Conference Connection

Conference Connection – November Spiritual Reflection

Conference Connection – November Spiritual Reflection 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

“I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall always be on my lips! (Psalm 34:1) As Catholic Christians who pray this psalm frequently, it is especially wonderful during November.

What events pop into your mind during November? Three themes immediately come to me: our liturgical year celebrates its ending, our Church celebrates special feasts remembering the saints, including our deceased loved ones, and our nation celebrates a time of thanksgiving.

As you read this Conference Connection, I invite you to take the following suggestions to your conference as part of your prayer and spiritual reflection. Each of our meetings includes Vincentian prayer and also scripture reflection and sharing that help us recognize how we assist one another in growing spiritually as we express our active faith.

Early in the month we celebrate All Saint Day and then All Souls Day and many churches have special prayer services or a Mass of Remembrance to celebrate and pray to and pray for our loved ones who have passed from this life to their new life in God.

Take time to recall a fellow Vincentian, deceased or living who had or has a quality that inspires you? Give Conference members the opportunity to share their thoughts about that person. Try to be comfortable with the silence that recalling and pondering needs. Give those who are more introverted the time they need before they can speak. If some of those mentioned are deceased, conclude with the familiar prayer: Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Recall together the benefactors, the names of those who gave time, talents and their “treasure” to assist the work that your Conference stands on. Name them, give a few moments of silence and then invite the members to repeat the prayer that you or your Spiritual Facilitator or President offers first: “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall always be on my lips!”

Closer to our national time of Thanksgiving, how about taking some prayerful time in your Conference to ask of one another: What stirs up thankfulness in your heart because you have been blessed by an experience with someone you assisted or encountered as a “neighbor-in-need?” Give some silent reflection time so that each Vincentian can ponder a time when they were changed or blessed by someone they thought they were helping.  Then, invite sharing. A suggested concluding prayer could be: In humility and with thanksgiving we pray, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

In prayer with you,
Sister Noreen Ellison, SC
Associate Spiritual Advisor

P.S. if you are reading the Conference Connection, will you please send a REPLY and any helpful comments in a return email? I am curious about who our readers are

An Update from Nancy – October 2019

An Update from Nancy – October 2019 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

As the newly elected Archdiocesan Council President, I extend a huge HELLO to all of you.

Our Council is 145 conferences strong.  What an amazing number of Vincentians serving our neighbors in need.  I am so lucky to have this opportunity!

Having been asked what my vision is going forward for the Council, I have spent time reflecting on what is the core issue for all of us.

The community of spirit that joins us in our individual conferences and deepens our spiritual growth simultaneously is central to being a Vincentian.

At each conference meeting, we come together in prayer, reflection and sharing of news regarding our neighbors in need. The friendship and bond that grows among Vincentians is a critical part of understanding the reference of those we serve.  As we grow in spirit and holiness, it is much clearer that our neighbors in need are as we are – children of God.

As a career social worker, I have made thousands of home visits to those in need. It wasn’t until I joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, that I came to realize that I was seeing the “Face of Christ “in those we serve.  It has taken time to assimilate this realization into practice.

Throughout the Archdiocese, our neighbors in need exemplify a broad spectrum of ethnicity and race, levels of poverty, from the working poor to the homeless on the street and needs that are as diverse as the population of six counties.  Each conference provides assistance in a myriad of ways, dependent on community resources, donated funds and the ability of the members of the conference.

SO…As you go about the work of helping the poor, please remember:

We are not here to judge, we are here to love and give to others.  As different or difficult someone may be, we need to put ourselves in their “shoes” and come to understand and accept them as they are.  Whether we offer material goods, time or a part of ourselves, let us reach out to others without bias or fear. We are all God’s children.

God Bless,

Nancy Szlezyngier

Conference Connection – Growing Pains

Conference Connection – Growing Pains 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

At a time when the beautiful colors of Autumn show us nature’s radiance before the changes of “letting go”, we Vincentians begin a new fiscal year and other new ventures that could bring some “growing plains!”  That’s a good thing! Having just celebrated the feast of our patron, St. Vincent de Paul and the commissioning rites of new Servant Leaders for SVDP in our archdiocese, we look for new ways to grow together in holiness, friendship and service to our neighbor-in-need.

Presidents and Spiritual Advisors, both facilitators, work closely together to prepare the meeting time and agenda that help us grow in the essential elements of our vocations as Vincentians. Vincentian friends meet weekly or at least twice each month to be strengthened in faith and love so that so that we may respond with compassion and love to relieve the suffering of a neighbor-in-need. These are not our “clients” but our brothers and sisters in whom we see the face of Christ.

This is why it is important to give adequate time at the beginning of a meeting to pray, reflect and share insights that will help our companions know us, our Vincentian hearts, and an insight of how God may be revealed in our daily lives of prayer and service.  Pope St. John Paul II said, “Prayer is the first and greatest work of charity that we must do for our brothers and sister.”

Rather than rush through our familiar prayers so that the “business” may be done in an efficient manner, let’s try to give one another some time for silence, for reflection and shared responses on that reflection. That sharing may help our understanding of gospel service and the ways of Jesus. Servant leaders set the tone for growth, inspiration and discernment.  Our Rule, in 2.2 calls us to this:

Vincentians …promoting a life of prayer and reflection, both at the individual and community level, sharing with their fellow members. Meditating on their Vincentian experiences offers them internal spiritual knowledge of themselves, others and the goodness of God. How have you experienced God’s goodness most recently?  O God, may our mountains and growing plains give you praise and thanks!

Praying and growing with you!
Sister Noreen Ellison, SC
Associate Spiritual Advisor

An Update from Therese – September 2019

An Update from Therese – September 2019 400 400 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Fellow Vincentians,

This will be my final Conference Connection article as we transition into our new leadership. As you may be aware, during the August 12, Board of Trustees Meeting, Nancy Szlezygier was elected the new president of the Detroit Council.  I congratulate Nancy and offer her my full support. I know each of you will show Nancy the same kindness you have shown me.  I would like to thank all the candidates for stepping forward as nominees who place St. Vincent de Paul at the center of all they do. Thank you to Roger Playwin, Mike Casey, and Bernard Onwuemelie for your dedication to the Society. Each of you  offered your unique talents in  support our mission.

In the six years I have served as President,   it has been my honor to experience the support of a talented, committed staff at our Central Office as well as those who have served on our Archdiocesan Board and committees. I am grateful and thankful that each of you gave so much of your time and talent.

To you, my fellow Vincentians, my deepest gratitude for all your hard work and the inspiration you have given to sustain me in my role. Through your spirituality, service and friendship, we have journeyed together in our “mission of charity.”   Know that you will continue to be in my prayers and thoughts.

God Bless,

Therese

Conference Connection – Spiritual Reflection

Conference Connection – Spiritual Reflection 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Friends, this month we publish a spiritual reflection from longtime Vincentian, Catherine Bradford, who recently shared this with our Spirituality Group. Perhaps read it with your Conference and have your members reflect and pray on what this means to them.

God bless each one as we serve others striving to see the face Jesus as we meet those in need.

Sister Noreen Ellison, SC
Associate Spiritual Advisor


Life into Life

This is how and when the SVDP role of serving spiritually brought more understanding to me. Once we answer and open that door to serve, we must handle each person who reaches out to us, as if they are a beautiful and delicate flower. Not wanting to break or crush their spirit.

We never know what another person is going through or has gone through to end up on our steps or make that call to us. As we open our doors, let us take the very first steps of walking with Jesus. We welcome them with a greeting of love as bright as the sunshine, grabbing their attention so that the nurturing of our brothers and sisters will automatically begin to uplift them. When they leave us and wind down for the day, as the sun is setting, followed by the glowing moon, letting us all capture these signals from God. Let us leave the issues of this day behind, letting the tasks for that day, fill the giver and receiver with the spirit that God is always able.

We often hear we were born to die. Have you ever really dug so deep in your hearts, minds, and souls to only discover that it is life into life. Once we let our ungodly ways die, we can truly live and serve. The funny thing about this is, we have to to live our life in this imperfect world, discovering love, hurt, pain and suffering. In the meantime we wonder and discover how to keep moving through all of it. The answers come from our Creator and the people He wants us to share time and space with, in this life, gaining an insight of what is really important at the end of the day.

The knowledge and wisdom we have acquired through our works of faith and trusting in a merciful and loving God, spiritual nourishment is also shared. We now know, with a joyful heart, it is all good because we were able to do the best we could with what we had and that becomes a great start. Many times making it just enough for both of us to begin our journeys.

By taking each step, carrying and acting out the Fruit of the Spirit:

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

God’s gift to us is keeping us mindful of our experiences. This enables us, to continue with confidence to walk the walk and talk the talk, realizing we can still learn from one another. And never a doubt of how we got where we are.

These steps let us play out our greatest role in this life. We understand a little clearer each moment, as God is maneuvering and providing us with what is needed to serve each individual, resulting in truly serving Him. Our baby steps have become giant steps, propelling our spirits to peacefully soar, because we know we are not breaking any laws on earth and certainly not in Heaven, as God is completing us. ????????????   The Lord let me be in the midst of it all.

Catherine (Shelly) Bradford (Vincentian)
Detroit, Mi

From the CEO – August 2019

From the CEO – August 2019 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians,

Peace be with you. I hope and trust that you have had a safe and enjoyable summer. Hard to believe that Labor Day is straight ahead!

I. Introduction

This month I had the privilege of participating in our Society’s Invitation for Renewal #33 in St. Louis. It provided a unique, four day opportunity to immerse myself in the Vincentian spirit of Vincent, Louise, Frederic, and Rosalie. I deepened my understanding of our Mission, Vision, and Society Values. And perhaps above all, the experience challenged the thirty Vincentian leaders who attended to renew the Society today and beyond. It allowed me, as part of a wonderful group of people, to pray, grow spiritually, and perhaps, above all, ponder about what lies ahead for our Society and our Council.

