“Pray as you can, not as you can’t,” said my professor as we students felt torn between different methods, none of which seemed to fit.
“I’ll pray for you and your girls,” I told my friend last week after she was hospitalized with four aneurisms.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough!” say countless people after preventable tragedies happen and those tweeted words just seem so hollow.
Is prayer not enough? Is there a right way to do it?
I don’t think there is a best way to pray, but in an article on the subject Fr. Robert Maloney, C.M., writes in a clear and practical way about Vincent de Paul’s wisdom on prayer.1 It is very much worth a read, and two things particularly struck me when recently reviewing it.
The first is Maloney’s reminder that “Few things were as important as prayer in St. Vincent’s mind.” Vincent’s Common Rule called for an hour of mental prayer each day, and he spent considerable time giving practical guidance to his contemporaries about praying, much of which is still very timely.
The second point speaks both to those who call themselves Vincentian but don’t have a prayer practice or theistic framework, and to those who pray to connect to God. Four centuries ago, Vincent asserted that (in my interpretation) thoughts and prayers are essential, but indeed are not enough. Maloney relates, “He [Vincent] warns over and over again about regarding prayer as a speculative study. He cautions about its becoming an occasion for vanity or for ‘beautiful thoughts’ that lead nowhere.”
In an article on Vincent and prayer, Vinicius Teixeira Ribeiro, C.M., relates how Vincent cautioned his confreres: “it doesn’t suffice to have good affections, we must go further and be motivated to take resolutions to work seriously in the future.…”2 Ribeiro writes how prayer must be grounded in reality to create “prayerful, thinking and active people.” For Vincent, action was modeled on Jesus as known through the scriptures—serving the poor, leading with humility, working for God’s justice, and acting within a community of others.
I believe that in many ways, as Søren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Yes, I pray for others. I pray for my friend in the hospital and for those suffering from Covid in India. I do think prayer matters and that prayers are “effective” in some real way, though I don’t know exactly how. But these days, I’ve been reflecting on prayer as a channel to change me: to strengthen me to do the things I need to do for justice, pay attention to the world as it really is, and to pause for inner wisdom to ensure that the actions I take are the right ones to the best of my understanding.
“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” For those who feel called to do so—pray!
And, as we approach the National Day of Prayer on May 6th, know that millions of others across many religious and spiritual traditions are praying with you, and dare I hope, preparing themselves through prayer and thoughtful reflection to also take the right action.
1 Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today – Some Reflections on the Vincentian Tradition,” Vincentiana 39:2 (1995), available online at: Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today.
– On the 361st anniversary of Louise de Marillac’s death, 15 March 1660 –
God, who created “every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it… saw that it was good.”(1) Our Creator also sowed seeds of the mission in the hearts of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and their associates.(2) Those seeds of hope developed into the Vincentian Family which fulfils the Vincentian mission around the globe. In their conferences and writings, Vincent and Louise frequently referred to grains and seeds, particularly the mustard seed. Most religious traditions embody “seeds of the Word.”(3) In seventeenth-century France, Christians understood the allegorical use of the mustard seed as the “word of God” in the Parable of The Sower in Sacred Scripture.(4)
Raised in the rural marshlands of the Landes district of Gascony, not far from the Pyrenees, young Vincent de Paul learned to work the land and care for flocks of sheep. Before he left the farm at fifteen to attend school in Dax, Vincent probably helped his family plant hard-shell seeds of millet. When “cooked in a pot and poured into a dish,” this nutritious staple resembles fluffy mashed potatoes.(5) Memories of rural life remained vivid to Vincent, especially when he spoke from experience and referred to the “Good country folk…[who] sow their seed and then wait for God to bless their harvest.”(6)
After moving to Paris, Vincent shifted from an agrarian focus to priestly service. He realized that relationships and events are like seeds. Each contains covert energy. Through his relationship with the Gondi family, Vincent discovered a spiritual poverty among the peasants residing on the family estates. When learning of their situation, Mme. de Gondi asked “What must be done?” This good woman planted the first seed of the mission. Her query and Vincent’s zeal produced the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian Priests and Brothers) in France in 1625. The first mission preached by Vincent at Folleville in 1617, “has always been considered as the seed for all the others to follow.”(7)
Months later at Châtillon, after visiting the home of a family where illness prevailed, Vincent grasped both their need of assistance and the full extent of material poverty. His awareness became a root for creativity and practicality to grow into action as organized charity.(8) At Vincent’s invitation, women of the town “joined forces to take their turn to assist the sick poor,” thus forming the first Confraternity of Charity. This seedling would develop branches, initially in Paris. Soon, pastors replicated this model throughout France.(9)
In 1623, another event in Paris embedded seeds of hope deep within a distressed wife and mother seeking interior peace. Louise de Marillac had an extraordinary experience of light (or lumière), which freed her from anxiety and doubts. Inner peace permeated the core of her being. Aware that she would “live in a small community” and “help her neighbor,” Louise “did not understand” how that would be possible since “there was to be much coming and going.”(10) As a widow several years later, Louise began to assist with Vincent de Paul’s charitable works. Recognizing her potential, in 1629 Vincent sent Louise to Montmirail as his deputy. This was the first of many supervisory visits to the Confraternities of Charity.
