The June ongoing formation booklet from the AIC or International Association of Charity focuses on three virtues that should be characteristic of every volunteer or member around the world.
These booklets are part of the preparation for celebration of the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the the Confraternities of Charity and the Ladies of Charity.
REFLECTION FOR JUNE: Attitudes and Values of Every AIC Volunteer
Text: Lottie Espinoza de Pivaral — Translation: Father Charlie Plock
Our attitudes and values as AIC Volunteers come alive when we become aware of the manner in which God made his presence felt in the life of Vincent de Paul and thus discover the fundamental aspects of his prayer experience. Those attitudes and values were the result of the practice of the virtues that he viewed as “fundamental virtues” and that now have become the foundations that enable us to insert ourselves into the midst of the human realities in which we are living and serving… and to insert ourselves with a creative and life-giving dynamic.
Development of the Theme:
We understand spirituality as a set of concepts and attitudes that characterize the spiritual life of an individual or a group of people. The spirituality of Vincent de Paul and his specific manner of following Jesus Christ had its origins in a powerful encounter with God and with Christ in the world of the poor, which in turn led him to the discovery of new values and attitudes as he lived his life in accordance with the gospel.
These attitudes and values are the principles that every AIC volunteer ought to practice in order to fulfill the will of God and the mission of Christ, evangelizer of the poor. That was the way in which Vincent de Paul lived his life.
In order to do this we need to believe in and understand the Vincentian charism in such a way that we have no hesitation in communicating this gift to all those whom we serve (through our activity we will demonstrate the charism). Those living in poverty ought to see Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul in each one of us.
Saint Vincent spoke often about the various virtues and focused his attention on those aspects that would challenge men and women to live in such a way that, as stated in the gospel: “by their fruits you will know them” (Cf. Matthew 12:23).
We are all aware of the fact that the scale of values changes. Many factors influence the hierarchy of human and Christian values and these same factors will influence our reflection on the virtues and the values that these virtues contain.
The virtues that Vincent de Paul emphasized flowed from his vision of the Son of God who became incarnated in the world and also became the evangelizer of the poor. Here then we refer to simplicity, humility, gentleness, charity, mortification and zeal for the salvation of souls. Saint Vincent invited the Ladies of Charity, as laywomen, to live by the first three virtues: simplicity, humility and charity. As we live our life in accord with these virtues and clothe ourselves in attitudes that are proper to the children of God, we are able to demonstrate the values that are upheld by all AIC volunteers.
Why these three virtues and not others? Vincent would say: “I have chosen these three virtues because they are most essential to the process of evangelization. What is most essential about these three virtues is that they constitute a spiritual program for our apostolic activity. These virtues not only focus on our interior life but more specifically deal with our relationship with our neighbor, with our AIC: simplicity in our activity; humility in our encounter with others and charity, which makes it easier to establish relationships with our sisters and brothers who are living in poverty”. Let us analyze each one of these virtues.
What is the meaning of this virtue? “God made humankind simple, but people have recourse to many calculations” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Above all else, simplicity consists of speaking the truth so that there is a harmony between what we say and think and do. Simplicity means that we are transparent in our speech and that we speak about things as they are, that we are not duplicitous or do not have hidden agendas. Finally, it means that we act from a love for God and, thus for no other motive.
Why should we practice this virtue? Vincentian groups and associations ought to be grounded in communication and trust and unity. Those who practice what they say, speak with greater moral authority and that reality alone is sufficient reason to practice this virtue
Saint Vincent tells us: “It’s among them, among those poor people that true religion and a living faith are preserved; they believe simply, without dissecting everything; they submit to order and are patient amid the abject poverty they have to suffer as long as it pleases God, some from the wars, others from working all day long in the great heat of the sun; poor vine dressers, who give us their labor, who expect us to pray for them while they wear themselves out to feed us” (CCD:XI:190).
Simplicity is indispensable for the volunteers who go out to encounter those living in poverty and this virtue is revealed in the manner in which we receive, listen to and speak with others. We can achieve this through the process of on-going training. Thus the great challenge for every volunteer is to be able to say with Saint Vincent: “simplicity is my gospel”(CCD:IX:476).
What is the meaning of this virtue? “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Matthew 11:29). Humility means that we recognize everything that is good as coming from God… it means that we willingly empty ourselves of ourselves. Vincent tells us that Jesus and his Mother ought to be our models for the practice of humility. Indeed, humility is the origin of all the good that we can do. Humility implies an attitude of service on behalf of the Lord and on behalf of our brothers and sisters. Humility also means that we allow ourselves to be evangelized by the poor, “our lords and masters” (CCD:X:215).