In that spirit, I share a few core reflections from my experience. I do so as one lay person to others because I am more convinced than ever that our journey back to God is a communal effort – i.e. we are on this journey – or should be – together. I encourage anyone motivated to share insights to do the same.

This month’s Conference Connection focuses on the concept of “neighbor”. For the reasons set forth herein, that term should include everyone.

II. Neighbor

The term “neighbor” is at the core of our Church and our Society. Both teach us to love God and to love neighbor. The former seems rather clear. Neither our Church nor our Society, however, seems to define the latter clearly. Rather, Jesus taught us this term through a well-known gospel: The Good Samaritan, Luke 10: 25 – 37. I assume all know it well. In it, a lawyer asks Jesus about inheriting eternal life. Jesus first asks him to recite the law as he understands it. After he does so correctly, the lawyer then asks Jesus to define the term neighbor, i.e. “who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, unlike the priest and Levite who walk by the badly injured man, it is the Samaritan who chooses to act with great compassion to a stranger in need, i.e. he acts in a neighborly way.

The gospel itself, perhaps by intent, is rather ambiguous. This is particularly so if we consider it from the perspectives of the three main characters.

a) The Lawyer – One can sense that the lawyer is trying to establish a loophole. A more narrow definition of neighbor would then allow him to reason, “this person in need is not a neighbor. So I can continue to scorn him or, more likely, just generally to disregard him.” Sound familiar?

Those seeking loopholes to define our neighbor could argue that Jesus meant that we should help only those others who, like the man who fell victim to the robbers, are “sufficiently” injured or in need. If so, then we have the right to make that threshold decision, e.g. if sufficiently injured, help. If not, ignore.

From a strictly Vincentian standpoint, Rule 1.9 provides that Vincentians not judge those they serve. On occasion, do we nonetheless (e.g. a loophole of whether a person really deserves our assistance)?

In response to the attorney, why didn’t Jesus just say that “everyone” is your neighbor and that everyone should be a neighbor? Arguably, He did, in two respects – e.g. anyone in need – neighbor as “object”, and those who choose to act neighborly – neighbor as “subject”.

We know that our world is jammed with people in need, i.e. in fact, everyone has needs. In light of this reality, there should not be a practical difference between “everyone” and “neighbor” as Jesus used that term in this gospel. Clearly, we cannot help everyone. Our limits on resources and time ensure that. Those realities, however, should not detract from or narrow our broad sense of who our neighbors are.

b) The Beaten Man – a neighbor in need – the beaten man first sees a priest and then a Levite walk by unmoved by his grievous suffering. Then a Samaritan, the dreaded enemy, approaches him. Rather than kill him, however, the Samaritan provides the man compassionate care and attention. The beaten man had needs. One can imagine his sense of relief when a neighbor chose to help him, especially one who appeared to be his enemy! The Samaritan chose to be a neighbor.

c) The Samaritan – a neighbor dedicated to others’ needs – The Samaritan makes a truly inspirational choice. He chooses to help a total stranger, not because the beaten man “deserved” to be helped, but simply because of who he chose to be: a neighbor. He did so even though the person in need hailed from another region, race, religion, or ethnic origin.

The Samaritan didn’t ponder whether the man in need deserved to be helped. He didn’t say, “I would help, but I am busy and in a hurry.” He basically said, through his actions, “Here I am to help this person.” How truly inspirational. Similarly, Rule 1.4 expressly provides that “The Society serves those in need regardless of creed, ethnic or social background, health, gender, or political opinions.” It calls upon us to choose to be neighbors. How truly inspirational as well!

Neighbors choose to help others. In that important respect, we should truly care about all other people, e.g. refugees, financially strapped, homeless, even fellow Vincentians and Non-Vincentians. As Vincent taught, “God sends us to the Poor. The Poor send us back to God.”

One final thought on this parable. Like Jesus on the Cross, the man in need was beaten, bloodied, and left to die. So was Jesus. Each and every time we choose to help another, we honor the memory of a vulnerable Jesus. Choose to live and act as neighbors. Our splintered nation and world needs many, many, many more who do.

III. Neighbors in Need – Enhancing Service & Promoting change

A new book entitled Dignity, by Chris Arnade, studies and exposes the shocking, alarming growth of economic inequality and poverty in our nation. Based upon a national tour of the expanding pockets of poverty, he observes that the poor, wherever they lived, shared a commonality, “the poor were rarely considered or talked about beyond being a place of problems.”

Our Council has tirelessly assisted those in need for roughly 136 years in our Archdiocese of Detroit. As set forth in previous Conference Connections, we, of course, will continue and strengthen our traditional community outreach programs, e.g. Stores, Energy Assistance, Camp. We have chosen to be neighbors; and our collective service to those in need has been awesome!

As the needs change, however, we should, too. Without question, St. Vincent de Paul himself subscribed to the concept of continuous quality improvement. He constantly sought new and better ways to serve those in need. The only thing that remains constant is change.

Our Rule provides for no less. Rule 1.3 provides that “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.” Moreover, Rule 3: Statute 22 provides that, “At least once a year, each Conference and Council must evaluate their service . . . to the poor . . . and explore better ways to provide better service. They should also consider new types of needs they may seek to alleviate and how to find those who are in need.” (emphasis added).

a) Systemic Change

Systemic change is a new way for SVDP Councils, Districts, and Conferences to examine what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. It shifts focus beyond addressing immediate needs by helping people to move out of poverty. It involves helping identify and address root causes of poverty, e.g. transform lives. In effect, people in poverty are enmeshed in a web of complex circumstances and structures. They often have little control over this smothering dilemma.

According to our National Office, poverty in America is growing. We should explore adding services that segue our programs from being transactional in nature to relational. It may likely result in helping fewer people, albeit much more substantively. We need to help the poor reclaim the ability to dream of and plan for the future. That is a tall order. We need to work together as one Society to do so. That is the neighborly thing to do.

Our Detroit Council, Districts, and Conferences should explore new and enhanced ways to serve. Moreover, we need to consider new types of needs to address. Finally, we need to be more proactive in finding those who need our help. Our Society’s express directives require no less.

b) Possibilities 

This proactive examination of our Council can be both exciting and inspirational. In that spirit, our Council has several potential projects currently under consideration. They range from a training program aimed at systemic change, to a preventive health, wellness, and nutrition clinic, to training programs to teach practical skills at various educational levels.

In addition to these potentially impactful programs, I offer the following as examples of ways to further enhance our mission.

  • In 1970, the AOD operated 108 Catholic grade schools in the City of Detroit. Today, only four remain open. How can we help young people?
  • How many shut ins live at various independent and assisted living centers throughout the AOD? How can we visit and help shut ins?
  • Many babies born into poverty should be held shortly after birth. Similarly, many who are dying alone need their hand held. How can we help?
  • Many young adults have “fallen away” from our Church. How can we help the spirit that surely exists in all of them emerge?
  • How do we help those who, for whatever reason, have lost hope? The concept is    aptly captured by the following lyrics in Bruce Springsteen’s song, Downbound Train,

“I had a job, I had a girl
I had something going, mister, in this world
I got laid off down at the lumber yard
Our love went bad, times got hard
Now I work down at the car wash
Where all it ever does is rain
Don’t you feel like you’re a rider on a downbound train.”

At a time when our nation’s War on Poverty seems more like a War on the Poor, how can our Council and Society help more “riders” on that downbound train by becoming even better neighbors? Let us See the Possible!

c) Our Future Has Not Yet Been Written

In light of the above, I urge our Districts to embrace the challenge in Rule 3: Statute 22. Then let’s continue to communicate. We have made initial strides at compiling a master list of innovative ways that one or more Districts (as well as other Councils) are helping those in need.

Improving communication between Central Office and our districts will also help this important effort. Together, let us build today’s St. Vincent de Paul Detroit. As we do so, we will surely sustain and strengthen current programs. But, pursuant to the practices of St. Vincent de Paul himself together with the express provisions in our Rule, we must also embrace new ideas and new people and thereby remain open to growth.

d) Our Communal Journey

As we embrace and create what lies ahead, let us support one another and work collaboratively on this blessed mission. May we help each other choose to view ourselves as “neighbor” and thereby help anyone in need. As we do, let us remember that we are on a communal journey back to God.

No more clearly is that journey and its communal nature better depicted than in a profoundly simple prayer that we have recited so often since childhood that we may not appreciate its profundity. The Our Father speaks powerfully and unequivocally of our need for God and for one another. Not once in the prayer is there any reference whatsoever to the individual. Instead, it provides as follows.

 

Our Father

Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those
Who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.   Amen.

IV. Conclusion

As we embrace what lies ahead, we need to be neighbors and proactively explore how we can become even better neighbors to all in need. This includes not only improving our current community outreach programs but also exploring new ways to serve. Our staff is fully committed to this challenge; and I encourage all of our Districts and Conferences to be as well.

Our Council is more stable than it has been in some time. It stands as a tribute to what we can accomplish together. Thanks to our staff and each of you, we are positioned to enhance our service to others. Whether we do or not remains to be seen. We do know one thing for sure: many, many people in need are counting on each of us to choose to be a neighbor. God bless.

Dan

From the CEO – May 2019

From the CEO – May 2019 600 600 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. Thanks to each of you, our Council continues to stabilize and make measurable progress as, day by day, we engage in our modest version of God’s work.

From a business standpoint, I am pleased to announce that we have hired Megan Witty as our new Director of Store Operations. Megan has extensive management experience running thrift store operations for Goodwill Industries. She starts Wednesday, May 8th. Welcome aboard, Megan!

I. The Important Art of “Story Telling”

We just completed our annual Lenten season and Easter celebration. The miraculous transformation that occurs from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is the very essence of our faith.
As we embrace what lies ahead, no matter where you may find yourself or what you may be facing, let us remember that in just three days, the family and followers of Jesus Christ went from abject hopelessness and profound despair to great hope and eternal joy.

During his remarkable life as a man, Jesus Christ used the art of “story telling” to share His core messages. In fact, He left behind no writings of his own. Instead, the gospels are stories trying to convey the messages of Jesus. It is this collection of stories, passed down from generation to generation, that help capture what Jesus taught.

In that spirit, I briefly reference four, well known gospels recently read at Mass that touched me deeply. Two dealt with Lent and two with Easter.

II. Lent

a) Unwillingness to Forgive – the first gospel from Matthew spoke of a Master who had compassion and forgave a significant debt of one of his servants. In turn, the servant then refuses to forgive a modest debt owed to him. Instead, he has his debtor severely beaten. Jesus taught that we should strive to “do unto others as I have done to you.” Every Mass before communion, we confess that “Lord, I am not worthy.” Nonetheless, like the Master, Jesus forgives us. For as long as we possess the gift of Life, we have the capability of acting “God-like” by choosing to treat others as Jesus treats us. In that regard, do we go to Mass, profess our unworthiness, discover that we are accepted by God “as is”, and then choose to treat others with disrespect and no compassion? How often are our actions like those of the unforgiving servant?

b) Being Judgmental – the second gospel from John told the story of Jesus and the adulteress. During Passover, under the watchful eye of Roman soldiers perched atop the city walls, a crowd gathered in Jerusalem’s Temple square and confronted Jesus with an adulteress. Curiously, the story makes no reference to the alleged adulterer. The crowd wanted her stoned to death. But, in response to Jesus’s challenge, no one in the crowd was willing to cast the first stone. Instead, the accusing crowd quickly left. After it dispersed, Jesus found
himself alone with the woman. He could have lectured her about her sin and judged her. Instead, he simply said, “go and sin no more.” How often do we lecture another in need as we help them? How often do we comment to others whether those we serve deserve our help?

People help us every day. They see us “as is”. When we choose to judge or lecture others, we are succumbing to temptations like those Jesus faced in the desert. When we do, even as we help another, we exhibit a close-mindedness that has been described as an “imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he/she is locked up.”

Everyone walks in different shoes. Every day, we choose between acting God-like – e.g., forgiveness, acceptance, selfless love of another, “unworthy” soul – or surrendering, once again, to un-God-like temptations. Shouldn’t we strive to help others in need without judging them? After all, our Vincentian Rule (1.9) provides as much; and we are all in need.

The gospels, our stories, are profoundly rich signs if only we “slow things down” and reflect upon the messages they contain. Until one does, we may find ourselves stuck in a personal desert of unwillingness to forgive, judging all others with whom one disagrees (e.g. morals police), and general loneliness and discontent. Collectively, these are characteristics commonly attributable to our journey of darkness that the Lenten season asks us to reflect upon.

III. Easter Life Is A Process

The miracle of Easter reinforces our belief in Jesus as well as the need we have for others – all others. By it, we segue from darkness to light and from despair to joy and peace. In that essential sense, Easter is a process of how we view our Lord, our world, and each other. Two recent gospels, in particular, capture this reality.

a) Resucito! (He has risen!) – On Easter morning, we heard the gospel of John. It told the story of three people going to Christ’s tomb on Sunday morning, three days after His murder. Mary Magdalene goes first “while it is still dark”. Upon noticing that the tomb is empty, she does not enter it. Perhaps she was frightened. Perhaps it had to do with then prevailing norms for women. Instead, she shares the news with others. Peter and the “favored disciple” then go to the tomb and enter it. Peter, the leader, assesses the situation, but does not comprehend what has happened. One can be blinded by power or status and not “see” the situation. The “favored disciple”, on the other hand, sees and concludes that Jesus has risen. How interesting that two people can see the same situation and draw such different conclusions!

b) Those Who Have Not Seen, But Believe – The Sunday after Easter, we heard another gospel from John. In it, Jesus appears to some of the disciples, but Thomas was not among them. “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ ” Later, Jesus appears before His disciples again: “Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. (emphasis added).

Easter is not just a day in the year. Rather, according to my inspirational Pastor, Msgr. John Zenz, Easter life commenced from the very beginning of Christ’s earthly days. It is a saving light that radiated through Him even in His darkest moments of abandonment.

“Easter life” dwells within us, too. It is seeking to radiate through us. It gives us the capacity to accept, forgive, and love all others. It is that light that creates a strong sense of community among those who believe. So often we say to ourselves, if only I had a sign from Jesus. Let us look inside ourselves to find that sign by choosing to share generously our Easter life.

Clearly, the road to salvation can be difficult and most challenging. At times, it may seem not unlike carrying a heavy cross. As we struggle and continually fall short, we should be heartened by the assurance that Jesus will never abandon us. We should not be afraid no matter how bleak life might seem. Therein lies precisely why spiritual formation should be communal in nature.

From a salvation standpoint, we need God, above all. But we also need one another in at least two, quite distinct ways.

First, when one chooses to see and accept “imperfections” in others (just as Jesus does with us), one miraculously converts crisis into opportunities to grow and thereby develop into a more loving human being. In that sense, how one chooses to deal with another’s “imperfections” are some of the most important choices one can make. When confronted by the imperfections of others, are we living our Easter life, or are we choosing instead to live as self-appointed, unforgiving “referees” who criticize, judge, and condemn others for “being human”?

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we?

Easter life offers a second, entirely different promise. Clearly, one’s understanding of God and His world is limited. According to noted Christian author, Katelyn Beaty, “I need the insights of others in order to fill in what I, owing to ignorance, sin, or immaturity, cannot see.” Consider it this way. Assume that understanding of God is a seven billion piece jigsaw puzzle. Each of the seven billion people on Earth is a “piece”. How many pieces have you assembled? So, we should be striving for inclusion. Instead, for a variety of reasons, we tend to remain huddled in our comfort zones.

These days, a significant, practical challenge to inclusion is that many of us tend to listen only to those who share similar views. Moreover, a growing number of social media sites caters to those who wish to remain ideologically narrow. That mindset can have serious ramifications for the individual and for a pluralist society and religion like ours.

We need others, all others, to grow in love and to grow in understanding. Doing so involves that currency of selfless love about which Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J. so eloquently spoke at our Evening of Reflection.

IV. Conclusion

Our world is being seriously challenged in many ways. One could say it is still working its way through a desert of its own. Easter life offers the remedy to those who embrace it. While truly glorious, it is not easy. We must overcome temptations like unwillingness to forgive, harshly judging others, jealousies, and even hate to “get there.” Only then can one truly emulate the Risen Lord and believe even though one has not seen. After all, faith should not be about everything turning out ok. Rather, it should be about being ok no matter how things turn out.

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love. Herein lies why we need God and each other. That is precisely what our Vincentian values promote.

Just as humans are flawed, we have discovered, painfully, that human institutions can be as well. To the extent possible, we should apply these same principles to our relationship with our institutions, especially our Church. It is not always easy to do. But making time for prayer and reflection reminds us of who we are living for. In that regard, the President of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John I. Jenkins, had this important reminder about, in the final analysis, what really matters.

“Yet genuine faith is not founded on a confidence in the goodness of human ministers, but on the mystery of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. The Church is the sign and instrument of that mystery, but we hold the treasure in the earthen vessel of human fallibility. True faith calls us not to be discouraged by human sin, but to focus more completely on the hope offered by Christ. If we do this, we can deepen our prayer, strengthen our commitment to live good and holy lives, and foster a hope that will shine more clearly.” Thank you, Fr. Jenkins. Well said. After all, while vitally important, “field hospitals after battle” are, like the noble patients they serve, hardly models of perfection. Rather, they are earthen vessels of human fallibility. Notwithstanding plenty of hypocrisy in our world, Easter life is still rock solid and available to all those who seek it.

May our collective, selfless service for all in need as well as our “Easter life” serve as the inspirational, spiritual antidote to the senseless, shocking barbarism we continue to witness. Let our prayers especially include the poor victims and their grieving survivors in Pittsburgh, Poway, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere who were savagely murdered as they worshipped. Lord, have mercy.

I look forward to seeing many Vincentians at this year’s Awards Breakfast on May 19th at Sacred Heart Seminary. It promises to be an enjoyable celebration. God bless.

Dan

From the CEO – April 2019

From the CEO – April 2019 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I hope that you and your family have made it successfully through yet another Michigan Winter. This year’s was particularly harsh. May the cold weather soon be behind us. Welcome to Spring!

We find ourselves well into the Lenten season, a period of preparation that is meant to remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the desert. But, especially in light of the truly disturbing backdrop of recent events, our challenge is to quiet ourselves and prepare to visit with God through prayer, repentance of sins, and reflection.

Last month, I spoke of gospels that addressed the challenges we face when dealing with both “neighbors” and “enemies”. It reflected upon our “external” struggle (i.e. how we choose to deal with others). That challenge involves the interplay between God’s two greatest commandments – love of God and love of neighbor.

This month’s column offers thoughts on prayer and then offers three reflections that may help to cope with powerful “internal” struggles (i.e. how we choose to deal with ourselves) that all of us wrestle with. Those struggles are depicted in a recent, well-known gospel that deals with temptation.

Like last month’s, the topic of temptation is particularly fitting for Lenten reflection. I share the following comments in the spirit of promoting continued growth in our core Vincentian values of spirituality and friendship. I do not have answers or even any particularly keen insights. As a fellow lay person, however, it is my hope that these comments cause you to think on things. If a thought or two helps you prepare for Easter just as you help me, even better.