Marguerite Naseau, a woman from the countryside, learned that volunteers were caring for sick and impoverished people through the Confraternities of Charity in Paris. She heard Vincent preaching and shared her desire to render such charitable services.(11) Perceiving that this encounter held a seed of great value, Vincent sent Marguerite to Louise de Marillac, now his collaborator. Louise formed the women who desired to commit themselves to be servants of the sick poor, and Marguerite became the first Servant of the Sick Poor. Together, Marguerite, Louise, Vincent, and the first sisters planted the seeds of mission, which developed into the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1633. The Ladies of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu was the next foundation established in Paris in 1634.
As a Catholic priest and man of action, Vincent de Paul proclaimed the word of God like seeds sown in the hearts of his listeners awaiting their moment of grace.(12) For persons in need, Vincent was generous and practical. His benevolence included “money, food, clothing, medicine, tools, seed for sowing, and other necessities to sustain life.”(13) A master of dialogue and diplomacy, Vincent responded to the grace of the moment, believing that God speaks through events, encounters, persons, and sometimes grains of millet.(14)
Elizabeth Seton used the image of sowing “the little mustard seed” in reference to her own Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.(15) She reminded the women that “Every good work…we do is a grain of seed for eternal life.”(16) In a meditation comparing heaven to a mustard seed, Louise de Marillac wrote, “I am “well aware that this seed contains great strength within itself, both in its capacity to multiply and in the quality it gives to everything that is seasoned with it.”(17) Her deep desire was that the “seed may grow to its full perfection.”(18) Vincent would have certainly affirmed the important role of each person in collaborating to plant and nurture seeds of the mission to flourish.
Believe me, there is nothing like being faithful and persevering for the greater good once we have committed ourselves. May we be faithful to the mission of DePaul University in following the “way of wisdom.”(19) Let us be persons of integrity who honor the dignity and humanity of everyone, and let us embrace our responsibilities to one another and the common good. The result will be that we shall grow in virtue and God’s grace as the tiny grain of mustard seed grows into a large shrub over time.(20) I pray that the DePaul University community collaborates to transform society—to eliminate racism and eradicate oppression—so that mutual respect, justice, compassion, and peace may prevail for all people.
How familiar am I with the energy of seeds? Their potential? What seeds have I planted? Nurtured? Harvested?
How sensitive am I to inner prompts that invite me to reflect on and recognize the veiled wisdom in unplanned events and providential encounters?
What helps me realize that an event or comment contains a powerful seed of hope or truth? How do I acknowledge its presence? How willing am I to respond by taking practical action?
As a member of the DePaul University community, what seeds would I like to plant? Seeds of hope? Seeds of equity? Seeds of respect? How could I nurture the growth of more seeds of the mission?
View the Seeds of the Mission Campaign Postscript
1) Genesis 1:11-12.
2) Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vols. 1-3 (Vincentian Studies Institute, 1993), 2:31. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/abelly_english/4
3) Ad Gentes, §15. See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_ad-gentes_en.html
4) Luke 8:11.
5) Cooked millet has a fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor. See Conference 13, Imitating the Virtues of Village Girls, 25 January 1643, CCD, 9:70. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/
6) Ibid., 73-4.
7) Abelly, Life, 1:61.
8) Conference 23, Maxims of Saint Vincent, “Order in the Service of Charity,” CCD, 12:383.
9) Document 1248, Foundation of the Charity in Châtlllon-Les-Dombes, 23 August 1617, CCD, 13b:3.
10) A2, Light, in Louise Sullivan, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac (New York: New City Press, 1991), 1. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/11/
11) Conference 24, Love of Vocation and Assistance to the Poor, 13 February 1646, CCD, 9: 194; Conference 12, The Virtues of Marguerite Naseau, [July 1642], CCD, 9:64-6.
12) Abelly, Life, 2:99.
13) Cf. Ibid., 1:204.
14) Letter 704, To Bernard Codoing, 16 March 1644, CCD, 2:499.
15) 7.117, Elizabeth Ann Seton to Antonio Filicchi, 16 September 1817, in Regina Bechtle, S.C., and Judith Metz, S.C., eds., Ellin M. Kelly, mss. ed., Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings, 3 vols. (New City Press: New York, 2000-2006), 2:508. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/seton_lcd/
16) 10.2, Red Leather Notebook, Maxims, Ibid., 3a:488.
17) A.37, “Heaven Compared to a Mustard Seed,” in Sullivan, Spiritual Writings, 803.
19) Proverbs 4:11.
20) Conference 162, Repetition of Prayer, 19 November 1656, CCD, 11:346.
Reflection by: Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry
“To leave God for God is not leaving God at all, that is, to leave one work of God to do another, either of greater obligation or of greater merit.”1
As we know, St. Vincent de Paul was a person of great faith who found strength in prayer and the belief that an unfaltering, loving God was active in our lives. So, it may seem a little odd to hear that Vincent once told the Daughters of Charity to leave God. What could Vincent have possibly meant by this?
To understand Vincent’s words, we need to appreciate the context of his theology and how he lived his faith. Vincent de Paul possessed a deeply incarnational faith, which manifested itself in very real and practical ways. In other words, because Vincent believed that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God, the act of serving one’s neighbor was a concrete expression of serving God. Therefore, this belief undergirded Vincent’s words when he told the Daughters that even if they were engaged in meditation, prayer, or spiritual reading, they were to stop whatever they were doing if a poor person sought help from them. As Vincent explained, such an act of service was not to leave God. Instead, it was to engage in a work of God that was of greater obligation or merit than their meditation and prayers. Thus, Vincent is seen to have valued concrete acts of service more than individual acts of piety.
Over the centuries, the seeds of Vincent’s pragmatism have taken root and flourished in myriad ways through the foundation of numerous social service organizations, groups, hospitals, and educational institutions. DePaul University is one of these fruits. Today, one of the signs that Vincentian pragmatism is alive and well is through DePaul’s collective embrace of Vincentian personalism. This practice calls us to serve our students and treat one another with compassion, empathy, and a high level of professionalism. And another sign is our ability to respond nimbly to current issues, as witnessed by our ongoing response to the pandemic.
We are living in a time that continues to be fraught with many challenges and obstacles. Yet amid our tumultuous present, how might an echo from our past still be heard, inviting us in new, innovative ways to answer Vincent’s pragmatic call?
1 Conference 30, The Rules, 30 May 1647, CCD, 9:252. See: CCD Vol. 9
Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Ph.D., Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry.
Many of us believe that now and again it is a good idea to ask, “why am I here?”
Why am I here…why am I here…? Such an innocent question. Such an infinite variety of existential responses. And, though we may never be fully satisfied with our answers, entertaining the question is worthwhile.
Right now, DePaul University finds itself asking institutionally “why are we here?” That question emanated throughout the Mission Statement dialogues undertaken around the university over the fall quarter. And, it continues to challenge us as we respond to the Covid public health crisis and wrestle with its corresponding economic circumstances. Addressing this question will take all the good will, wisdom, and participation DePaul can muster. Thankfully, we have DePaul’s nearly 125-year history to help illuminate our reason for being here today. Beyond that, we have the Vincentian tradition begun by Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and their earliest colleagues. How might that heritage be helpful in shaping our answer to the question “why are we here?” Among many possibilities, one comes to mind.
In the spring of 1658, an elderly Vincent de Paul presented his only published work, “The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission,” to his community. It was meant to serve as a guide and instruction manual. Not by accident, Vincent chose to begin the first and last chapters of the Rules with the same biblical verse. Taken from the first verse of the Acts of the Apostles, it says Jesus began “to do and to teach.”1 Vincent chose this phrase as the inspiration and model for his missionaries.2 How wonderfully it captures the legacy of Vincent de Paul and how prophetically it names our purpose at DePaul University.
“To do and to teach” calls us to be active and public facing in order to benefit the common good. To do and to teach asks that we be intentional and reflective in learning from our experiences. As community members and collaborators, to do and to teach means giving and receiving respect, joy, and empowerment from one another. We are called to do virtuous work, aspire to the highest ideals, and to pay particular attention to those who are neglected or marginalized. Now and moving forward, to do and to teach means being anti-racist. It means caring for the earth. It means giving our students the most cost-effective, holistic education possible; one that prepares them to succeed. At the same time, it means providing our staff and faculty with a place that is equitable and inclusive; a community wherein they flourish.
Why are you here? To do and to teach! Such a simple question and response. Such transformative, empowering potential.
REFLECTION QUESTIONS: How would you answer the question: Why are you here? How would you answer the question: Why is DePaul University here? How does “to do and to teach” apply to you?
1 “It is worthy of note that both the first and last chapters of the Common Rules open with the same biblical reference, namely to the fact that Jesus ‘began to do and to teach.’” Warren Dicharry, C.M., “Saint Vincent and Sacred Scripture,” Vincentian Heritage 10:2 (1989), 139. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol10/iss2/2/
2 In the Common Rules, Vincent made clear that Jesus began by doing and then followed with teaching. Both pursuits were equally important, with the former shaping the latter, and emphasized the importance placed on experience, action, and incarnation. See Chapter 1, Common Rules: https://via.library.depaul.edu/cm_construles/3
You are invited to join us for Lunch with Vincent on Tuesday, March 2nd, from 12:00–1:00 pm. We will be joined by our colleagues from the Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care: Mat Charnay, Jewish Life Coordinator; Minister Jené Colvin, DePaul Christian Ministries; and Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain. Together they will share how each of their Abrahamic traditions empowers them to be anti-racist. Participants will be invited to reflect and share how their values, philosophies, or religions calls and sustains them to be anti-racist.
You may have recently seen the news that Europe’s oldest known person survived Covid-19, after having tested positive just weeks before her 117th birthday. That person, Sister Andre (Lucile) Randon, happens to be a Daughter of Charity, a member of the religious community founded by Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul in 1633. She became a nun in 1944 at the age of 40, after having lived through two world wars and the Spanish Flu pandemic. She devoted many of her years to working with children as a teacher and governess and spent over two decades working with orphans and the elderly in a hospital. Sr. Andre was quoted as saying, “I’m not afraid of dying, so give my vaccine doses to those who need them.”(1)
Her long life and generous spirit puts things into perspective and help us to recognize that this difficult period we are living through shall eventually pass.
I have heard it said that the difference between a child and an adult is that an adult knows a challenging moment will pass. If only it were that easy for us! Like a distraught child overcome by intense feelings, we often have difficulty seeing beyond our present situation. Feelings can overwhelm us, cloud our vision, and prevent our understanding the larger context. We forget that life is about more than our current reality and that time will surely change our perspective. Looking back on our lives, our thoughts about all we have experienced have certainly evolved and will do so again. Sr. Andre’s life can help remind us of this fact.
Over the course of our lives, we may fall into ruts. This may happen without our even being aware. The ruts may be habits or draining, even harmful, ways of seeing, thinking, acting, or relating with others. We may wake up days, weeks, months, or even years later, only to recognize we have gone astray and lost touch with our heart’s desire. In facing this, strong doses of humility and self-compassion are necessary and healing antidotes. Surely, in her long life, Sr. Andre learned many times of the need for forgiveness.
The examples of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac also encourage us to take a long view on life. Vincent wrote to Louise: “The spirit of God urges one gently to do the good that can be done reasonably, so that it may be done perseveringly and for a long time.”(2) Louise, meanwhile, encouraged her fellow sisters by saying: “It is not enough to begin well, one must persevere, as, I believe, you intend.”(3) Keeping this perspective in mind, Sr. Andre’s example and the words of Vincent and Louise invite us to reconsider what it really means to live a good life.
