Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:
Peace be with you. Our nation has many annual holidays that celebrate great people, events, and causes. Collectively, they reflect what values we as Americans hold dear, e.g. welcoming the stranger, dignity for all human beings, equality under the law, love of the truth, and the Four Freedoms. Countless fellow Americans have fought and died to protect those and other sacred values. We should diligently protect them against all threats as well.
We will soon celebrate a most special holiday that encourages us to pause, possibly gather, and celebrate another core value: giving thanks. President Abraham Lincoln codified our nation’s version of Thanksgiving in 1863. Imagine that. With this nation seemingly hopelessly entrenched in a most savage, brutal Civil War, Mr. Lincoln advocated for the healing of “the wounds of the nation.” Thanksgiving has remained remarkably “non-commercialized” ever since. What a wonderful holiday whose very name epitomizes the powerful gift of gratitude. It is in that universal spirit that I share the following.
This past year, our world, our nation, and our church has found itself seriously challenged, even torn, in many critical respects. Indeed, this month’s America Magazine explores whether a civil war currently exists within our church. To be sure, there is considerable cause for concern. But, as Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. reminds, “. . . there is no civil war in our church because Jesus Christ has already won the only war worth fighting, . . . ” Notwithstanding the turmoil, there is so much for which to be grateful.
It has been suggested that, “Thanksgiving is about stopping. Stopping. Stopping the focus on our discontentment that things are not as we think they should be and reflecting on the good things that are. [Stopping] to contemplate what we are grateful for. [Stopping] even when we’re going through difficult times. [Stopping] to ponder the many things we have to be grateful for gives us a new, more accurate, positive perspective. . . . [T]ake a moment to make a list of things you are thankful for; it’s guaranteed to lift your spirits.”
So why do we often neglect to be grateful? A wise, beloved uncle of mine, who role models by joyously living our Catholic faith every day, says that the answer can be found in our expectations. He reasons that humans are basically optimistic. Our problems will be solved, our aches and pains will be cured, and our bad days will be replaced by good days. All will be well! When our expectations are met, why be grateful – it was inevitable! We act as if we are entitled to our expectations. Then the unthinkable occurs: our expectations are not met. If we are not humble and understand that we have been gifted rather than entitled, we may crumble. Indeed, we probably will. We should, therefore, practice gratitude.
Clearly, making a gratitude list isn’t a panacea. But it will help. Here goes!
1. Neighbors in Need
How often do we give while expecting something in return? Helping those in need with seemingly no ability to give back may seem to be little more than an act of mercy. Instead, it can be an act of spiritual growth. Our Vincentian mission ministers to people who are suffering, while they are here and while we are here. As one gets deeper into such growth, doors (and hearts) open. Life happens. It invites. Jesus walked with people in need. We too can help those we serve to believe in the sacred spirit that lives within each of them. Last month, I cited a verse from The Servant’s Song. Here is another.
“Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant, too.”
Heartfelt thanks for our neighbors in need.
2. SVdPD Staff
I have served as the SVdPD CEO for nine months. Others have served considerably longer during some incredibly challenging times. Still others arrived after me, but have hit the floor running. All have contributed to our concerted efforts to stabilize our Council operation. Together, we have achieved noteworthy accomplishments. Here is just a sampling.
- successfully filled several key positions;
- created and launched a comprehensive development and marketing plan;
- launched an exciting new website, www.seethepossible.com (check it out!);
- improved the Human Resources aspect of our Central Office by adding an HR consultant and creating job descriptions for every team member;
- implemented new and successful sales promotions and cost savings measures in all of our thrift stores;
- reduced legacy debt by more than 50% in just one year;
- held several successful annual events;
- favorably renegotiated our debt obligations with the Archdiocese;
- successfully completed an independent audit and created our 2019 budget;
- successfully completed the state EAP application process and received 100% of what we requested;
- successfully completed Phase I of a Culture Assessment and Planning Session led by Human Synergistics; and
- formulated a leadership team that has met regularly for the past nine months.
Together, we have achieved these and other noteworthy accomplishments. They lead me to believe that our Council’s best days lie ahead. First, we stabilize. Then we thrive! Heartfelt thanks to our entire SVdPD team members – new and old – for their steadfast commitment to our mission.
3. SVdPD Vincentians
Under the leadership of Debbie Jackson and our District and Conference Presidents, among others, our dedicated Vincentian corps has achieved many noteworthy accomplishments, as well. Here is just a sampling.
- Completed and funded its 96th annual Camp Ozanam experience, which sent roughly 400 deserving boys and girls to camp free of charge to them or their families (more than 175,000 children have attended Camp Ozanam);
- Conducted roughly 45,000 home visits;
- Directly touched the lives of at least 300,000 neighbors in need;
- Started four new conferences, reactivated three conferences, and revitalized nine conferences;
- Held fourteen training programs;
- Successfully recruited and trained ten new formators; and
- Oversaw and participated in special works such as Bridges to Hope, Matchan Nutrition Center, Journey to Housing, the Justice Initiative, and collaborative efforts with Catholic Community Response Team (CCRT), Rochester Area Neighborhood House (RANH) and Starfish Family Services.
