An experienced Vincentian, say with 20 or 30 years in the Society, may come to think that he has nothing left to learn or discover and that, therefore, he does not need to attend the festivities or training and updating courses, considering that he already knows “almost everything” and his role in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is limited to visiting the poor, taking material goods and a friendly word, if possible with a prayer.
But he is completely mistaken when he thinks that he has “reached the top” and has nothing more to learn. We have to be humble and recognize that we learn new things every day. Each new sermon meditated in Holy Mass, however much we have already heard the biblical passage dozens of times, can add a different and even revealing approach, also for the older ones. That is to say, it is up to us to have the will to assimilate different aspects so that, in the end, we can incorporate such elements into our personal life and our Vincentian behavior.
In this regard, it was not until recently that I discovered a great truth. Every time we quote the expression “network of charity” to designate the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, coined and prophesied by Ozanam, we usually refer to charitable work, coordinated and efficient, that the Conferences and Social Works, in network, perform for the poor. That is, a network of volunteers and talents at the service of Charity.
However, there is indeed a “second network of charity” within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which we do not always understand or appreciate. What I will emphasize here may seem trivial to many, but I admit that I had never analyzed it from this perspective. I refer to the network of charity that exists between us, the members, in the day to day of the Society. If this “second network of charity” did not exist, the existence of the Conferences would not be possible. If not, let’s see:
Without charity among Vincentians, the Conferences would not stay together for so long. Without it, there might not be so much respect among people and no capacity for forgiveness. Without charity among us, the Conferences would not follow the hierarchy of love that makes the Society of St. Vincent de Paul function in favor of the assisted. Without the second charity network, there would be no organization nor would the poor receive the assistance they receive today. In other words, without this inner, domestic network of charity, the other, external, network towards the poor would not be viable or feasible.
And you, have you ever stopped to think about this? It took me a while to understand it clearly and transparently. And today I understand very well the actions of the Divine Providence that blesses us and helps to sustain the two charitable networks, the interior and the exterior. The one depends on the other to exist. A Conference will not do a good job if there is no charity among its members. And a group made up of unfriendly people will culminate with the promotion of purely welfare actions, never charitable.
Therefore, let us reflect on how the two charitable networks of our Conference are doing, praying to God that both be like Saint Vincent and Ozanam want.
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul