Learning to Discern Well

“Virtue loves discernment and can never be excessive—neither too little nor too much.”
(Document 57, Journal of the Last Days of Saint Vincent, 5 June 1660, CCD, 13a:196.)


“…in the final analysis, virtue is not found in extremes, but in prudence.…”
Letter 881, To Etienne Blatiron, In Genoa, 26 October 1646, CCD, 3:101-02.


As the global community faces uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID crisis, we are invited into a period of ongoing discernment individually and collectively about what to do and how to live in the midst of this current and unprecedented situation. Discernment might be thought of as both the art of making wise decisions about particular matters, as well as developing the habit of learning and growing in wisdom through our daily challenges and experiences.

A focus on discernment is especially suited to the current season of Lent, practiced by Catholics and in many other Christian traditions during these 40 days leading to the celebration of Easter. What wisdom might this time-tested annual spiritual practice hold for us now as we seek to discern well?

While we find little in Vincent de Paul’s writings specifically concerning the practices of Lent, he clearly invited his followers to consider what they might do in order to use this season well. For many Catholics in the northern hemisphere, the Lenten season is a sort of spiritual “spring training” during which we re-assess where we are on our journey and re-focus ourselves on what is most important.

For some, using the Lenten season well, therefore, means committing to positive action consistently over this 40-day period, hoping to build or deepen habits that reflect important values or goals. Others find it helpful to use the Lenten season to focus on refraining from habits that may be unwittingly pulling them away from what is most important—because sometimes we are swayed into navigating the stresses of life in ways that are ultimately harmful and do not reflect the best of who we are.

Vincent’s unswerving focus on moving from espoused values to lived virtues offers a timeless challenge particularly relevant for this season of Lent, as well as during this time of public crisis. Virtues, as Vincent understood them, are values that are embodied or put into practice consistently through our actions and in concrete ways. He believed that virtues are “acquired only by repeated acts,” and are not realized all at once but only “gradually, gently, and patiently” over time (1933, To Pierre de Beaumont, CCD, 5:443). Vincent tended not to rush making decisions, but waited for the best path to be revealed through careful attention to prayer and to the realities of life.

Certain situations in our lives offer us compelling opportunities to practice the art of discernment. We are living in such a situation now.

The Lenten season invites us to exercise these discernment muscles as a regular and ongoing practice in our lives, such that making wise decisions becomes more our habit. Vincent’s wisdom invites us to focus on putting our values into practice, and to pay careful attention to what is being revealed through our daily life, our experiences and relationships.

As we move through this season and the challenges before us, we also can look forward to the promise of springtime. May this season bless us with a deepened wisdom and a stronger connection to one another, as well as with hope for the abundance of new life on its way in the near future.

Reflection by:  Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry

A History of the DePaul University Seal and Motto

Most of us are probably familiar with DePaul University’s coat of arms, but have you ever wondered what it means, or where the ideas for the symbols came from? In the 1950s, a handful of university administrators took on the task of creating DePaul’s armorial seal and motto. Leading the charge were Mr. Arthur Schaefer, Director of Public Relations, and Rev. Alexander Schorsch, C.M., Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School.

In a 1990 letter to then DePaul President Rev. John Richardson, C.M., Mr. Schaefer recalled a conversation with “Father O’Malley [7th President of DePaul] that our various college catalogues were of uneven quality… with no common logo for the name and worst of all a seal that bore little relationship to the university’s mission—especially the physician’s symbol and the engineer’s wheel.” (DePaul University Ephemera, Box 2, Folder 9, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University, Chicago, IL) A picture of the circular old university seal is shown.

Later in the same letter, Mr. Schaefer explained how the university motto was adopted as well. “I learned from early minutes of St. Vincent’s College that one of the faculty was assigned the task of coming up with a motto, but nothing ever came of it… I invited [Fr. Schorsch] to suggest a motto. He came back with five, all taken from the Bible, and we agreed on the Via Sapientiae.” (Ibid.)

The seal’s layout was designed by William Ryan, a heraldry expert in New York. Mr. Ryan was President of Ryan-West Banknote, a company that “printed or engraved securities and heraldic symbols” for Catholic institutions. (New York Times, 23 July 1981) After a visit to DePaul to “absorb its origins and local history,” Mr. Ryan created the seal in early 1954, and it was adopted by the university later that year. The cost for Mr. Ryan’s services? $150. (Ephemera, Box 2, Folder 9)

 

Symbolism of the University Seal

The following description is from The DePaulia, published on 9 April 1954, announcing the new Armorial Seal:

…the seal features a traditional coat of arms and a new university motto, Viam sapientiae monstrabo tibi, ‘I will show you the way of wisdom,’ taken from Proverbs IV, 11.

The main section of the field, consisting of a series of nine checky panes (a distinctly French charge) forms an heraldic cross, representing the Catholic faith. In the center pane is the heart, the symbol of charity, for St. Vincent de Paul, titular head of the university, whose lifetime of service to God and humanity has made him the international symbol of charity. The pane above the heart is charged with a crescent, the symbol of Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, under which she is the patroness of the United States.

The chief (upper compartment) is devoted to the coat of arms of modern France, the country of St. Vincent de Paul, with its three fleurs-de-lis honoring the Triune God. The embattled lines of partition at the base of the chief, the heraldic equivalent of a fort, betoken Fort Dearborn, established by the United States on the site of Chicago—just a short distance from the present downtown DePaul center. The phoenix on the crest, the symbol of immortality or the Resurrection, is derived from the seal of the Archdiocese of Chicago, whereon it betokens the resurrection of Chicago after the great fire.

 

Reflection Question

The University Seal uses many symbols to convey meaningful aspects of DePaul’s Catholic, Vincentian, and urban mission and identity. If a new coat of arms or seal were created today, what symbols would you now include? How would you illustrate what is important to DePaul University in 2020?

Reflection by:

Michael Van Dorpe, Program Manager for Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry. Special thanks to the DePaul University Archives and Special Collections.

Work with What You Have

“God does not ask you to go beyond the means he has given you.”  Vincent de Paul (CCD, 7:523)

One of Vincent de Paul’s frequently mentioned beliefs is that Providence can be relied upon to guide us and to come to our aid. Despite troubles that afflict us or feel overwhelming, Vincent clearly believed that patience and trust would eventually lead us to a deeper recognition of God’s presence and care, perhaps in ways we did not at first recognize or expect. This confidence certainly extends to all matters pertaining to fulfilling the mission entrusted to us.

During times when we question whether we have the means or the ability to overcome the obstacles in our path, Vincent’s words can encourage and challenge us. They instruct us to trust that we already have what it takes to fulfill our personal or collective mission, or that what is needed will be provided to us in due time. He learned through his own many life experiences that “wisdom consists in following providence step by step” (CCD, 2:521) and that “love was inventive to infinity” (CCD, 11:131).

What situations are you now facing that might cause you to question if you have the means to accomplish a task or overcome a challenge that may seem insurmountable? Might there be tools, resources, people, or possibilities that have gone unrecognized or unpursued? In the midst of such questions, might there be another path emerging? What is the next step?


Reflection by:    Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry

Disagreement without Disparagement

“Never speak disparagingly of those who have contrary opinions.” — Vincent de Paul (CCD, 7:240)

This little piece of counsel from Vincent is certainly tough to apply these days, given our often-polemical public discourse. However, there is certainly some wisdom to be found in his words. Speaking disparagingly of another will rarely lead to any insight or transformation on their part. Rather, such an attack will likely lead to deeper defensiveness and resistance. While a disparaging comment might selfishly bring us a moment of proud satisfaction, it is rarely a means to achieve our ultimate end-goal of a human community that reflects justice and love.

How might we shift our perspective when dealing with others whose contrary opinions or actions stir intense feelings in us? It may be as simple as pausing for a moment of self-reflection before speaking or posting a comment on social media. Even with just a few deep breaths, our anger or bitter emotions can subside somewhat, at least enough to enable us to think more clearly about our objectives. We might even find that the deeper source of our judgment lies within our own psychological projections and anxieties. Or, perhaps we might learn to approach others whose perspectives differ from our own with love. Such a shift can enable us to recognize the ways in which a person is often a reflection of their life experiences, environments, and relationships. Our thoughts and feelings may also change when we realize our own complicity in social, economic, or political systems that have affected the other person – and then we can move our attention and energy towards transforming these systems.

Whatever may be called for in any particular situation, we benefit from Vincent’s wisdom. He seemed to understand that change occurs more often through the power of relationships than through the imagined brilliance of our arguments or the sharpness of our critiques. Which people do you find it most difficult to approach with love and understanding? How might approaching them with a more charitable view, as Vincent might suggest, shift your perspective?


Reflection by:  Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry

Living with Zeal

“If love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.” 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues, 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:250.

Vincent de Paul once stated, “If love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.” (CCD, 12:250) Such an image invokes the idea of a love that burns with compassion for one’s neighbor and motivates us to serve. Vincent saw zeal as a spreading fire that attracts others to its light. Robert Maloney, C.M., writes, “A love that is on fire will seek to communicate itself to others. It will seek to draw others into the same wonderful mission that it is carrying out.” (Maloney, The Way of Vincent de Paul [1992], 68)

Through a Vincentian lens, the love that gives birth to our zeal must be both affective and effective. Driving the wisdom of this home, consider Vincent’s much-quoted exhortation, “Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” (Maloney, Way, 46) Working for a Vincentian institution such as DePaul, we are invited to act and respond in a compassionate, pragmatic, and creative way. In order to achieve this, affective and effective love held in faithful dialogue characterizes our decision-making processes, shapes our approach to work and our interactions with colleagues, and gives direction to our zeal.

For Vincent, the virtue of zeal also meant hard work and a commitment to furthering the principles and shared values of the community. As important as this virtue was to him, however, he also was cognizant of what can impede zeal’s benefits, namely inattentiveness and burnout. For Vincent, inattentiveness involved allowing ourselves to become distracted by trivial things. This can be difficult for us today given the constant noise of contemporary society (social media, multi-tasking, etc.). He also was wary of the dangers of burnout, once advising Louise de Marillac, “Be very careful to conserve it (your health) for the love of the Lord and his poor members and be careful not to do too much.” (Maloney, Way, 47) Vincent seemed to understand the need for a balanced lifestyle with healthy boundaries.

As part of the DePaul community rooted in the Vincentian mission, we are invited to adopt this virtue of zeal, grounded in affective and effective love, and lived out with a balance and thoughtfulness that enables us to sustain our mission over the long haul. In contemplating the meaning of zeal in your life, think of the experiences or people that exhibit a “love on fire.” What else might help stoke the flame of zeal within you?  What are the actions that you and others might take to keep the fire of DePaul’s mission burning today, almost 400 years after the Congregation of the Mission began?

Reflection by:

Siobhan O’Donoghue, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission & Ministry

 

Upcoming Events:

Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

DePaul faculty and staff are invited to a day of service, reflection, and community. On Friday, March 6th, we will gather at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus for breakfast then go out into the city to serve with and learn from our community partners. This is a great opportunity for staff and faculty to serve Chicago, grow in community, reconnect with your values, and deepen your understanding of our Vincentian mission. We hope you’ll join us! For questions, contact Tom Judge at: tjudge@depaul.edu To register go to: http://go.depaul.edu/serviceday

 

 

Meekness, the Charming Virtue

“How good you are, a God, my God, how good you are, since indeed in… (Saint) Francis de Sales, your creature, there is such great gentleness” (29, Deposition at the Process of Beatification of Francis de Sales, 17 April 1628, CCD, 13a:91.)

In telling of his own spiritual journey, Saint Vincent de Paul described being moved and transformed as a young man by his encounter and relationship with Francis de Sales — the Bishop of Geneva later recognized by the Catholic Church (in part through Vincent’s passionate testimony) as a Saint. Vincent, who was surely intellectually gifted and ambitious as a youth, expresses in the quote above his profound appreciation for Francis and the effect he had on him and others. De Sales instilled a deep appreciation in Vincent for how approachability and gentleness serve to open hearts. This, Vincent realized, is often more important and more transformative than the work our intellect does to win an argument.

DePaul University is a very large and multi-faceted institution. As important as mission statements or other proclamations of our mission may be, students, staff, and members of our community will only believe claims that “DePaul” cares about them if they feel the people they interact with here actually do. What a difference it makes if people feel that those around them are easily approachable because they radiate gentleness, joy, and authentic concern for others!

