Academically, we are nearing the end of the school year. Graduating students will be leaving and moving on to the next stage of their pilgrimage through life. Current high school seniors will graduate and join our community next year. Students who will transfer to or from DePaul over the summer are also preparing for their transition, as are potential adult students looking to advance their education and career development.
A large percentage of people have been vaccinated, or soon will be, and so many of us are preparing to regularly go back to our offices after more than a year of working from home.
In the Upper Midwest we are moving from spring to summer as the weather warms and the days become longer. In Chicago, we might even revel in the fact that we had an actual spring. Some years ago, I heard on the radio, “spring will fall on a Thursday this year!”
In the Christian liturgical tradition, the season of Easter has just ended. After celebrating Easter for 50 days Ordinary Time resumes.
We are certainly in the midst of many different transitions. But that doesn’t need to be a reason for us to fret, to become stressed out, to try to do too much, or to hurry the process.
In writing about one of the greatest transitions we face, at the end of our lives, Vincent de Paul once said, “In fact, experience has shown us that those who have gone to heaven most likely advanced the time of entering their new life by endangering their lives by too much hard work.”1 In other words, Vincent suggests that while entering heaven is certainly a goal for many people, we shouldn’t try to rush the process!
Our lives may be in a state of turmoil in going through so many different transitions at once—and it can be overwhelming—but the more we remain calm, the easier these transitions will be. So, before the school year begins again in earnest, do what you can to take some time this summer to relax, enjoy the warm weather, and just be. This will enable you to be more present and attentive to your life and the work before you. The transitions you are moving through will occur on their own time.
What kinds of transitions are you experiencing right now, both personally and professionally?
How will you make time for yourself in the coming weeks and months? How will you remain calm and grounded and avoid becoming too overwhelmed?
What are your practices of self-care when the busy-ness of life takes over?
1 Letter 2948, To François Feydin, In Richelieu, 24 August 1659, CCD, 8:103-04.
Reflection by: Matt Merkt, Chaplain for Liturgy/Music, Catholic Campus Ministry, Division of Mission and Ministry
Our patron saint, Vincent de Paul, often spoke of cultivating virtues. He believed virtues develop in us through regular and habitual actions. Vincent’s understanding corresponds to an often-quoted piece of popular wisdom that it is easier to walk your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of walking. Vincent clearly had a bias for action. It is not what you think but what you do that is ultimately the most meaningful and consequential.
In light of this, consider the virtue of gratitude. The regular practice of gratitude has been shown to improve physical health, empathy, self-esteem, sleep, psychological health, mental strength, and help you build social connections.1 Better yet, even if you are a person who struggles to feel or express gratitude easily and freely, it is a habit that can be learned and cultivated with practice at any age.
Cultivating gratitude requires the humility to acknowledge that many of the gifts and opportunities in our lives have come to us through others: those who currently grace our lives, as well those who came before us. It may be true that we have worked extremely hard and overcome a lot to get where we are. We can certainly feel proud of our accomplishments. Yet, such pride is not gratitude. We discover and develop gratitude when we humbly recognize the blessings in our lives that make clear our dependence or interdependence on others, or on a divine source beyond us all. Perhaps such gratitude is found when experiencing the natural beauty of the earth, the wonder of the sun and the stars, the generosity of others, or the beautiful uniqueness of a newborn child. For such gifts, we stand in awe and gratitude.
However, this recognition is only part of the process. Taking time to savor our experience of gratitude lights up the brain and warms the heart with positive physical and psychological effects. The full benefit only comes when we communicate our gratitude to those who made these gifts possible. Whether doing so verbally, in writing, or in physical acts of expressing thanks to others, the full power and positive impact of gratitude is realized.
From his religious worldview, Vincent de Paul understood that God is the giver of all gifts, which flow abundantly from a generous love and goodness, and a self-gift made known in the person of Jesus. Vincent expressed the desire “that God may give us the spirit of profound gratitude for so many benefits bestowed on us.…”2
As we approach this Thanksgiving season, may we be filled with gratitude for the gifts we have received, so that we, too, might become a gift for others.
