“The poor are Christ” – Reflections of a parish priest

by | May 21, 2014 | Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Len StoviakThanks to Astor Rodriquez for spotting this gem by Father Len Stoviak  about the “preferential option for the poor”,  Vincent and  the work of the Vincent de Paul Society in his parish.

The poor are Christ

Today’s feast of Saint Vincent de Paul reminds us of our need to see Christ in all people, and to especially seek and find him in the poor and needy, in the orphans and widows, in those most in need.  The man whose name today is borne by a church organization called the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and the Ladies of Charity and the Vincentians was born in 1576 in France.  Ordained a priest, he had two main missions – to live charity that embraced the poor, young and old, peoples that were caught up in war, prisoners and the oppressed.  The poor person, ignorant and degraded, was to him the image of Jesus.  But so were the rich, clergy and lay, who needed – his second goal – to be led to this understanding that Jesus himself had a “preferential option for the poor”, and that to be Christ-like one must also embrace this option.

Within the past month or so, a gentleman from our diocese sent a letter to most, if not all, priests as well as our bishop.  I know him, and he is not some radical nor is he “out of it”.  He is a retired teacher from one of our diocesan high schools.   In the letter, he observes that very few Catholics know about or have heard of this “preferential option for the poor”, since it is rarely preached or even mentioned by bishops or priests.  He calls us priests and challenges the church to do a better job in this regard.  Much of what he says is all too often true, and the challenge is needed today as much as it was in the days of Vincent de Paul in France in the 1800’s.  I was struck by the passion of his words and example and reminded of the growing needs that exist in today’s world.

However, the message is not lost and the need does not go unmet.  The vitality of the Saint Vincent de Paul Societies and the Ladies of Charity in our area is inspiring.  Stores are set up, food pantries and food banks sponsored, outreach is given with kindness, love and generosity throughout this diocese.  Countless people have had their lives touched by this love and concern.  In our own parish, I have spoken of this “option for the poor” and people have responded.  Recently during a visit by our Dean, the bishop’s representative, I was asked what social outreach the parish experienced.  As I began mentioning some of them, I was moved by how generous our people are with time and resources – not only in emergency appeals, but in the everyday response to need.  As I think that I mentioned previously, in our recent Diocesan Capital Campaign, a 10% tithe of all monies returned is designated to charity.  We work with the local Food Bank, run by the local SVDP and distributed from our place.  We have a monthly Charity envelope, 10% of which goes to the Food Bank.  We help supplement Meals on Wheels with fresh fruit in season, give seasonal enhancements to the Food Bank recipients, reach out to their children with lunch treats, and so much more.  All this in addition to responding as we can to requests for assistance.

More is needed, the number of poor and needy continue to grow, the clergy need reminded of our responsibility, and those who respond need to be thanked and have gratitude expressed.  That is the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Saint Vincent de Paul reminds us of our need to see Christ in all people, and to especially seek and find him in the poor and needy, in the orphans and widows, in those most in need.

Reflections of a parish priest by Father Len Stoviak  ordained for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg in 1973 and currently serving as pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. The purpose of this blog is to simply “share my thoughts along the journey”. These reflections may be scriptural, spiritual theological or social, touching upon parish life and the greater reality that those experiences reflect.


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