1. Lent – Prayer – In the Name of the Father

Lent can be just another forty days in our march through yet another year. Lent can also be a time that invites us through prayer and reflection to come to terms with the human condition. If we choose to accept the invitation, Lenten prayer and reflection can bring our need for a Savior into better focus. It is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and understand our Lord a little deeper. If we do, then when Good Friday and eventually Easter come, it is not just another day at church but an opportunity to receive the overflowing graces God has to offer.

Lent allows us to pause and examine our imperfections, whatever they may be, and return to the God who, through our shortcomings, we may have disappointed (or disregarded) time and again. Lent should not stop at sadness and despair, however. Rather, it should guide us to the hope of the Resurrection that Easter Sunday reminds us of annually. Prayer helps us to re-orient ourselves in a world filled with distractions and temptations.

Prayer can consist of beautiful recitations that we learn at an early age at our parents’ knee. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” It can also be more extemporaneous. “Good and gracious God, we feel your love and presence as we gather in your name.” It can and should also be much more inclusive. For example, any act of love, charity, mercy, or forgiveness is a meaningful kind of prayer. So, too, are daily activities undertaken in God’s name. It is not easy. But dedicating oneself to act with love in God’s honor can develop a mindset that helps one to stay the course when Life’s storm of temptations come as they surely will. As importantly, helping others do the same through daily personal choices of how one chooses to treat others is the best way, perhaps the only way, to stay focused on what really matters. Prayer can be anything thought, said, or done to evangelize the name of Jesus Christ.

In a real sense, our lives are a long, winding, complex, interrupted, joyous, sorrowful, evolving, and ofttimes messy prayer. “Prayer” should be a LOT more than prescribed words. Prayer should not be compartmentalized.

Lord, notwithstanding our world’s chaotic state, let us, in your name, commit to helping one another take a more prayerful approach to our daily lives and decisions. Let us also aspire to see one another in a more compassionate, forgiving light – just as Jesus surely sees us – each and every time another “falls short.” No matter how many times we or another falls, let our focus be on getting up or helping her/him up rather than criticizing the fall. Let us not be the “morals police.” Let us instead love thy neighbor as you love us. Amen.

2. Lent – Reflection I – Matthew’s Gospel (29:25) – “The rich get richer” – Who Is your Annie?

On February 27th, Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J. from Manresa Retreat House, graciously served as the keynote speaker at our Evening of Reflection. As those who attended know, he gave a masterful presentation. Because so many were not able to attend, I briefly reference two of his main points.

Fr. Hurd first referenced the gospel of Matthew, “the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer”. How can that be? Fr. Hurd then brilliantly questioned “what currency is one using” when making that inquiry. Money? Or love? When it is love, the passage makes incredible sense. It reminds one of another passage, typically used at wedding ceremonies, where St. Paul teaches the Corinthians that “Love is patient, love is kind. . . . So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love begets more love.

This kind of love is difficult to experience, much less sustain. It needs to be nourished – reinforced – by the grace of God. In another sense, St. Paul describes this kind of love so that we may recognize and embrace it when it enters our lives.

Fr. Hurd then shared an example of this kind of selfless love. He spoke eloquently and candidly about a personal experience he had while serving on a Native American reservation in the Dakotas. He had agreed to tutor a struggling young lady, “Annie”, who was determined to obtain her high school equivalency degree. By all measures, Annie was a person of very limited economic means. In effect, she was a neighbor in need.

A few weeks into the tutoring, Annie asked Fr. Hurd if he would counsel her not only on her education, but on how to adopt a child as well. After all, Annie reasoned, since she had so much, it was only fitting that she help another in need. For Fr. Hurd, the poignant moment was yet another inspirational reminder of what he knew and what he had witnessed time and time again: one’s capacity to give – to love as St. Paul described – is a personal choice.

How often do we view our “neighbors in need” as less likely, perhaps even incapable, of helping others? To be sure, Vincentians serve. But, as we do, let us remain open to the possibility that we are the person in need. In that regard, who is your Annie?

3.  Lent – Reflection II – Luke’s Gospel (4: 1-13) – Forty Days in the Desert

Luke’s gospel of Jesus being tempted in the desert is an incredibly personal one. It begins with the Spirit leading Jesus into the desert where Jesus stayed without nourishment for forty days. While it mentions the temple, it does not involve or even make reference to any other person. Rather, it depicts a conversation, a personal encounter between Jesus the man, struggling, worn down, and unnourished (i.e. vulnerable), and Satan. In that sense, this gospel could depict Jesus having a dream or reflection in a quiet moment. As we know, Satan tempts Jesus three times; and, each time, Jesus thwarts the temptations. Herein lies the “internal” aspect of this gospel. How often, especially when we feel vulnerable, do we experience the same internal struggle with temptations?