Take a moment to ponder or hold in your heart one person or one recent experience for whom or for which you are especially grateful today. How does it feel to remember this gift? Is there anything about what you have received that can be passed on and shared with someone else? If so, do it today!
Each year on September 9th, the worldwide Vincentian family celebrates the Feast Day of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), the nineteenth-century French, lay Catholic leader, widely considered the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Society is now an international confederation present in 150 countries with over 800,000 members in 47,000 Conferences and 1.5 million volunteers and collaborators. It serves the needs of over 30 million people all over the world.
Ozanam was a French literary scholar, lawyer, journalist, and equal rights advocate in Paris. He was recognized as a skilled writer, orator, thinker, social activist, and model of faith oriented toward outward action. Following the practices of Saint Vincent de Paul and inspired by his faith, Ozanam served the poor and destitute of Paris. He especially saw the power of bringing students together to study Vincentian principles and engage with those who were marginalized and poor.
While a student of law and literature in Paris, he founded the Society in 1833 with a group of friends who gathered regularly to grow in their faith and visit the poor. With the help of the older Emmanuel Bailly, who brought his own experience of socially engaged Catholicism, they provided vouchers for bread and wood to those in need. Inspired by the gospel message of love, they provided instruction and gave of their time and presence to serve the disadvantaged.
Later, as a professor at the prestigious Sorbonne, Ozanam became a renowned scholar and intellectual. He dedicated his life to understanding what Catholicism offered civilization. Committed to the principles of democracy and social justice, he became a journalist at L’Ère Nouvelle (The New Era), advocating for social reform and a governmental regime of liberty, equality, and fraternity that included the less fortunate. Frédéric was also devoted to his wife, Amélie, and their daughter Marie, whom he loved dearly. His integration of his professional life with his personal and spiritual life, along with his simple yet open style of engagement offers us a model of servant leadership today. Frédéric Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day in 1997.
Responses to injustice based only on charity may readily be maligned for not addressing the systemic issues that cause suffering to be perpetuated; yet, properly understood, charity should be seen as an essential part of transformative action and as the vital relational and affective dimension of justice. The word charity derives from the Latin, caritas, and can be better understood as a generous and self-giving love. It reflects an understanding of love as a sustained virtue and not as a fickle or thoughtless passion.
Frédéric Ozanam, influential lay leader and founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, understood that acts of charity enabled insight into the plight of the poor and oppressed, and facilitated more substantive and transformative social change. His beliefs resonate with those of Vincent de Paul and others within the Vincentian tradition. Ozanam emphasized personal relationships as fundamental to both affective and effective social action and transformative service. This Vincentian personalism, as we have come to know it, recognizes the unique circumstances of individual people, while concurrently working toward broader, systemic change. Ozanam’s words on the power of experience help us understand this piece of Vincentian wisdom:
The knowledge of social well-being and reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor’s man garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind. When the conditions of the poor have been examined, in school, at work, in hospital, in the city, in the country… it is then and then only, that we know the elements of that formidable problem, that we begin to grasp it and may hope to solve it.
As you consider social issues that must be addressed in our time, how do you maintain a personalism consistent with our Vincentian mission? That is, how can you better recognize and respond to the unique personal circumstances of those affected, while also working at the same time for systemic change that addresses the root causes of their suffering?
How might this Vincentian approach apply given the context of your work in higher education? How might DePaul University better reflect such a way of being?
“Go, therefore, Mademoiselle, go in the name of Our Lord. I pray that His Divine Goodness may accompany you, be your consolation along the way, your shade against the heat of the sun, your shelter in rain and cold, your soft bed in your weariness, your strength in your toil, and, finally, that He may bring you back in perfect health and filled with good works.”1
Over the past week, Muslims around the world observed Eid al Adha. This greatest holiday on the Muslim calendar comes at the end of the season of the Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca, and it commemorates the sacrifices made by Prophet Abraham and his family (peace be upon them) for the sake of the One God. Of course, this year both the Hajj and Eid celebrations were nothing like they usually are. Hajj, usually attended by millions from around the world, was limited to a symbolic select few already present in Saudi Arabia. The normal mass prayers and other celebrations held by Muslims throughout the Chicagoland area could not be held. This continues to be a time of hardship and trial, and we know that many people in our own country and throughout the world are enduring great hardships.
When it became clear that Hajj could not take place as usual, one question that arose was what does this mean for Muslims as it is so important to our practice of the faith? Indeed, it is well known as one of the “pillars” of Islam. Not being able to observe Hajj and commemorate the sacrifices of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael is a great sadness. However, it caused me to reflect that the vast majority of Muslims, today and throughout history, have not been able to make Hajj. Global travel is a privilege limited to a select few. I have never been to Mecca and intended to go this year for the first time myself. Yet, Hajj is part of the spiritual imagination of every Muslim. We tell stories about it, we learn about it, we donate funds to help others go, we honor those who have attended and celebrate their return, we ask them what they learned, and we dream about it. We seek to learn lessons from it, whether we can physically go or not. Much as we also seek to learn lessons which come from shared sacrifice and assisting the vulnerable, those lessons found in our own day to day experiences and challenges, as well as those found in the people around us.
Vincent de Paul spent a great deal of his life organizing and sending missionaries on journeys intended to be in the service of God and the poor. In his brief essay, “Vincent the Traveler,” Jack Melito, C.M., observes that Vincent’s zeal drove him to want to go wherever was necessary to advance his mission. Yet, while he did often travel in his early life, Vincent spent his later years mainly confined to Paris. However, while “his body stayed at home…his zeal roamed.”2 Vincent vicariously traveled these missions through those he sent on them, and through the letters and communications shared with them.
Whatever our circumstances, in what ways can we view the hardships and challenges we face at this time as opportunities to learn and transform? In what ways can we try to balance our willingness to make sacrifices with our hope to return “in perfect health and filled with good works”? How might we better see this difficult time as one challenging part of life’s long journey or pilgrimage?
1) Letter 39, To Saint Louise, 6 May 1629, CCD, 1:64-65.
When John Lewis was diagnosed with fourth stage pancreatic cancer back in December, I was shaken. My unsettled spirit at this news was, in part, caused from a flood of memories around the same news my family had received about my father years earlier. Another cause of my unrest came in recognizing that another good man was entering into the battle of his life knowing full well that this battle could not be won. And, I was distraught because our country needed John Lewis, the “conscience of Congress.” News of Representative Lewis’ illness deeply affected me just as the news of his death now haunts me.
And so, I find myself pondering a great man whose life and legacy are gifts to our world that simply cannot be forgotten. John Lewis is known as a hero, a Civil Rights champion, an activist, a man of God, a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. These titles (and so many others) and the tireless work that inspires such titles help paint the picture of a talented and dedicated man who spent six decades in service to humanity. But, there is another title that Mr. Lewis most likely never knew but one that most certainly suits him well. John Lewis was a Vincentian.
The work of Vincentian leaders is always grounded in something far beyond themselves. For Vincent, his work was a matter of answering a call from Divine Providence. As St. Vincent entered into that call and followed, he was able to find the strength and confidence to tackle the daunting ministry before him. This same confidence and strength that John Lewis found in his work came from his deep and abiding faith. In a 2004 interview about his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lewis spoke boldly of the importance faith played as the Movement unfolded: The [Civil Rights] movement was built on deep-seated religious convictions, and the movement grew out of a sense of faith — faith in God and faith in one’s fellow human beings… Without our faith, without the spirit and spiritual bearings and underpinning, we would not have been so successful. Without prayer, without faith in the Almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” It was a deep seated faith that carried John Lewis through dozens and dozens of physical beatings and even more political struggles. It was an unfaltering faith in God’s goodness that surely gave Mr. Lewis the courage and will to continue speaking out and working for justice up until his dying days.
“God allows us to give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues: perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.” —St. Vincent de Paul
Like John Lewis, St. Louise de Marillac encountered and overcame many challenges while always practicing and encouraging great kindness and goodness: “Our vocation of servants of the poor calls us to practice the gentleness, humility and forbearance that we owe to others. We must respect and honor everyone.” Louise de Marillac and John Lewis humbly reached out to people of all walks of life, listening to their stories and opinions, and acting in ways that honored them. In Mr. Lewis’ case, he even asked blessings upon those who brutally beat him. His commitment to honoring the dignity of others can be seen in a statement he made following President Obama’s decision to endorse same-sex marriage: “Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.” Representative Lewis began his work as a young man fighting for rights of the Black community but his lifetime work was dedicated to fighting for the rights of all people. He did so in all humility and kindness, loving his neighbors, and never giving up in his fight for justice.
“The question which is agitating the world today is a social one. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash of opulence and poverty which is shaking the ground under our feet. Our duty…is to throw ourselves between these two camps in order to accomplish by love, what justice alone cannot do.”— Frederic Ozanam
DePaul University describes its distinguishing marks as, “Motivated by the example of Saint Vincent, who instilled a love of God by leading his contemporaries in serving urgent human needs, … characterized by ennobling the God-given dignity of each person…. manifested by… a sensitivity to and care for the needs of each other and of those served, with a special concern for the deprived members of society.” These distinguised marks of our DePaul community could easily be a summation of the life and legacy of John Lewis. He was a man of God who dedicated his life to serving urgent human needs, ennobling the dignity of all, and with a deep concern for the marginalized and deprived members of our society. John Lewis truly was a man who exemplified the hallmarks of our Vincentian community. Claiming John Lewis as a Vincentian in spirit, word, and deed seems very fitting, indeed.
As with all our Vincentian models in life, we are left with a gift and a call from Representative Lewis who was never satisfied with simply accepting the status quo. His life and now his legacy become a call to each of us to continue the hard work in which he engaged and encouraged in us. As Vincentians we do not sit on our laurels but we continue to push forward, always recognizing that there is much to be done in our woeful world. The spirits of St. Vincent, St. Louise, Elizabeth Seaton, Frederic Ozanam, and John Lewis inspire us today to continue the important work of seeking justice and pouring love into the world. We honor John Lewis and all our Vincentian ancestors when we follow the example and heed the words of Representative Lewis:
“So you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble… You can do it. You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn.”—John Lewis
As we honor a great man who fought many battles through life, we know what must be done: let’s go make some good trouble!
Rev. Dr. Diane R. S. Dardón, ELCA Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care, Director
“Providence must call us and we must follow it, if we are to go forward confidently.”Vincent de Paul (Volume: 3 | Page#: 538) To Rene Almeras, Superior, In Rome, 4 February, 1650.
“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?
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 email@example.com.
When was the last time you heard the media report an incredulous story? Did you hear an inner voice say, “Now, I’ve heard it all!” Such occurrences seem more frequent these days than in the past.
The age of disputed questions did not end with Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century. The chicaneries of seventeenth-century France prompted Saint Vincent de Paul to exclaim, “The world is awash in duplicity.” (CCD, 10:58) The saint encouraged his collaborators to “have a candid heart and candid spirit.” (Ibid.) He instructed them how to engage appropriately in public discourse and civic rhetoric. They were “never to say anything contrary” to what they thought or to their principles. (CCD, 10:286)
Now, as does a toxin, polemical disputation permeates our national psyche. We are left to ask, What must be done? Perhaps Vincentian personalism is our answer. It promotes unity in diversity and emphasizes the common good of everyone. The Vincentian way is honest, forthright, and employs the art of conversation to speak respectfully and listen attentively with a “spirit of straightforwardness and simplicity,” and ultimately, integrity. (CCD, 34a:41)
Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence
Vincentian Studies Institute, Division of Mission and Ministry
“We must go forward without becoming discouraged…” — Vincent de Paul
As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, many of us reflect upon the past year and on what lies ahead. In numerous spiritual traditions, we are encouraged to pay attention to the environmental changes around us as signs and reminders of the Divine plan. While change is a natural and constant part of our lives, it can often be anxiety producing. We look at changes in the world and our country, or perhaps changes in higher education broadly and here at DePaul, and we may not always feel confident it is for the better. Sometimes we may wish things would just stay the same. Even if we know the imperfections, there is comfort in familiarity.
Saint Vincent witnessed tremendous change in the world around him. Seventeenth-century France was a society often in a state of conflict and flux. A key component of Vincentian spirituality is paying attention to the signs around us, carefully discerning a path forward, then taking action and trusting in divine providence. Vincent encouraged his followers in times of change to look for how they were being invited forward, believing that “…on God’s road, not to advance is to fall back since man never remains in the same condition.” (CCD, 2:146) In other words, the world changes and so must we.
As you reflect upon the past year, on the things you are grateful for, as well as the challenges you have faced, what have you learned that can inform your course of action for times ahead? Where are your seeds of hope and possibility? Knowing the nature of our world, how can you best prepare for the change ahead while maintaining faith in the midst of uncertainty?
Citation: 1307, “To René Alméras,” 3 January 1651, CCD, 4:139; and 490, “To Etienne Blatiron, 9 October 1640, CCD, 2:146.
Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain
Division of Mission and Ministry
Did you know that there is a whole host of Vincentian mission based resources available digitally? Visit the “All Things Vincentian” page, spend some time browsing, and learn more about DePaul’s Vincentian heritage during the winter holidays.
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In the spirit of today’s reflection, you are invited to a day of reflection, renewal and community building for DePaul faculty and staff:
A Day with Vincent
Thursday, December 5th, 2019 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center, 513 W. Fullerton in Lincoln Park.
A Day with Vincent is an opportunity for DePaul staff and faculty to find spiritual enrichment and community, to reconnect with a sense of calling, and to deepen their understanding of our Vincentian mission. The day is free of charge and meals will be provided. Participants will be back to campus by 4:30 pm with transportation provided as needed. Now in its 12th year, A Day with Vincent helps participants find time and space within their busy lives to reflect deeply on Vincentian spirituality and mission while enabling them to engage with colleagues from across the university. Led by professional staff from the Division of Mission and Ministry and attended through the years by over 700 DePaul faculty and staff, the program is welcoming and supportive to those of all religious, spiritual and philosophical backgrounds and starting points.
In the quiet of December, as the academic quarter and calendar year draw to a close and the holidays approach, we hope you’ll join us for this opportunity to grow both personally and professionally, individually and communally.
It isn’t possible to look at photographs of 17th century France, but the closest we can come are the engravings of Abraham Bosse (1604-76). He was a master engraver of all sorts of subjects, including portraiture. For us, the most interesting will probably be his scenes of ordinary life, with particular emphasis on the depictions of the poor. He showed artisans at work, too, [see the engraving on the bakery below] and his scenes of schoolrooms—one for boys, another for girls—are nearly photographic.
His scenes of the Corporal Works of Mercy include the often-reproduced view of wealthy pious persons visiting a prison. The prisoner with a wide metal collar around his neck attached by a chain to the wall is astonishing. So is the scene of a wife beating her husband with a ring of heavy keys. At one side of the same engraving a young girl also is striking a boy, certainly in imitation of the family scene being enacted, and at the other side, a hen is pecking fiercely on a rooster. Bosse must have had a sense of humor.
He engraved another series of single individuals, showing off the details of their clothing. This is certainly as good as this gets.
If you ever wondered what kind of world Monsieur Vincent lived in, one access point is offered by these marvelous engravings. Bosse left more than 1,600 of them.
The Vincentian collection at DePaul recently purchased the book, whose cover is shown here. It is the catalogue of an exhibition dating from 2004.
It would be interesting to know more about his works.
There were, of course, other engravers and painters in his period, but many of them date from the time of Louis XIV. In this case, they represent the styles in vogue at least at the beginning of his reign. With Bosse, we are mainly shown the styles of Louis XIII and his wife, Anne of Austria, who became regent for Louis XIV until his formal accession to the throne in 1661.