Why should we practice this virtue? The primary value of humility is that by the practice of this virtue we imitate our Lord who had humility as “his virtue” (CCD:XI:46).
Humility allows us to recognize ourselves as “creatures” of God who need other persons (we cannot live without others). Humility also helps us recognize our limitations and our sinfulness and thus leads us to trust in God. Humility is a way to defend ourselves from the temptation of ambition and vanity, while at the same time it provides us with inner peace and is thus seen as the foundation for perfection and the principle on which the whole spiritual life is built. Through the practice of humility we can overcome the obstacles that could lead us to act in a way that is contrary to the plan of God.
Today the fact that people lack an experience of God has created a crisis in values which has left us with a society in which we find “corruption of our nature, the fickleness of our mind, the darkness of our understanding, the disorder of our will, and the lack of purity of our affections” (CCD:XII:169-170).
How can we be humble? Saint Vincent stated: “Humility, may this be our password!” (CCD:XII:169). In our activity as Vincentian volunteers we often run the risk of being domineering and feeling that we are self-sufficient and therefore we cling to our own ideas and methods and refuse to collaborate with others.
We lack humility when we allow ourselves to be guided by our prejudices which enable us to categorize persons with such great facility; when we speak lightly about the negative aspects of other volunteers; when we are lazy with regard to prayer; when we are unable to become enthusiastic about renewal and on-going training; when we refuse to share our possessions with those living in poverty (and not only our possessions but also when we refuse to share our time, our talent and our life with them). “May humility be our password!” (CCD:XII:169). In order to attain humility we ought to accept our short-comings and our faults and the correction that is given to us. Above all we ought to pray and ask God and the Blessed Virgin for the grace to be humble and “to empty ourselves of self in order to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ” (CCD:XI:311). Today Saint Vincent would speak to the volunteers and tell them: “Dear members of AIC, you must understand that you will never be able to do the work of God unless you have deep humility. Only then can you be certain that you are able to do the work of God… indeed, God uses such persons for his great work”.
What is the meaning of this virtue? The essence of charity is found in Matthew 7:12 and is often known as “The Golden Rule”: “Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).
By applying the Golden Rule we would not only transform ourselves but could transform all those around us: We could put an end to misunderstandings, disagreements, selfishness, resentment, self-importance, etc.
If we truly recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord, his “Golden Rule” will govern our lives.
Why should we practice this virtue? Charity is an obligation; it is a divine precept which encompasses others. Everyone knows that our love for God and our neighbor includes all the laws and the prophet’s teachings. Everything is contained in this love, everything is directed towards it; and it has so much force and primacy that the person who expresses it fulfils the law of God, as we all relate to this love, and it is what makes us do that which God asks of us. However this love doesn’t just refer to love for God, but also charity towards our neighbor; it is so great that human understanding cannot comprehend it; we need to rise above the stars in the sky to see how high and deep it runs.
Is it true that I will do for my neighbors that which I wish them to do for me? This is a serious self-examination that we have to undertake. How many of us have this disposition within us? If we love our neighbors, can we ever speak ill of them? Can we do something that displeases them? If we have this feeling in our hearts, can we see our neighbors without showing them our love?
The mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart; normally our exterior actions bear witness to what is inside of us; those that have true charity inside, will show it on the outside. As it is characteristic of fire to light and heat, it is characteristic of love to respect and please the beloved.
Hence it is important that we as volunteers promote love and solidarity: among each other and inside the Association; between ourselves and the most disadvantaged; between disadvantaged persons and among all members of civil society and the Church.
Personal and Community Reflection:
In silence reflect on these virtues and ask yourself: which of these do I find most difficult to practice? What can be done so that I find it easier to practice this virtue?
Activities and Questions:
Get into groups and in the form of an examination of your conscience, reflect on:
- What expressions of simplicity do I view as most necessary for my personal and Christian development as a member of this Association?
In the life of my group:
- How has a lack of humility prevented me from developing the gifts that God has given me?
- Are my actions consistent with my words and without hypocrisy, artifice or false pretensions?
- Do I stimulate the other volunteers by communicating my enthusiasm for serving those living in poverty?
Prayer and Hymn
AIC International Secretariat – Rampe des Ardennais 23 – 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
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AIC, an international network that fights against poverty, which works primarily with women.