Practically speaking, when, in the solitude of our mind or heart, temptation comes calling, its allure can be irresistible. Its daily influence involves issues like personal advancement, e.g. greed, jealousy, hurtful rumors, revenge, bullying, hate, etc. v. selfless love of others. Our responses at these crossroads become “ambiguous.” If we use a “I am the center of the universe internal analysis”, there may seemingly always be “justification” for one’s actions as cruel or insensitive as they may be. To further complicate things, one’s past, particularly events that caused trauma and left scars, can arrive without invite and can add fiery spice to the decision-making process. It is in this collective sense that I use the term temptation as being anything that can distract us from living God’s will. Therein lies what should be the real topic of Lenten reflection.

A second, far more prevalent and nefarious internal barrier exists that stifles inclusion and acceptance of others, even accepting ourselves. It is a characteristic common to every human being: vulnerabilities. That can involve literally anything – real or perceived – that causes us to feel inadequate, insecure, or filled with doubt. They are temptations, too. Vulnerabilities contribute immeasurably to the complexities of the human condition. In our incredibly diverse world, the greatest commonality we share is vulnerability. How we choose to deal with them can be life changing.

Accepting “vulnerabilities” – in ourselves and others – miraculously converts crises into opportunities to grow. When we accept our own flaws, we tend to see others through more compassionate and forgiving eyes.

As we move along our “forty days of Lent”, let us reflect upon our discomforts with neighbors who are “different” and, perhaps more so, our unease with our own temptations and vulnerabilities, whatever they may be. As we do, let us realize that embracing them allows us to grow spiritually. Rather than rue our shortcomings, therefore, let us thank God for the miracle of imperfections!

As the classic poem, Desiderata, reminds, “. . . with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

4.  Lent – Reflection III – “Thy” will v. My will (i.e. temptations)

Let us pause and reflect upon the true nature of our “internal” struggle. How often have we recited the Lord’s Prayer? In it, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. God’s will, not ours. Is it between God and “Satan”? Or is it more akin to Thy will v. My will? Each of us is surely capable of acting “God-like” (e.g. loving others) and “Un-God-like” (i.e. you get the picture). Temptations, vulnerabilities, and ghosts from one’s past can create turbulent internal storms that make it truly difficult to be God-like to others.

Whose will do you aspire to? Clearly, what God teaches us to do and what we want to do is ofttimes sympatico. When a “conflict” arises, however, how often do we choose “my will”? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” That is what we ask for each and every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer.

By design, humans are flawed. Especially in a society like ours that constantly bombards us with concepts of perfection (e.g. beauty, wealth, femininity, masculinity, success, even happiness), the harsh impact of imperfections and self-critical analysis can be depressing, even devastating. None of us measures up. So our willingness to see ourselves and others “as is”, flaws and all, is how God enters our lives, our world.

When we let shortcomings control our behavior, we tend to focus on our shortcomings and frailties. Let us choose instead to focus on the boundless power of God. When we live and act in His name, anything becomes possible. Choosing to do so will help make compassion contagious. “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

5. Conclusion

Lenten tradition calls for “giving up” something. But think about what “giving” could create. To be sure, every nod, every smile, every interaction can change the course of someone else’s day. We wield that influence in either a positive or negative way. Choose to empower others. It may be the most important act of kindness you can extend to another; and it is free. How can one do so? Stated simply, just as Jesus did, use love as your currency. If necessary, use it first during Lent and then all year round. And remain open to “finding your Annie”.

Asnat Greenberg believes that empowering another means stifling the temptations of gratuitously criticizing, judging, being mean or cynical, and curbing one’s ego. Instead, one should smile at others, praise them, acknowledge them, thank them, and wish them a good day. Simply stated, the choice to empower others makes our world a better place. It may also make each of us happier, better people.

Secondly, God does not give up on us because we have flaws. If so, He’d give up on everyone! He loves us because of our flaws! Thy will, not my will. The gospel tells us that the Spirit led Jesus into his desert – just as the Spirit leads us into our personal deserts of temptations, vulnerabilities, and nightmares from the past. Our challenge is not to avoid them as much as to deal with them through conscience formation, e.g. acknowledge, repent, forgive, love. Then and only then can the barren fig tree bear fruit. Just as Jesus forgives us, so too should we strive to forgive others. Indeed, formation comes with the mindfulness of our flaws together with a humility and determination to do something about them.

The future has not yet been written!

Finally, we live in a world uncomfortable in its own skin. We have suffered through so many horrific massacres, the latest in New Zealand. God have mercy on all of the poor victims and survivors of such senseless tragedies. Our Church and government have been rocked with scandals. And, for several reasons, during the last two decades, our U.S. Catholic Church has suffered its most dramatic exodus, particularly among millennials. We surely must make time for prayer. Prayer needs to include not only quiet, personal reflection, but also proactive evangelization (i.e. we must live the Good Word of the Gospels).

Finding your “Annie”, committing to Thy will be done, empowering others, making time to pray, and “fostering a hope (for others) that will shine more clearly” – sounds like a perfect combination to prepare for our most holy day of the year.

Let us go and serve the Lord by serving all who we meet. God bless.