Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians:
Peace be with you. It has been a busy month! When viewed collectively, it reflects that our Council is making progress and heading in a positive direction. Thanks so much to all who are contributing!
1) Developments & Events
The following is just a sampling of what has happened within the past few weeks.
- Top Hat Ball – October 12, 2019 – Cardinal Joseph Tobin
I am thrilled to announce that on Saturday, October 12, 2019, we will be hosting our inaugural Top Hat Ball. His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey will be our very special Guest of Honor and Keynote speaker. Cardinal Tobin is the first and only Detroit born and raised priest who has ascended through the Catholic Church to the rank of Cardinal. This milestone event will take place at the Cobo Hall Riverview Ballroom. In honor of Blessed Frederic Ozanam and the incredible organization he founded, we will don top hats to celebrate his legendary personae.
- Bishop Donald F. Hanchon – SVdPD Spiritual Advisor
We are so pleased and deeply appreciative that Bishop Donald Hanchon has accepted our invitation to be Spiritual Advisor for our SVdPD Council. Bishop Hanchon has served as Pastor for several parishes that serve the Hispanic community including, St. Joseph in Monroe, St. Gabriel in Detroit, and Most Holy Redeemer in Southwest Detroit. In September 2009, Archbishop Vigneron appointed him an episcopal vicar with responsibilities as moderator of the Central Region of the archdiocese (encompassing the City of Detroit as well as Hamtramck and Highland Park). In May 2011, he was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit.
- Sister Noreen Ellison – SVdPD Associate Spiritual Advisor
In addition, Sister Noreen Ellison has segued gracefully from 60 years of service in education and healthcare to being Associate Spiritual Advisor for our Council. Among many other things, Sister assists many within our organization and among those we serve with spiritual needs through her formation work among our organization and our community.
Our Council is blessed to have these remarkable individuals as spiritual advisors. Welcome both! Their counsel, together with our talented and dedicated Spirituality Group, positions us well to have a spiritually growth-filled year.
- Evening of Reflection – Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J.
On February 27th at Sacred Heart Seminary, our Council hosted its annual Evening of Reflection. It featured a delicious dinner and wonderful opportunities to celebrate friendship. In addition, Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J., a gifted and dedicated Jesuit and superb public speaker, spoke with passion about Lenten reflections. He ended his presentation by sharing with the 75 Vincentians in attendance “questions to ponder”. That was followed by an opportunity for each table to discuss the questions among themselves and then to report out to the general assembly. It was a most enjoyable and worthwhile event.
- Crain’s Detroit Business
On February 11, 2019, Crain’s Detroit Business published a lead article on our Detroit Council. If you have yet to see the piece, please contact our office for a copy or click this link. We have received very positive feedback from the community regarding the article’s apt description of our Council’s overall promising direction (i.e. we are on the right path). In addition, I was delighted that the piece provided an opportunity to showcase our Development Director, Keith Koppmeier, whose talent, energy, vision, and determination has resulted in our development efforts being considerably improved over last year. Thank you, Keith!
- Birmingham Senior Men’s Club
On February 22nd, I made a presentation to the Birmingham Senior Men’s Club. Approximately 130 members attended. It provided an excellent opportunity to raise our SVdPD profile to our community. Interest level was high; and the response among attendees was very positive when they heard about the numerous community outreach programs SVdPD offers neighbors in need. Heartfelt thanks to Foundation Board member, Cliff Snedecker, for arranging my invitation to present. Matchan Nutrician Center was also represented at the gathering by Frank Schmid and several others who actively participate at Matchan.
- Royal Oak St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Saturday, March 16, 2019
On a much lighter note, the Selection Committee of the 2019 Royal Oak St. Patrick’s Day Parade has selected me as this year’s Grand Marshall! This year’s parade through Downtown Royal Oak will take place on Saturday, March 16th at 11:00 a.m. It will be an opportunity to celebrate the green as well as to showcase our Society of St. Vincent de Paul Detroit. All are invited!
