To be part of any organization, whether civil, religious, work, etc, there are always benefits and, also, disappointments. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is no exception to this rule. It is an association formed by men and women who, by nature, are imperfect and sinful. Sometimes because of different points of view, we have heated discussions with loved ones … and this is normal, it is human, it is understandable.
Let’s reflect on the following words that are very relevant to our discussion: “unity in necessary things; freedom in doubtful things; love in all things.” That is, we are all Vincentians, regardless of our reaction to certain individual decisions. What keeps us active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is something much bigger: the mission of serving Christ, by the practice of charity. Therefore, charity (read “respect,” “acceptance” and “forgiveness”) must prevail in our dialogues and interactions.
If we have entered the Society in order to placate a family member, we do wrong. If we are in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for political purposes, we are also in the wrong place. If we use the Vincentian movement to enjoy prestige and status before the parish community, we make another mistake. We are part of the Society because we believe that it is possible to create a better world, reducing social inequality by proclaiming the Good News to all people. That is what drives us and should guide our Vincentian activity.
In this mission we have to overcome many any adversities. We cannot let our Vincentian flame be extinguished as a result of some obstacle or setback. St. Paul spoke about the setbacks we might suffer throughout our lives and stated that what is important is the “war” as a whole, and not the individual “battles” that may sometimes result in defeat: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
It is clear that Saint Paul and this reflection refer to the impact of our spirituality on the every day experiences of daily life. We have to act like Saint Paul: if our ideas are not accepted by the majority, we must have the humility to accept the opinion of others and make it ours. Indeed, the detachment from one’s own opinion is one of the essential elements that enable the brothers and sisters of the Society to carry out their Vincentian mission.
However, being humble and detached from our own opinion does not mean that we have to put aside issues that require deep reflection and analysis. Always make known, with charity and clarity, your thoughts; at all times, express your opinion with regard to the work of the Conference or the Council; contribute to the work in a manner that will prevent erroneous decisions being made in the future. In other words, point out the failures, help fix what needs to be adjusted and do not be ashamed to ask for forgiveness if the discussion becomes heated and produces unwanted effects.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters of the worldwide Vincentian Family, do not let the Vincentian flame in your hearts be extinguished. Christ, Mary, Saint Vincent and Ozanam do not want this to happen … they give us strength so that we can “carry the cross” to the end, without stumbling or being crushed. Let’s not forget that old saying of India that says: “When we relieve the suffering of others, we also alleviate ours.” Let us maintain our differences, but let us remain united in charity and humility.
 Although this sentence is often attributed incorrectly to Saint Augustine (“In necesariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas”), it seems to be found for the first time in the work De republica ecclesiastica, libri X by Marc’ Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), archbishop of Split (Spalato). Pope John XXIII himself, in his encyclical Ad Petri Catedram indicates that “the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”
 2 Tim 4:7.
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul