Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:
Peace be with you. I sincerely hope that you remain safe and are doing as well as possible during this on-going, dreadful health crisis. Be assured, you are in my prayers; and I ask that you keep me in yours. These are times that challenge our resolve. Day by day, may we prove that we are more than up to the tasks at hand.
This month I share thoughts and feelings on three topics. Even though we may not understand why something has happened, it behooves us to pause and reflect upon the reality that life is precious and continually changing. I share the following in the spirit of Vincentian friendship and not because I have any unique insights. As always, if my comments create a similar willingness within you to share thoughts or feelings, please be assured that I welcome your doing so.
I. Covid-19 – Still a Serious Threat
As you all know, Covid-19 continues to threaten. Understandably, after eight months, many are feeling fatigued and frustrated. But the two highest days of new cases in Michigan on record occurred last week! In fact, Michigan’s alarming rise in new Covid-19 cases has pushed the seven day average to its highest level since early April. The safety of our staff, our Vincentians, and everyone involved with our Council is paramount. We should stay vigilant in our efforts to help mitigate the spread of this insidious virus, e.g. masks, social distancing, sanitizing, etc. Stay focused and safe!
Second, ALL not-for-profits are facing “pandemic revenue hits”. Indeed, one in six not-for-profits closed between 2009 – 2013 following the Great Recession. Experts forecast that Covid-19 will have a similar impact.
When Covid-19 “started”, people’s generosity led to an uptick in donations. Depending upon how long this pandemic lasts, however, there could well be a steep cliff ahead for not-for-profits, especially if, God forbid, this crisis lingers for another year, or longer! Be assured, we remain outwardly focused and helping people in need. At the same time, we are managing and planning for that possibility by deferring expenses as much as possible. Please understand that these are not normal times! All things considered, thanks to our talented, dedicated Leadership Team and staff, so far, so good.
Third, we should remain ever mindful of the widening gap between being inconvenienced and being devastated. Recently, noted journalist, Fareed Zakaria, had this to say. “I cannot but help wondering if the relative normalcy of life . . . has prevented us from understanding the true severity of the problem. For those of us using Zoom, things have been a bit disruptive and strange. But for tens of millions of people in America . . . . this is the Great Depression. Can we please help them?” Well said. I am grateful to be part of our organization, which does precisely that.
II. Frank Morelli – A Man for Others
On Saturday, October 3, 2020, Frank Morelli, an AOD Board member, was suddenly and tragically killed in a horrible car accident. His passing is a terrible loss to his family, his friends, and this Council. To those who knew him, Frank epitomized what it means to be a good person and a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. He was kind, compassionate, generously shared his considerable talents, and cared deeply for his family and others. I feel truly blessed to have known him. On behalf of a deeply saddened Council, I extend heartfelt condolences to Frank’s family. Please keep them in your prayers. Frank was truly a Man for Others who enriched the lives of all he met. May he rest in eternal peace and joy; and may his family feel God’s love and support during these truly difficult times.
III. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul & Our Essential Role
Our October 2nd Top Hat Ball Un-Gala was quite successful in many respects. For those who chose to “attend” and want to see it again, or who were unable to attend but would like to view it, we have posted the entire program on YouTube, 2020 Top Hat Ball Ungala. You can also find it by going to YouTube and searching for “St. Vincent de Paul Top Hat Un-Gala 2020”. In particular, I commend you to watch the truly remarkable discussion moderated by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Stephen Henderson. The panel consisted of Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., Kylee Mitchell Wells, and Bishop Donald Hying. The entire, forty minute discussion on social justice and broadening one’s sense of community was fabulous. Our Council owes a debt of gratitude to these extraordinary individuals.
The panel discussion was incredibly well done. Stephen Henderson moderated superbly. That four total strangers came together to create such a robust, respectful conversation was amazing. All surely contributed. Kylee Mitchell Wells spoke forcefully of the critical role that philanthropic groups can and do play through collaboration. A favorite quote of mine came from Fr. Boyle. He shared an anecdote about a gang member of his beloved “dearly deportees” to the effect that love is stronger than any virus. The young man urged others to choose to be each other’s “protective mask” not only from Covid-19 but from all of life’s challenges. What an inspirational vision! Another truly memorable comment was shared by Bishop Hying when he said:
“The greatest organization in our Church today is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul because it is a grassroots, lay led group of folks that are intent on giving honor and glory to God by growing in fellowship and service with each other, but then going to those who are in need, not from a position of superiority. but from a position of humble service and solidarity. When we can do that on a local level, then there is an abundance of life for us.”
For me, this profound comment touches upon how we Vincentians should view the world and, most importantly, choose to behave. Actions – not titles define a Vincentian. Some view one’s life journey as involving separate “spheres of influence”, e.g. they compartmentalize. For example, they act one way in one setting and another way elsewhere. I believe that a “good life” is one that consists not of separate spheres of influence, but rather rests upon coherence – i.e. the merging of behavior in all “spheres” through an interrelationship between the social world and the spiritual world. Therein lies the essence of being a Vincentian.
In the poor and in neighbors in need, Vincentians see the “suffering Christ”, Rule , Part 1,1.8). We strive to understand that the essence of Vincentian tradition is rooted in the spirituality of Christian love expressed in community through service; and we commit to helping one another, e.g. Vincentians, Staff, and all involved in our community. Together, we express Christian spirituality through reverent service to the poor, the marginalized, and to each other. “Happiness comes upon you unawares while you are helping others.”
Jesus advocated that we see one another – all others – through the lens of love. Our Vincentian Rule is built entirely on the same core message. Jesus taught that we are bound together through relationships, particularly with those who are most vulnerable. Without this spiritual basis, people, even Vincentians, can and do continually fall back into disputes between one group and others. As Bishop Hying pointed out, truly committing to spiritual relationships can create a world that is free of racism, cares for the poor, welcomes life, and builds a civilization of love. See the Possible! Clearly, we have a long way to go!
To be sure, none of us will soon forget 2020. But if it leads to our heightened appreciation of our Vincentian need for one another, then it will prove to have been a most purposeful, albeit painful, year.
One word of caution. Seeing others through a lens of love and acting accordingly is no protection from criticism. Indeed, it may well cause others to criticize one’s actions loudly. When confronted with such critics, think of the advice that St. Teresa of Calcutta, a patron saint of helping the Poor and destitute, once shared (and lived by).
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
– Mother Teresa
It is hard to believe that it has been eight months since Michigan’s mask mandate went into effect. I want to thank everyone for staying safe and for adhering to our Covid-19 safety guidelines. Unfortunately, recently Michigan has seen a sharp increase in the number of reported cases and hospitalizations. Please continue to be vigilant in your safety efforts.
This is a moment in time that eventually will pass. It is a challenging time for all of us. But remember: we are a team! We will get through this crisis together. And if you need a reminder of what a wonderful world we are blessed to live in, take some time to walk among the trees, in the quiet splendid beauty that is a Michigan Autumn.
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” – Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton
Finally, our nation is engaging in national, state, and local elections. Your voice matters. This year, whether in person or by mail, participate in our democracy and exercise your freedom and right to vote.
Best wishes on all ahead. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,