2) Our Living Word – Recent Scriptural Passages of Particular Note
Have you noticed that there has been a particularly fertile offering of Gospels and scripture passages recently? I, of course, am not trained as a religious. But like each of you, the Living Word “speaks to me”. In light of both our National and Council Strategic Plans expressly referencing supporting Vincentians’ “spiritual Journeys”, I share some of my reflections herein. I do so not because I am right, but rather in the interest of advancing our goals of Spirituality and Friendship. I encourage any of our Vincentian members so inclined to do the same. Here is just a sampling during the past few weeks as they relate to our SVdPD Council.
- The Book of Genesis – Creation Continues
We heard two readings from the Book of Genesis about Creation. It described how God created our world. But the readings left me more mindful of how our world is not static. It is continually evolving and, in some respects, being created. In fact, the only thing that seems to remain constant is change. We have the capability of impacting how our world evolves.
Last month I mentioned our great Nation’s steady, albeit at times stymied, march toward greater inclusion and the noble belief that all men and women are created equal, a noble notion that finds ample support in our Vincentian Rule. In a similar vein, we should look at Creation as a continual process as well. From a Vincentian standpoint, we should see those who have become invisible to so many and hear their cries for help. We should speak for those who have no voice. We should see the possible, especially when we work together toward a common good. Let us do so together.
- Who Do You Say I Am?
Recent gospels of Mark and Matthew speak of Jesus, Peter, and James walking into a small village. The villagers were buzzing among themselves as the three of them approached. Jesus then asked his companions, “who do those people say I am?” They responded, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah.” And then Jesus asked looked directly at them and asked, “who do YOU say I am?” Simon Peter answered “Christ.”
In a real sense, each of us answers that profound question each day by how we choose to live and how we choose to treat others. I continually fall short of where I would like to be. We all do. That is why laughter, gratefulness, compassion, friendship, and when necessary, forgiveness can help us and others to grow immensely. Let us commit to promote these admirable qualities and help others do the same.
If we serve our neighbors in need with dignity, compassion, and respect, we should surely extend the same to each other. In that critical respect, our road is communal, e.g. helping and encouraging one another, and not individual. We are on this amazing journey of service together.
- Walking on Water – Do Not Be Afraid
We also heard the gospel of Jesus summoning Peter to walk to Him across the water. As he began to do so, Peter froze with fear. Jesus comforted him by saying, “Do not be afraid. Have faith in me.” Jesus summoned Peter out of his boat – out of his comfort zone. Like Peter, we leave our comfort zones when we make a home visit or engage in many other Vincentian programs.
Jesus sends the same message – be not afraid – to each of us no matter how rocky or tortuous the road may seem. He may not keep us out of Life’s fires. He never promised that. Rather, Jesus promised never to abandon those who believe; and He will not. Clothed with this comfort, let us go forth with courage and conviction together.
- Eight Beatitudes – How Can One Help Neighbors in Need?
We then heard about the eight beatitudes. How can we help our neighbors in need? Our Rule reminds us that “no charity is foreign” to our organization. Last year, we served so many in need. Thank you! But we can and should do more. For example, during the recent federal employee furlough, we could have supplied food baskets to those who suddenly found themselves in need. Likewise, during the recent, brutally cold weather, we could have opened our Central Office doors to the homeless. While we serve hundreds of thousands each year, may we encourage each other to remain open to the growing needs of so many others. Please help us to hear even “non-traditional” calls. We should put our faith in action by living the beliefs set forth in our Rule to the fullest extent possible. Let us commit to doing so together.
- Luke – Love Your Enemies.
Last Sunday, we heard the gospel from Luke wherein Jesus tells us to love our enemies. In a world as polarized and challenged as ours, that is a tall order! In other columns, I have referenced perhaps the most well known lesson from Jesus: love thy neighbor. That commandment is considered one of the two greatest. However broadly or narrowly one chooses to define the term neighbor, it can be read to mean “love those who you like.” It is my sincere hope that each of you has an army of people in your life who fall into that category. Each of us likely have others in our life with whom communication has broken down. This gospel encourages us to reclaim those relationships through dialogue, tolerance, and forgiveness.
But how in God’s name, we may ask ourselves, as truly flawed souls, can we possibly love our enemies? It seems to me that our best chance is to help one another by freely recognizing that we all have flaws. The natural reaction to those with whom we struggle – and we all have people in that category – is to think, “He/she has problems. It is his/her fault that we do not get along.” Perhaps. But those flaws and vulnerabilities should not separate us. Rather, they should connect us! Indeed, the teachings of Jesus Christ urge us to see one another in a new light. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we?
In the gospels where Jesus restores sight to the “blind” or “hearing” to the deaf, perhaps that is what really occurred – people spiritually seeing and hearing one another in a new light. Easier said than done. Moreover, consider this. The same person can be a neighbor one moment and an “enemy” the next (e.g. frenemy). Therein lies why Luke’s gospel should resonate so deeply with us. In effect, Jesus taught us to Love one another, all others, warts and all.
We are not here to see through one another, but to see one another through.
In that important sense, are we spiritually “blind” and “deaf”? If so, do not be afraid. According to Liesl Schwabe, “compassion can be taught, and forgiveness fostered. If we can learn to confront the existence of suffering not as a sign of hopelessness, but as an opportunity for love, we are all better positioned to take responsibility for that suffering. If we understand the necessity of truth, we can seek justice.”
Jesus did not build a church during His time among us. Rather, he taught a new way based upon love. He taught that our love should not discriminate between neighbor/friend and enemy. What a radically new light! To merge one’s love for friend and foe alike requires mercy. Is mercy a “way of life” for us or an attitude that surfaces only occasionally and conveniently?
So long as we have the gift of Life, we can continue to contribute a Vincentian verse to this glorious story of Mankind. What kind of verse do we wish to contribute – love for one another, or more judgmental competition? Let us commit to helping each other love neighbor and enemy alike.
- Isaiah – Here I am, Lord
A final, recent passage is a personal favorite: Isaiah 6. Written from the perspective of God, the verse first recognizes that His people, all people, are suffering. So God solicits help to care for them. Frequently, at Sunday Mass, we sing a moving song based upon this passage.
“I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry, All who dwell in dark and sin, My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” Lovely.
Help those in need? Including enemies? That sounds so challenging, perhaps too challenging. Understandably, many may not feel up to that prodigious task. At those moments of personal doubt, please remember “the vision of Isaiah, who saw himself in the temple, where the Lord was sitting upon a throne, attended by the seraphims with six wings which cried out the Sanctus: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ And in the presence of that holiness, Isaiah was keenly aware of his own shortcomings and of the shortcomings of his people; and he said; woe is me, because I am a man of unclean lips.” But when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah said, simply, “Here I am. Send me.”
Like Isaiah, each of us is flawed and vulnerable – people of unclean lips. But every day, the call comes: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” The late, great law professor, John Reed, once keenly observed that “Isaiah did not say ‘I’ll find someone to work on it.’ He didn’t offer to ‘form a committee’. He didn’t say, ‘How can I as one person, one flawed person, possibly help when the problems are so complex and interrelated?’ He said, simply, “Here I am. Send me.”
Are we people of unclean lips? Of course. If so, then who will go for us? I hope that you and I – one by one, by one, by one – will say with a strong voice and a clear eye and firm hand, ‘Here I am, send me.’ “
Our inspirational Rule invites us to do precisely that. Let us commit to doing so together.
All of these gospels and passages were read at Mass within the past few weeks alone. Remarkable!
Today, marks my first anniversary as CEO of the SVdPD Council. Heartfelt thanks to those who have very ably and willingly assisted me along this new, rather formidable path. In the spirit of the message contained herein, thanks too, to those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to be less supportive. All are in my prayers. In that regard, like you, I believe in the power of prayer. Please add to your prayer list my dear, dear friend, Christine, a truly remarkable young Mother who recently discovered that she faces a daunting medical challenge. As she embraces what lies ahead, may she feel God’s love and the full support of her incredible family, her army of friends, and our entire Vincentian community. Heartfelt thanks.
It has been a challenging year that has required a new skillset. As a team, I believe that we have made measurable progress. While doing so, our Council served more than 300,000 neighbors in need last year alone. I make reference to that number not as an impressive statistic, but rather as a reflection of the staggering need that still exists in our Archdiocese. Together, we need to do more; and we will. Thanks so much to all whose ears remain open to the cries of those in need.
In Isaiah 43, the prophet says, “Behold, I am making things new: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Together, we are making great strides at SVdPD. Can you perceive it? See the possible. God bless.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,