The virtue of meekness may be seen at times as a character trait or type of charisma with which some are blessed and others are not. However, Vincent believed that it could and must be cultivated, both in himself and in others whom he mentored and guided. Vincent saw himself as someone who was naturally prone to anger, and he had to learn how to channel that anger in healthy, productive ways. Our anger can sometimes be a great gift, for instance when prompted by the suffering and injustice we observe in the world around us. Yet, it must be focused in healthy ways, or else it may be wrongly directed at those around us, or in ways that do not lead to benefit.

Who are some people in your own experience who have this gift of approachability and gentleness? What are ways that we can cultivate the virtue of meekness, while remaining authentic in our relationships and having the necessary strength to encourage others to be the best versions of themselves?

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

 

Humility

“Humility is the origin of all the good that we do.”

Robert P. Maloney, C.M., The Way of Vincent de Paul (1992), 41. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/1/

Vincent de Paul believed true humility “brings all other virtues with it.” (Maloney, Way of Vincent de Paul, 41.) Louise de Marillac believed “true humility will regulate everything.” (L.11, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac [1991], 20.) Because of our reverence for these two saints, who together began what we now call the Vincentian family, it remains for us to ask, what was true humility for Vincent and Louise? How might they have defined and recognized it? Moreover, how might we nurture that virtue in ourselves and how is it relevant for us today?

Based on their lives and correspondence, we have come to understand that humility meant many, interrelated things for the two saints. Gratitude for ones gifts, an absence of vanity, having a heart for service, emptying oneself of selfish desires in order to follow the will of God, and being open to transformation by attending to the poor, who are our brothers and sisters. These examples, and more, provide us with guideposts to follow as we pursue that most noble of virtues.

A contemporary understanding of humility, though still seen through a Vincentian lens, is to equate humility with realism. (See Udovic, “Our good will and honest efforts. Vincentian Perspectives on Poverty Reduction,” VH 28:2, 71.) It is to know oneself, and the world in which we live, and to discern what we are capable and not capable of doing. Humility as realism means giving our whole-hearted efforts towards worthy goals. Then, when the work is done, we must have faith that all will be well and that someone or something else will see it through. Recognizing we do not have all the answers, and being open to the gifts and contributions of others, is humility in action. It is the particular benefit of being part of a community. Vincent and Louise understood this.

We might pause and consider how we understand this virtue of humility and its relevance to us today? Do we recognize our own limitations? Are we open to the gifts of others? Do we look to the future with hope, but tempered always by realism? How might you practice humility in your daily life and work?


Reflection by: Tom Judge, Chaplain, DePaul Division of Mission and Ministry 

 

Upcoming Events:

Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

DePaul faculty and staff are invited to a day of service, reflection, and community. On Friday, March 6th, we will gather at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus for breakfast then go out into the city to serve with and learn from our community partners. This is a great opportunity for staff and faculty to serve Chicago, grow in community, reconnect with your values, and deepen your understanding of our Vincentian mission. We hope you’ll join us! For questions, contact Tom Judge at: tjudge@depaul.edu To register go to: http://go.depaul.edu/serviceday

 

What Beautiful Opportunities…

“…we need to reflect on our willingness to sacrifice, or what we call in our own Vincentian tradition, the virtue of mortification. The root of the word mortification is to die to oneself, to sacrifice, to put the other first.” – 2009 Lenten letter, G. Gregory Gay, C.M. (former Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission), see: https://vinformation.org/en/2015/03/video-of-quotes-on-the-virtue-of-mortification/

Historians say that the virtue St. Vincent de Paul called “mortification” might be better understood as something akin to self-discipline or even sacrifice. In other words, mortification means giving up something we value for the sake of something more valuable. This underlying principle can be quite challenging to live out. Denying ourselves something we desire, in favor of something more worthy but perhaps less enjoyable, takes considerable focus and intentionality.

For Vincent, acts of self-discipline were made easier through being mindful of the result that followed. Therefore, he exhorted his community members to have courage in the face of obstacles for “their reward is great in proportion to the work entailed.” (204, Mortification, 2 May 1659, CCD, 12:185.)