Thank you to our Vincentians who faithfully follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love. Let our Council continue to serve anyone in need regardless of creed, race or social background, health, gender, or political opinions. Let us always remain open and serve the poorest of the poor and those who are most rejected by society.
When we truly live our mission, we are our faith – every faith – at its very best.
My job did not come with instructions! Each day reminds me of how much I need others to function in this role. Since I began, the number of family, friends, former colleagues, and many, many others who have generously contributed their support and talent to helping our Council in some meaningful way has been a source of humility and inspiration. This, of course, includes our Archdiocesan and Foundation Board members. It includes Tim Kuppler and Robyn Marcotte of Human Synergistics, www.humansynergistics.com, who have generously led our Council through culture training essential to our organization’s growth. It especially includes a remarkable group of talented and dedicated Catholic religious sisters from various orders who have embraced our Council. Each is willing to walk with us and in doing so, help us grow spiritually by facilitating what’s deepest in our hearts, in our values, in our spirits, and thereby to be gifts to each other.
As we become ever more mindful of the divine privilege of helping neighbors in need, doors will continue to open, talented volunteers will continue to arrive, and “the possible” will become reality. In Isaiah 43, the prophet says, “Behold, I am making things new; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Thank you to all who have contributed to our Council this past year.
5. Deceased Vincentians
Every year, legions of people pass away. Most we never met. But nothing stops us in our tracks and causes us to reflect more than losing a loved one. If that happened to you this past year, I extend my condolences. We are defined by our loss. Our Council lost many valued members. In fact, each of our ten Districts hosts an annual Mass to celebrate those who passed. I imagine that every one of those precious souls, if they could, would seize something that, no matter where we may find ourselves, we all still share: Life. Let us be forever grateful for and affected by loved ones who have passed, but remain an integral part of us.
6. Generous Donors
We serve as the bridge between those who care and those in need. We simply could not function without the financial support of those who believe in our mission and choose to support us. Every day we do our best to earn the trust that an army of supporters places in us by generously supporting our mission. Whether it is a major gift or, regardless of amount, whatever one can afford, we feel the strength and support of our treasured donor base through each gift that we receive. Heartfelt thanks!
Briefly, on a personal level, I am blessed with a loving wife of forty years, three remarkable children, a wonderful daughter-in-law and an incredible son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. I also have a boatload of extended family! Notwithstanding busy lives, all have been as supportive of this essential leg of my journey as they were during all previous ones. I sincerely hope that I have been as supportive of each of them. Being a member of our family gives me great joy and purpose. During this national celebration of gratitude, I want each member of my family to know how much I feel blessed to share the journey with you. Thank you.
This past year has hardly been all smooth sailing. To the contrary, it has included many moments of considerable challenge, genuine doubt, and seemingly intractable, painful impasse. As my dedicated, compassionate Pastor advises, especially at this time of year when the harvest is gathered, it helps to reflect upon the “gathering” of God drawing us all into communion with Him and each other. That should include all others. In the words of the Our Father, “. . . give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.
On each step of this journey of growth, good and bad, I continue to feel God’s presence. I sincerely hope that you do too, as you embrace the opportunities and challenges of each day.
In her book, “Finding our Way”, Margaret Wheatley urges us to practice gratefulness in our daily lives. She observes: “[H]ow often do you take time, daily, to count your blessings? The wonder of this process is that as we take this daily inventory, we grow in gratefulness.
We start to notice more and more—people who helped us, grace that appeared, little miracles that saved us from danger. The daily practice of gratefulness truly changes us in wonderful ways.”
Inspiration comes from so many different sources. Recently, I came across an internet website entitled God411. It features daily reflections. One such offering is entitled “Have you counted your blessings today?” In a pertinent part, it points out the following:
- If you have food on your table, clothing on your back, and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the world’s population.
- If you have money in the bank and in your wallet, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy.
- If you wake up with more health than illness, you are more blessed than all those who will not survive the day.
- If you have never had to endure the fear of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, or the agony of torture, then you are better off than 700 million people in the world.
- If you can attend church without fear of arrest, or even death, then you are more blessed than 3 billion people.
- If you can hold your head up and smile, then you are unique to those who despair.
- If you can read this message, you are more blessed than the two billion people in our world who cannot read.
- If you see this message on your own device, then you are part of the 1% in the world who have that opportunity.
Are we exactly where we want to be? Of course not. We may never be in this world. So first we stabilize; and then we thrive. Our best days for SVdPD are surely ahead, especially if we work together and remain mission-focused. Going through this reflection has lifted my spirits. Along the way, may we always “stop” to count our blessings. What’s on your list?
Happy Thanksgiving to all who contribute in any way to our Detroit Council, including our neighbors in need. God bless.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,
Daniel P. Malone