What constitutes the life of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the home visit to the poor; it is not enough to attend meetings regularly […].
The visit, in order to obtain from it the fruits that one has the right to expect, must be punctual, respectful and fraternal […]. It is necessary to avoid, especially with the poor of Paris, a familiarity which would seem to them to be arrogance. We will achieve much more precious results if achieve our visits to be fraternal, if we sincerely accept their kindness, if for our part we entrust to them our sufferings and sorrows, while asking them for the alm of their prayers […].
When Our Lord said, “There will always be poor among you,” it is not a curse bequeathed to His disciples, but words of hope and love. There were twelve poor people who were granted to convert the world; it is the children of the poor who carry to the faithless nations the light of Faith. Let us not fear, therefore, to see how that wave of proletarians increases every day, threatening to flood and drown modern civilization. If we have got these poor people to be Christians, they will cover the world to regenerate it.
Frederic Ozanam, Extract from the minutes of the general meetings, February 1, 1836 to March 19, 1848, Archives S.S.V.P., reg. 103.
- This address of Frederic, delivered on December 12, 1847, reminds us of the double aim of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul: to support one another in the journey of the Christian life, and to put the association at the service of the poor.
- Ozanam emphasizes the visit to the home of the poor, and how it should be: punctual, respectful, fraternal. The poor must be treated with the utmost respect and attention, as Jesus Christ himself, recalling the words of St. Vincent de Paul.
- And also, accepting with sincerity their kindness and sharing with them our sorrows, asking them to pray for us. The humanization of charity makes the poor not invisible faces, anonymous characters to attend to, but brothers with whom we share what we are and what we have. This is the true dimension of charity from the Vincentian point of view: the encounter with the poor is the encounter with the brother with whom we share and from whom we receive, many times more than we give; and, moreover, they are the sacrament of Christ on earth: a believer can not fail to see Jesus Christ when he meets the poor.
- The dimension that Frederic gives to the evangelical text he quotes (Mark 14:7) illuminates the previous reflection: God meets us in the poor. We have the grace to be able to meet Jesus Christ when we meet the poor!
- There is a sentence in this text that requires an explanation: “It is the children of the poor who carry to the faithless nations the light of Faith.” Frederic had knowledge of the missionaries who went to distant missions thanks to his work in the Work of the Propagation of the Faith. He knew that it was precisely among the poor that most of the witnesses emerged, wishing to proclaim the gospel in distant lands that did not yet know Jesus Christ, “infidels” in the language proper to the time. Once again, the poor are those who evangelize.
- The last sentence deserves a much more extensive development. Let us recall that Frederic lived the dawn of the industrial revolution, and many workers (proletarians) worked in unworthy situations, unable to escape from their poverty with the little salary they were able to get working a huge number of hours, in situations of complete helplessness and little security. In their time, the workers were part of the impoverished, as it still is today in so many parts of the world. Ozanam, who all his life worked to demonstrate the civilizing power of Christianity and its influence on the progress of society, firmly believes that attending and evangelizing the poor —to the proletarians in this case— is the only way to “regenerate the world.” Again we see that Christianity is in the hands of the poor, and they are the true repositories of the faith, something that we also heard say to St. Vincent de Paul.
Questions for dialogue:
- How are my dealings with the poor? Is it punctual, respectful, fraternal? Do I offer them the same respect and attention that I would give to Jesus Christ Himself?
- Do I share my worries with the poor? Do I ask them to pray for me?
- Do I work to improve the situation of the impoverished, fighting crosscurrent? Do I count on the poor to do it? Am I aware that this is part of the Systemic Change that the Vincentian Family promotes? Do we develop it in our local reality?