind, deaf, who was incapable of showing any response whatever. She was getting very discouraged with such seeming lack of progress. Dr. Vanier’s response was this: On every occasion you have to interact with this person, make sure that by the way you look, by the tone of your voice, by your eyes though she cannot see, show her that you love her with agape love…love the way God loves. And, of course, make sure you have love in your heart. And when you do get a response, just drop me a postcard to my home in Paris. When Vanier arrived home two weeks later, he found among his mail a postcard from Japan and it had only three words written on it. “Aoki smiled today”. We are called to love as Jesus loves. It is possible; we can do it…but never without His help.

We Vincentians commit ourselves to growing in all virtues, especially COMPASSION. That virtue asks that we go where it hurts, that we enter into places of pain, that we share brokenness, fear, confusion and anguish. Compassion requires that we be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, powerless with the powerless. It means full immersion in the condition of being human. That virtue (compassion) doesn’t just happen. It has to be deeply rooted in the VINE that Jesus tells us He is (in John’s Gospel); It has to be nourished, sustained, developed and it all has to be done on a daily basis. Our Rule book tells us precisely how we can grow spiritually and uniquely serve others. Here is the recipe:

Prayer. Have a set time and place. Spend at least ten minutes a day as a starter. If the Conference meeting were scheduled for one hour, the following formula would guarantee success, absolutely: Pray for forty minutes; meet for twenty. The Mass is the greatest prayer of all. And we cannot forget our patron, St. Vincent; our Protector, Mother Mary; and our founder, Blessed Frederic.

The WORD. Again, to quote St. Jerome: “The person who is ignorant of the Word is ignorant of the Lord. Once we begin reading the Bible regularly, the Holy Spirit will give us a love for it, a love for Jesus; our lives will be changed.

Spiritual reading. The New Catechism is an excellent resource for getting to know our faith: it is the first real explanation of our faith in over four hundred years and an excellent resource.

 

There are some practical implications to our examination of Vincentian spirituality:

How much time do we give to prayer, to Mass, to the Sacraments, to meditation on the Scriptures and teachings of the Church…to our spiritual growth, first as individual Vincentians and then as a Conference of the Society? You cannot have a Vincentian spirituality without them. If an individual or a Conference loses vitality or commitment, you can be sure that it is because there has been a failure to root spirituality firmly on the foundations which our Rule sets out for us.

When a person is invited to join the Society, is it in terms of humanitarian service, not very different from an invitation from Lions or Rotary or is the invitation to grow in the life of Christ?

Do we really share the Lord with the needy? From prayer and Scriptural study we learn that Jesus healed every single person who ever asked for it. He never once judged…and neither ought we, though it is only too human to do it. We bring the love and compassion of Christ. We see the face of Christ in theirs. But we can’t give what we don’t have and we won’t have Christ unless we allow Him to be Lord of OUR lives.

Do we really extend the compassion and love of Christ to our fellow Vincentians? Do we listen, encourage, affirm?

Our world is enormously needy. Beneath all these needs is the need for understanding and appreciation. We call that compassion. It is there in some form in everyone of the twenty six books of the New Testament. We Vincentians have a very unique opportunity to exercise the virtue. But to exercise it, we have to open ourselves to grow in love and service…Holiness, the only argument left. The world has heard all others and rejected them all, except the one…Holiness.

Pope John Paul said this to a group of Vincentians a number of years ago: “In your Conference meetings, you should find not only the practical means of discovering and serving in an organized way the poor who surround you, but also a spiritual deepening, a Christian reflection, which balances prayer and action, for one must allow oneself to be transformed by the words of Christ, in order to render Him present in our world”

May God bless His poor, and those of us who want to see them as our masters.