Thinking of how we might look back on our life in old age, what can we do now to be able to someday say, as St. Paul did, and Sr. Andre might, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith?”(4)
How might our perspective of our current difficult reality shift or evolve with time? What can we forgive or let go of today to start anew or better move in the direction of our deepest hopes?
1) Elian Peltier, “As she turns 117, French nun is oldest to recover from virus,” New York Times; as published in the Chicago Tribune, Thursday, February 11, 2021, p. 11.
2) Letter 58, “To Saint Louise, In Beauvais,” CCD, 1:92. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/25/
3) L.300, “To Sister Charlotte and Sister Françoise,” 17 March 1651, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 346. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/13
4) 2 Timothy 4:7.
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Division of Mission and Ministry
“Revitalizing our Identity at the beginning of the Fifth Century of the Congregation of the Mission” — Theme of the C.M. XLIII General Assembly 2022
Each year on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, we remember the beginning of the Congregation of the Mission (C.M.). According to St. Vincent de Paul, this happened in Folleville, France, on January 25, 1617, when he preached his “first sermon of the Mission.”(1) Many say that experience with a dying man transformed Vincent’s heart and imbued him with a desire to serve those in need.
This historical event is an important one for DePaul University, though it is not widely celebrated. The Congregation of the Mission (commonly called “Vincentians”) founded our university 123 years ago. DePaul’s history and identity are deeply linked to the values and convictions of the Congregation in the United States.
Originally, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission to provide direct service to all those living in poverty, especially “the most abandoned,”(2) and for the formation and education of Catholic clergy in need of reform. These original intentions have evolved with time, especially over the past 50 years.
Today the Congregation of the Mission works together with many other branches of the Vincentian Family. This wider family includes the Daughters of Charity and other orders of religious sisters, as well as lay members of the worldwide International Association of Charities, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They comprise an ever-growing network of people and organizations who provide direct spiritual and material service, advocacy, and the promotion of systemic change.
In many ways, the primary Vincentian mission along with its communal approach have not changed. To better respond to all kinds of needs Vincent summoned as many as he could, rich, poor, humble, and powerful, and used all means to inspire them to serve people living in poverty.(3) As a Catholic priest, Vincent privileged the image of Christ. Based on the Gospel of Luke, ‘the evangelizer of the poor’ [Luke 4, 16-22], he prompted all his collaborators to help the poor directly and indirectly as Jesus did.
The Congregation of the Mission, from the time of Vincent de Paul, and through his inspiration, recognizes itself as called by God to carry out the work of integrally serving the poor. Officially called “Congregatio Missionis,” they are also called “Vincentians” in Anglophone countries, “Paules” in Spain, “Missioners” in Slavic lands, and in Latin America they are known as “Vicentinos.” The unofficial motto of the Congregation: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me [He has sent me to evangelize the poor] sums up the works of Jesus the Congregation endeavors to follow.
While we celebrate the founding of the Congregation of the Mission in 1617, the official date of its institution is noted to be April 17, 1625. On that day, encouraged by Madame de Gondi, the lords of the Gondi family, in whose territories Vincent de Paul served as Chaplain, signed a contract with him in which they provided funding to support a group of priests to serve impoverished people in the countryside. This act gave needed economic sustainability to the project of the Congregation.
Vincent ultimately created the community he had dreamed of. By the day of his death, September 27, 1660, twenty-six Vincentian communities had been formed: nineteen in France, four in Italy, two in Barbary (Northern Africa), and one in Poland. And, by the time of the French Revolution of 1789, when religious communities were suppressed in France, a great dissemination of the Congregation had taken place around the world, with missions in the Middle East, in Asia, and soon thereafter in the Americas. Especially significant were the Congregation’s missionary efforts in China. Today the Congregation has more than 3,000 members, priests, and brothers, serving in 81 countries. They continue to provide a wide array of services including education, spiritual and pastoral care, direct service to the poor, and socio-political advocacy, while remaining dedicated to systemic change and collaborations that will end poverty and homelessness.
