The Value of Visiting the Homes of the Poor

by | Feb 25, 2019 | Formation, Reflections, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.[1]

On one occasion, Pope Paul VI said: “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the school where you learn and practice charity.”[2] Of course, a statement like that is not made by a Supreme Pontiff at any time. Paul VI, with this statement, highlighted the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and thus revealed to the membership that their task is one of the noblest works.

According to our Rule, the tripod of Vincentian spirituality focuses on the Bible, prayer and the teachings of the Church. I would add another element: reflection on the life and works of Saint Vincent de Paul, of Blessed Antoine Frederic Ozanam and on the extraordinary example of the Blessed Mother, a model woman and mother.

Saint Vincent de Paul, our patron, teacher and inspiration, taught that spirituality resided in two factors: in imitating our Lord Jesus Christ and trusting in Providence[3]. To imitate Christ, Vincent taught his friends: Look to Jesus and try to imitate him. Then ask yourself what Christ would do in such a circumstance. As for the providence of God, the patron saint of charity said: Let us leave it to the guidance of the wise Providence of God. I have a special devotion to following it (CCD:II:462). How many times, in our conferences, has God supplied the most basic needs?

The list of virtues enumerated by St. Vincent, which are also part of the spirituality of every Christian, includes: charity, humility, patience and obedience. There is a false humility that resembles ingratitude, and ingratitude is the crime of crimes (CCD:III:41-42), he wrote in one of his 30,000 letters to friends, family, religious and followers. However, the object of Vincentian spirituality is to strengthen men and women as they reach out to those persons who are poor.

So that our action is not confused with mere philanthropy or assistance, it is necessary that the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul be connected to God through an intense spiritual life. We have been given the grace to continue to develop our spiritual life through the practice of charity and through an ever-deepening awareness of the need to grow in holiness. We are members of an organization that unites prayer and action.

In the same way that we see Christ in the face of the countless poor men and women who we serve, so also the poor whom we visit must see Christ in our faces. This implies being constant and persevering. God has provided us a holy path that will enable us to attain salvation, namely, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Therefore, we must live our spirituality twenty-four hours a day (at all times and in all places). Jesus said: Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these (John 14:12).

Do we stop, on occasion, to reflect on the visit we made to our assisted? It is a kind of sacrament, since we are going to meet Jesus through the most needy, in the same way that we find him in the consecrated Host, in the Holy Eucharist. Here is the center of Vincentian spirituality.

[1]     Jn 13:15.

[2]     Cf. Address of the Holy Father Paul VI to the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul. Monday, November 9, 1964.

[3]     Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009, volume X, p. 403-417.  Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number.

Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul