Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:
Peace be with you. I sincerely hope that you had a safe, healthy, enjoyable, and blessed Christmas holiday.
Welcome to a new year! Our Council made great strides in 2019 thanks to a team effort. I am most grateful to all Vincentians, staff, consultants, and others who contributed in their own way to the betterment of our Council and to the tens of thousands of neighbors in need that we served in some meaningful way. We are well positioned to make 2020 even better! Doing so will take a sustained team effort and a laser-like focus on our inspirational mission and Rule.
Our staff met or exceeded expectations this past year. Heartfelt thanks to each of them for their effort, the professional respect they exhibited to one other, and, above all, their commitment to our mission. Our team comes from different backgrounds. Each has strengths. Each has weaknesses. Each dedicates every work day to helping those we serve and each other. Thank you, staff, for staying focused. Doing so allows each of us to work in conjunction with our Vincentians and with many others to advance the inspirational teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, Rosalie Rendu, and others.
I. Our Challenge – Where We Find Ourselves
We, of course, live “locally”. But thanks to relentless social media, among other things, we are exposed virtually instantly to developments “globally”. Such exposure informs, entertains, and perhaps most significantly, persuades. This daily deluge can (and does) powerfully shape image making and public opinion. It allows us to stay current on business and social events. But it also exposes us to philosophical partisanship. Whereas once we had only “broadcasting”, e.g. NBC, ABC, CBS, we now have “narrowcasting”, e.g. channels aimed at a more targeted audience. An important question, therefore, is from what source does one obtains his or her “news”.
More and more, people seem to be defining themselves by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social class – and less by even traditional political identity. People on the “other side” of one’s personal divide seem more than just “wrong”. Moreover, many critical issues in this regard do not lend themselves to compromise as readily as more traditional political issues do, e.g. raise or lower taxes. And select use of the internet allows one to find social media sources that reinforce, even galvanize, preconceived notions. That makes for a landscape that focuses more on differences than commonalities.
In light of this potentially volatile backdrop, the service we provide our neighbors and the friendship we provide each other is more important than ever.
As for 2020, I have no particular insights or answers. Instead, as a lay Vincentian and in the spirit of friendship, I humbly offer fellow Vincentians, staff, and all others the following two New Year resolutions as we prepare to embrace the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Both are essential to remaining faithful to our Society’s mission.
II. Resolution # 1 – Following Our Inspirational Rule More Closely
SVdPD has served those in need for 135 years. During that time, our Council has had good years and bad. Through it all, our Rule has guided us. Like any organization, some know the Rule better than others. It is a brilliant document. We should incorporate it more into our daily activities. Here are just three examples. I list the title to each sub-rule; and then, as a Vincentian, I briefly share what the sub-section means to me.
You may well have a different interpretation of a particular rule. If so, great! I would welcome hearing from you. Our ensuing discussion(s) would likely be an opportunity for me to grow spiritually.
Rule 1.2 The Vincentian Vocation
Vincentians are on a journey together. Each commits to following Christ through service in hope to those in need and friendship toward each other. This includes everyone in need, e.g. neighbors, fellow staff, fellow Vincentians, fellow human beings. By doing so, they bear witness to the compassionate and liberating love of Jesus.
By express rule, we do not judge those we serve. Literally, our rule challenges us to be on a mission from God, e.g. His servant. Nowhere in gospels did Jesus say, “I’d cure you, but you have not earned it.” Likewise, we should not say, “I’d help you, but somehow you are not what I think you should be, i.e. you are not worth it.” All Jesus said in that regard was “believe in me.” We should view those in need similarly. By doing so, may we thereby become a channel for grace.
Rule 1.6 Adaptation to a Changing World
This rule provides that our Society should constantly strive for renewal and embrace changing world conditions. It further provides that we give priority to the poor and to those most rejected by society. Who are those most rejected by society?
People generally rue change. But our Rule urges us to strive constantly to adapt to changing world conditions. New types of poverty are appearing; and we should do what we can to help. As previously shared, U.S. Census data indicates that the “economic gap” between the Haves and the Have Nots has never been wider than it was in 2019 in the 75 years that such data has been gathered. We should not sit by idly as our nation’s War on Poverty slowly becomes a “War on the Poor”.
Adaptation is hardly limited to issues of poverty. Indeed, our Nation and our Church, among others, are deeply and proactively engaged in robust discussions that will surely have profound ramifications. For example, in regard to our Church, Fr. Richard Rohr shines inspirational light on the reality that, for almost two thousand years, preaching and interpretation of Scripture was from “the perspective of power, primarily European, educated, quite comfortable, . . . ” From that perspective, he then wonders how the essential voices of women, those with “disabilities”, people of color, and others will enhance these on-going discussions. These are essential voices that deserve to be heard and respected in a crucial on-going dialogue both our Church and Society are having. Pursuant to our Rule 1.6, we should strive to facilitate constructive discussions on this type of adaptation as well.
