All of us have become familiar with the incentive that has become part of our national effort to protect each other and our country: “If you see something, say something.” It has been broadcast on our media and posted on our walls. We know what it means. We grasp how it encourages each of us to be responsible for what goes on around us. When everyone stays attentive to risky situations, they can be managed better. Thus, we maintain our safety and security.
Recently, I gave a talk on Vincent de Paul to a parish community. I told lots of our stories in which Vincent or Louise encountered a need and then sought for a way to respond to it. The examples are legion as they involve the hungry, homeless, sick, galley slaves, migrants, and a host of others. I organized much of my presentation around the so-called Vincentian question “What must be done?” Then it occurred to me that I might paraphrase our current popular phrase into a mantra for Vincent “If you see something, do something.” (Actually, it seems to capture the spirit of the “Good Samaritan” as well.) Vincent’s eyes went everywhere and he responded faithfully to the needs of all those who came into his world. When he saw something, he did something. In my parish presentation, I began to use this notion to describe the heart and hands of Vincent.
This guidance has prompted me to think about the way in which I respond to the realities of our world. When I see something, am I prepared to do something? The issue begins with awareness and leads to action. Several areas of my life might profit from this philosophy.
A first could involve remembering people in my prayer. Is it possible that a day passes when I do not see a person or situation that cries out for a movement of God’s Spirit? People regularly ask me to pray for them or someone that they love. I want people to believe that I hear their request and that I will respond to it in my prayer. Perhaps I need to get back to them and tell them that I remembered their request and have been bringing it before the Lord.
A second might be the willingness to accompany someone who finds him/herself alone in a difficult situation. Over the last years, I have regularly told myself that one of the great problems of our time arises from the loneliness that people experience. They do not have someone to whom they can tell their story and receive a sympathetic ear. Oftentimes, people are not looking for solutions, but simply a companion for a little while. The obvious needs of these people can be reckoned in lots of situation. Perhaps when I keep my eyes open, I can respond and be that other so desperately sought.
Finally, the summons to share my resources draws my attention. Almost any trip outside my home brings me into contact with people who have wants, people who often ask for a charitable response. Unfortunately, it can be too easy to ignore this personal meagerness and keep on going. Sometimes, I do not even recognize the call to generosity. Perhaps, I should open my eyes better. Perhaps, I should carry some money that I can plan to distribute to a person who begs for my concern, a person who seeks my compassion.
When we accept the phrase “If you see something, do something” as guidance from St. Vincent, we should think about the ways that we can apply it in our lives and in our world. We will not lack opportunities.