Another helpful way to consider self-discipline may be to ask why we are performing the act. Could it be for reasons of courtesy (giving up our seat on the “L”), or self-improvement (exercising or studying hard), or to benefit the common good (performing our job well, serving the community)? Whatever the worthy motivation for our behavior, being mindful of our values and then endeavoring to live out those values, even in the face of challenge, is the epitome of the virtue Vincent called mortification. It is what we strive to achieve to this very day.

What worthy behaviors do you find most difficult to live out? Does it help if you consider why you are doing them or what the results of your actions will be? What things are hard for you to let go as you pursue a more worthy goal? What areas of your life, at either DePaul or elsewhere, do you think would benefit from some form of self-discipline?

Reflection by:

Tom Judge, chaplain, Division of Mission and Ministry

 


Upcoming Events:

 

Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Are you interested in joining your colleagues to put mission into action during a day of service and reflection? Join us for this special mission engagement and learning opportunity for DePaul’s faculty and staff. We will focus on gaining a deeper understanding of DePaul’s Vincentian mission, and on integrating a commitment to service with our personal sense of purpose. This Day with Vincent retreat doubles as Part II of the Explore Your Purpose Workshop series for staff and faculty. For more information, please contact Tom Judge at tjudge@depaul.edu.

Simplicity is the Virtue I Love the Most

 “Simplicity is the virtue I love the most and to which, I think, I pay the most attention in my actions.”
— Vincent de Paul (CCD, 1:265)

Recent social movements have made transparency a growing expectation for companies and organizations in society. Along with this, authenticity has become a cherished value for many people in a world under barrage by social media and advertisements that make it difficult for us to determine what is real or true.

Vincent de Paul’s understanding of simplicity – the virtue he cherished most – emphasized this type of transparency and authenticity. As Vincent understood it, being simple means being honest, as well demonstrating what we believe in concrete ways through our actions. Vincent would have been comfortable saying that it is not what we say but rather what we do that communicates what we truly value. The wisdom found in Vincent’s notion of simplicity asks us to ensure that our professed values are evident in our daily decisions, behaviors, and relationships.

A focus on the virtue of simplicity, therefore, would beg a number of questions both personally and collectively: What are the core values that are most important to you? Would others see these values shine through in your daily actions? Based on our shared Vincentian mission, what values are most important to us at DePaul? Do our daily actions and decisions match these ideals or, conversely, where do we fall short? How can we better practice what we preach to live the values we espouse?

Reflection by:

Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry


Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020. 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Are you interested in joining your colleagues to put mission into action during a day of service and reflection? Join us for this special mission engagement and learning opportunity for DePaul’s faculty and staff. We will focus on gaining a deeper understanding of DePaul’s Vincentian mission by integrating a commitment to service with our personal sense of purpose. This Day with Vincent retreat doubles as Part II of the Explore Your Purpose Workshop series for staff and faculty. For more information, please contact Tom Judge at tjudge@depaul.edu.

Resolutions for the New Year

Vincent de Paul suggested that we focus our resolutions on those that help us acquire the spirit of the mission entrusted to us.

Let’s take renewed resolutions to acquire this spirit, which is our spirit; for the spirit of the Mission is a spirit of simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal. Do we have it or don’t we?” (CCD, 12:251.)

Mortification doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and today, humility and gentleness may not be the virtues to which we aspire above all others. However, Vincent’s wisdom may serve us well as we face the New Year, and perhaps as we commit to renewed resolutions for the time ahead. Vincent suggested that our lived values should be those that ultimately enable us to serve a bigger mission or purpose, our calling, or that which we are seeking to fulfill. He believed that his commitment to serve those who were in need required an imitation of the virtues he recognized in Jesus. A contemporary translation of Vincent’s characteristic virtues suggests that we must strive to be honest, approachable, self-disciplined, realistic, and hard working.

As you pause to consider your own personal sense of mission and the mission entrusted to us here at DePaul, what do you believe are the primary values essential for us to make real in our daily decisions and actions during the year to come?

We will be focusing Mission Monday reflections on these Vincentian virtues in the coming weeks as we begin the New Year. For more on a contemporary interpretation of the virtues, see “Our Good Will and Honest Efforts,” by Edward R. Udovic, C.M.:

Article: https://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1321&context=vhj

Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YG1viPqRnw

 

Reflection by:

Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry