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Venerable Vincentian Voices speak on Almsgiving

by | Feb 24, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

Two venerable Vincentian voices speak to us from the past on almsgiving.

One is well known; the other not well known. The one that is more famous and familiar to Vincentians is actually the creative insight of a filmmaker. The one that is not well known can be documented.  Can you identify which is which? Regardless they both have something very powerful to say to us about almsgiving today.

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see and the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.

Almsgiving alone, alms that are not accompanied by words and love, is a humiliation for the one who receives it. Do we need to remember that man does not live by bread alone, that the Savior himself does not only ask to be clothed and fed in the person of the poor, but also visited and consoled? Will we have to expose everything that the masters of charity up to St. Vincent de Paul have taught us about the delicate behavior that takes into account the legitimate susceptibility of the poor?

Okay. How did you do?

Did you recognize the first one as inaccurately attributed to St. Vincent? Did you recognize the second one as coming from Frederic Ozanam?

In the interest of honesty, I was vaguely aware that the Vincent quote came from the filmmaker of the 1947 year classic movie Monsieur Vincent  It was only recently that I learned of the Ozanam quote through a post by Javier Chento.

Lessons from the substance of the quotes

Certainly, artists can capture part of the essence of a historical figure’s character. Such is the case of the article cited above. Historian Michale Wolfe identifies why the quote has resonated with followers of Vincent.

“Vincent’s call to the aristocracy to take up the cause of charity and embrace the humanity of the poor, though adopted by only a few, nevertheless marked a revolution in attitudes that resonates down to this day”

The Ozanam quote reminds us of the mindset of appreciating the dignity of those we serve. It is fitting to note that the title of the article it was taken from 170 years ago is “On the dangers of Charity”

The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges.

Donna Hicks captures this well.

The glue that holds all of our relationships together is the mutual recognition of the desire to be seen, heard, listened to, and treated fairly; to be recognized, understood, and to feel safe in the world. When our identity is accepted and we feel included, we are granted a sense of freedom and independence and a life filled with hope and possibility.

Personal challenges

  • Have we amplified VIncent’s voice calling for a recognition of the dignity of those we serve?
  • Can we recognize our own need to be seen, heard, etc. in those we serve?

See VinFormation for a more in-depth treatment of Frederic words on Almsgiving

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