At that time, a number of philosophical and heterodox doctrines were stirring around us, and we felt the desire and need to strengthen our faith amid the attacks that came from the various schools of false science. Some of our young friends were materialistic; some sansimonians, other furierists, other deists. When we, Catholics, tried to remind these unhappy people of the wonders of Christianity, they replied: “These wonders you speak of are a thing of the past: Christianity has done wonders in other times; but, today, Christianity is dead. And so, you who boast of being Catholic, what do you do? Where are the works that show your faith and make us respect and admire your beliefs?” And they were right: the reproach was more than deserved, because we did nothing. That is when we said to each other: “Well then! Let’s do it! May our actions be in accordance with our faith. But, what to do? What to do to be truly Catholic, but what is more pleasing to God? Let us help our neighbor, as Jesus Christ did, and let us put our faith under the shelter of charity.”
Frederic Ozanam, Address to the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul in Florence, January 30, 1853.
- Frederic Ozanam, a few months before his death and already seriously ill, addresses a group of young people from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, recalling the origin of the Society in Paris. In doing so, he makes a small mistake, saying that the meeting took place in May (it was April 23).
- Two ideas are clearly shown in the text, as foundational facts:  “the desire and need to strengthen our faith” (to grow in faith) and  “to do, to be truly Catholic, what is more pleasing to God” (to grow in charity).
- It is important to note that Frederic does not dissociate both aspects of being a believer; both are inextricably united: “may our acts may be in accordance with our faith.” Because we are believers, we must act in a certain way. And how? Frederic also answers this: “let us help our neighbor, as Jesus Christ did, and let us put our faith under the shelter of charity.”
- There are so many sentences from St. Vincent de Paul that reminds us this, that the list could become endless. Let us remember and reflect with some of them:
- To tend to our perfection, we must be clothed with the spirit of Jesus Christ.
- Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.
- We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor.
- Give me a man of prayer, and he will be capable of everything.
- I think half the people, and even the three quarters, will be condemned for the sin of laziness.
- Human actions become actions of God when they are performed in him and through him.
- What is done for charity is done for God.
- The poor are our masters and lords.
- Quoi! To be a Christian and to see our brothers [or sisters] suffering without weeping with them, without being with them! That is to be lacking in charity; it is being a caricature of a Christian.
- We can not fail to note the fact that Frederic addresses a large group of young people. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was born as a youth group of Catholic students.
Questions for dialogue:
- How do we live, personally and in community, this double —but unique— reality of “growing in faith” and “growing in charity”?
- How do we show that we are believers? In going to Mass a lot, in praying a lot?…. Only in that?
- Are our actions “consistent with our faith”?
- What do the words of St. Vincent de Paul we have just read tell us? Which one draws my attention? What aspects of my life is Vincent asking me to change?
- Do I encourage the youth of my environment to live the experience of faith from charity, in community, perhaps within the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul?
- Do we know Frederic Ozanam enough? What can we do to know more and better his word and his legacy to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and to the Vincentian Family in general?
Javier F. Chento