I am also very excited about a new program proposal that our Council may launch soon. It will be aimed at empowering our Districts and Conferences to better adapt and respond to the needs of those they serve. Details to follow!
Rule 1.8 Reverence for the Poor
I have referenced this Rule previously and stated that Vincentians should strive to see the face of Jesus in those we serve. That could be construed as the loving face of the teaching Jesus, or the healing Jesus – e.g. kind, compassionate, assuring. But Rule 1.8 provides that Vincentians should see the “suffering Christ” in the poor. Suffering has many dimensions, e.g. economic, spiritual, social, and personal. May we strive to see the perceived “flaws” in others as opportunities to adhere more closely to this most inspirational rule.
Each of us would like to think that we would have “helped” the suffering Christ as He painfully made His way along the road to Calvary. In our everyday world, do we see people “suffering”? Choose to help by choosing to change within yourself and see the suffering Christ in those in need.
III. Resolution # 2 – Strengthening Our Commitment to Friendship
Our Rule sets a high bar to meet, let alone sustain. Service can be exhausting, thankless, and frustrating. Each of us needs at least an occasional “spirit lift.” Herein lies why friendship should serve as our collective and personal bridge between two of our Society’s core values: spiritual growth and service.
Friendship is our Society’s third core value. It applies to every Vincentian, every staff member, and everyone with whom we interact. How often do we say (or think) “if only that person would… “ Friendship involves compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Choosing to act otherwise, e.g. judgmental, resentment, divisive cliques, is simply contrary to the letter and the spirit expressly set forth in our Vincentian Rule. Especially these days, we tend to see or hear things and focus on what is “wrong” with it. According to Dewitt Jones, “the lens we choose transforms the way we look at things. By celebrating what’s right with the world, we find the energy to fix what is wrong.” Choose to celebrate what’s right with fellow Vincentians, SVdPD staff, colleagues, families, neighbors we serve, and the world.
Gaudete Sunday’s gospel spoke of John the Baptist who was imprisoned shortly before his death. While there, he sends a disciple to ask Jesus whether He, in fact, is the chosen one. Imagine that: the fellow who actually conversed with and baptized Jesus and who Jesus then described as “none greater among those born to women than John the Baptist” wrestled with doubts, too!!! Blessed struggle! He saw and yet he doubted. But so, too, was his sustained journey to God and eternal joy blessed. He believed so that he could see. In this critical respect, it is not the destination (or absence of doubt) that matters. Instead, it is the journey, our Vincentian journey. Are there doubts along the way? You bet! That is why friendship can be invaluable in those inevitable moments of doubt, no matter the cause. What a priceless gift to bestow on another in need. Choose to do so!
There is a movie currently at theaters about Mr. Rogers entitled “It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”. Rather than see flaws in others, e.g. “if only . . . “, Fred Rogers constantly told those with whom he interacted, “I like you just the way you are.” He was also so proactively inquisitive about others with whom he came in contact. Stated simply, he genuinely cared about other people. His freely shared message for others simply, profoundly, and beautifully embodies the essence and spirit of our Vincentian core value.
I admire how many within our ranks have worked hard to preserve and nurture friendships. Mutual respect allows one to transcend the pain that keeps so many sealed off because of “partisanship”. Let us choose to embrace what lies ahead together and in friendship.
Even if 2019 witnessed an event or words that one wished hadn’t happened or been spoken, seize the opportunity to forgive. Your choosing to do so will be consistent with our Rule; and you’ll be glad you did. Build bridges, not walls. By helping others in need, including fellow Vincentians, staff, and me, each of us will be making the transition from pushing ourselves to be the best in the world to allowing ourselves to be “the best for the world.”
Ready or not, here comes 2020! It will be in the best interests of those we serve – and each other – if we choose to adopt a more loving, supportive, and deliberate attitude as we negotiate what lies ahead. Thank you for your anticipated agreement and cooperation with that basic, self-evident proposition. One way or another, I do believe that, if we commit to these two, profoundly simple resolutions, we will help one another along the right path to God and to the land of grace. May we help each other choose to serve God by better serving those in need and each other.
The future has not yet been written. In the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul and others, Pope Francis has consistently promoted the call for our Church to “go to the margins” and proactively minister to those neglected or even rejected by Society. That’s our Vincentian challenge. That’s our Vincentian mission. Together, we can take the ordinary that each workday can be, and see how we can make it extraordinary.
Happy New Year! I hope to see you at our Annual Meeting on January 19, 2020. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,