May God preserve us in the simplicity of our beginnings, and St. Vincent de Paul will recognize us as his disciples, if we maintain that character.
Frederic Ozanam, to the General Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, July 10, 1953.
- In 1853, during a speech to the General Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Ozanam asked them to preserve the simplicity that united the founders in the humble beginnings of the Society. Frederic was close to the end of his stay on earth. His disease limited him greatly and consumed his life. As we know, he died on September 8, 1853, barely two months after pronouncing these words.
- Simplicity is one of the Vincentian virtues. Saint Vincent said: “Do you know, Sister, where Our Lord dwells? With the simple.” (CCD X, conference 60). “Mr. Vincent wanted simplicity to be the first virtue of the Society of priests that he founded, the first to be practiced and for which they would be recognized, because he said: ‘Duplicity is the plague of the Missioner’ (CCD XII, 246)” (“St. Vincent de Paul and the Virtues: simplicity,” Au temps de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul et aujourd’hui, Paris, 1981).
- Frederic urges the General Council not to lose that initial simplicity, which helped a group of seven university students to begin a charitable movement that, already in Frederic’s time, crossed frontiers and grew rapidly: personal and community simplicity to serve the poor affectively and effectively, recognizing the empoverished as one of the privileged faces of Christ in our world. Hopefully, let us continue living, in our convulsive 21st century, this virtue with fidelity to the spirit that guided Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam.
- There are many sentences of Saint Vincent that invite us to reflect and live this virtue. Let’s reflect on some of his words:
- “God is very simple, or better, God is simplicity itself, and therefore where one finds simplicity one finds God. As the wise man of Scripture says: ‘He who walks simply walks with assurance, but he who uses cunning and deceit is in constant fear that he will be found out.’ If his duplicity is discovered he will never again be trusted.” (Abelly, III, chapter XV)
- “God has promised to communicate himself to the humble and lowly and to reveal His secrets to them.” (CCD IX, conference 36).
- “Jesus the Lord expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. This means saying things quite simply in the way we see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without any double-dealing or manipulation, our attention being focused solely on God. Each of us, then, should take care to behave always in this spirit of simplicity.” (CCD XII, conference 201).
- “To whom, then, does He give it [the insight into Christian truths]? To simple people, to good people. We see that verified in the difference we remark in the faith of peasants and our own. What I retain from my experience of this is the discernment I’ve always made that true religion – true religion, Messieurs, true religion – is found among the poor. God enriches them with a lively faith; they believe, they touch, they taste the words of life. You never see them in their illnesses, troubles, and food shortages get carried away with impatience, or murmur and complain; not at all – or rarely.” (CCD XII, conference 201).
- “If the things concern our neighbor, since we have to assist our neighbor corporally and spiritually, bon Dieu, how careful we must be not to appear wily, clever, crafty, and, above all, never to say a word that has a double meaning! Ah, how far that should be from a Missioner!” (CCD XII, conference 211).
- “So I can tell you, dear Sisters, that the spirit of true village girls is extremely simple – no slyness, nor words of double meaning; they’re not opinionated nor obstinate because in their simplicity they believe quite simply what they’re told. Daughters of Charity should be like that, Sisters, and you’ll know that you’re really so if you’re truly simple, not attached to your own ideas, but accepting of those of others; if you’re candid in your speech, and if your hearts aren’t thinking one thing while your lips say another. I can well believe that of you, dear Sisters! Blessed be God! Blessed be God, Sisters!” (CCD IX, conference 13).
Questions for dialogue:
- In my relationships, am I simple, truthful, speaking without detours or folds?
- Do I always show myself as I am, no matter who the person or groups I interact with?
- What have I learned from my dealings with the poor?
- Personally, what lifestyle have I chosen? With what criteria? why?
- In family, in group, in community, do we have a simple lifestyle?
- How should we pose simplicity in our current reality, today?
Javier F. Chento