As we know, one of their projects was DePaul University, founded in 1898 to serve the children of immigrants in Chicago who needed both access to education and a chance to escape poverty. Without Foundation Day, DePaul as we know it would not exist. That it does, and that we are now a part of more than two million Vincentian Family members worldwide, is certainly something worth celebrating on the 25th.
1) Conference 112, Repetition of Prayer, 25 January 1655, CCD, 11:162-164.
2) Conference 164, Love for the Poor, January 1657, CCD, 11:349.
In the cold mid-winter of 1656, Vincent de Paul took up his quill pen and began writing a letter to a community member far away. At one point in his epistle, Vincent reflected upon the changeability of the human experience and wrote to his colleague:
…the instability of the human person… is so great… that the person never remains in the same state. What he wants this year, perhaps he will not want the next—maybe not even tomorrow…1
In essence, Vincent was saying to his friend that to be human is to change. From one year, from one day, even from one moment to the next, for better or for worse, change is inevitable.
For all its universality, however, change is still so difficult for us to accept. It can surprise us, discomfort us, frustrate us, and plainly terrify us. No wonder we sometimes lose sight of the joys and benefits that only occur because of change in our lives. Without change, we don’t learn, we don’t progress, we don’t grow. As the journalist and author Gail Sheehy famously said, without change “we aren’t really living.”2
Right now, the year 2021 is still as fresh as new fallen snow. The DePaul community—students, staff, and faculty—are in the midst of an academic year that has summoned us to generate more creativity, resilience, and faith than we knew we had within us. Perhaps now would be a good time for us to look back on 2020, with all of its challenges, and ahead to 2021, with all its hope, and ask how we might harness change to lead us to better things.
What is one change you wish to keep from the year that has just ended? What is one change you wish to embrace in the year that has just begun?
1 Letter 1842, To Étienne Blatiron, Superior, In Genoa, 19 February 1655, CCD, 5:316.
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!
At DePaul, we understand Catholicism to be an invitation to foster a universal human family. It is because of our Catholicism, not despite it, that we value interfaith dialogue and spiritual exploration. Throughout DePaul’s history, our Catholic, Vincentian identity also led us to admit immigrant populations, women, and students of color before many other universities across the country.
From the very beginning, Vincent made it clear that love for the “most abandoned” was the central focus of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. In a conference in January 1657 Vincent preached on the importance of the love for poor:
God loves the poor, consequently, He loves those who love the poor; for when we truly love someone, we have an affection for his friends and for his servants. Now, the Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor, the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope that, for love of them, God will love us. Come then, my dear confreres, let’s devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned.¹
Our Vincentian tradition places unheard stories at the center of the narrative. It calls us to hear the needs of those who have been made poor and marginalized and to respond with compassion, solidarity, and justice.Daughters of Charity today speak about “need not creed” guiding their response. The ministries of the Daughters of Charity around the world serve the most vulnerable without judgement or exclusion. The Vincentian tradition highlights communities’ assets and strengths so that those who are poor may be agents of their own transformation.
Vincentians not only welcome but also seek out those who are invisible and forgotten.Because we are Vincentian, because we are Catholic, all are welcome.
The Vincentian Studies Institute is extremely pleased to promote the publication of our colleague and fellow board member’s new work. Dr. Brejon de Lavergnée is a Professor of History and the Dennis H. Holtschneider Chair of Vincentian Studies at DePaul University.
“The Daughters of Charity are today the largest community of Catholic women, with 15,000 sisters in about 100 countries. They devote their lives to serving the poorest in hospitals, schools, and care centers for homeless or migrants, as well as working to promote social justice. Until now, however, the history of the Daughters of Charity has been almost wholly neglected. The opening of their central archives, combined with access to many public and private archives, has finally allowed this to be remedied.
This volume, the fruit of several years’ work, covers the history of the Company from its foundation by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac as a confraternity of young women to the suppression of the order during the French Revolution. The study, at the juncture of women’s history and religious history, shows how much the Daughters of Charity contributed to the emergence of a new and ambiguous status in post-Tridentine society: neither cloistered nuns nor married women, but “seculars.” The Company has certainly offered a framework that enabled many resolute women to lead lives out of the ordinary, taking young peasant women to the royal court, intrepid hearts to Poland, and, more generally, generous souls to the “martyrdom of charity” among the poor and the ill.”