My Dad was active with the St Vincent de Paul Society when I was a kid. He never said much about the folks who were struggling with the basics of life. Perhaps he understood this to be ordinary, common. But I recall being both proud and intrigued by his visits to families who needed furniture or help paying their bills.
My brother, Jerry was also very involved with the Society’s mission of direct service with the materially poor. So much so, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was one of three organizations his family proposed to receive memorials in his memory when he died.
The most I can claim is that my charity of choice to receive my old clothes (the term is “gently used”) or household items (in working order, please) is the St Vincent de Paul Stores. Perhaps the lesson taught by my Dad’s quiet service and my big brother’s example is simply this: our human dignity is enhanced when we protect the human dignity of others, especially those most at risk.
Susan Stabile shared marvelous reflections about Vincent at the City House retreat on Saturday. On the most basic level, she clarified for me that he started out as a pretty ordinary sixteenth century Frenchman. From all Susan offered, a quote from Vincent reverberates as the focus for my Lenten self-reflection this week:
There are many, who, when outwardly recollected and interiorly filled with lofty thoughts of God, stop there; and when it comes to the point and they find themselves in a position to act, they stop short. Their over-excited imaginations flatter them; they rest content with sweet conversations they have with God in prayer; they even talk about these like angels; but apart from that, when it is a matter of working for God, of suffering, of self-mortification, of instructing the poor, of going out looking for lost sheep, liking it when something is lacking, accepting illness or some other disfavor, alas! then there is no one left, they lack the courage. No, no, we must not deceive ourselves.
Okay, I stand indicted. I am like the one admonished by the black Baptist pastor who warned, “Sometimes we are so heavenly minded we are no earthly good.”
Today, I take consolation and encouragement in something from my much more familiar Ignatian tradition: In God’s eyes, the desire for the desire is sufficient as a starting point.