Spirituality in the Meeting
Every Conference should have a Spiritual Advisor to provide guidance and support to the members. It should be a spiritual person and one who can commit time and energy to giving good reflections and advise about our Christian faith and the ways it applies to the Society’s Ministry to the poor. This is the ideal, but not always available. Following are some guidelines to help you have a spiritual meeting with or without an advisor.
Begin your meeting with prayer. We begin with the sign of the cross and continue with the opening Vincentian Prayer. We do not close with the sign of the cross until after the closing prayer. This makes our whole meeting a prayer.
Set aside time for reflection. You should allow ten to twenty minutes as a minimum. A reading can be taken from Scripture and questions to discuss or phrases that touch us should be shared. During this reflection time, special prayers can be offered. The Mass is the greatest prayer of all and if your meeting can begin with a Celebration of the Eucharist then you are indeed blessed. We use reflection and prayer time to remember our Patron, St. Vincent de Paul, our protector, Mother Mary; and our founder Blessed Frederic Ozanam. This is a good time to prayer for each other and to pray for those we serve. If it seems the presence of God is distant at your meetings -- guess who moved.
Sometimes the Spiritual side of the meeting is based on a theme. For example a series of themes can be set based on the virtues of a compassionate Vincentian. Themes such as humility, zeal of souls, simplicity, mortification and meekness. There are other themes that could follow the liturgical calendar, such as, reconciliation, forgiveness, hope, thanksgiving, family, etc.
Along with Scripture a programme of song and prayer could be used. Some samples of these are included in this section.
If you are lucky enough to have a Spiritual Director, these plans are in place for you. However, if you do not have one, and many of us do not, one recommendation is that you seek a different person each month to choose the reflection. Many of us are inspired by different types of prayer. I, personally like visual effects and theatrical. Many other Vincentians, like prayer and Scripture and repetition prayer. Still others like a combination, and some are lifted spiritually by a poem, music or song. When you allow different people to plan a spiritual program, you will have the variety that will please all, at least once. By allowing time for all to have input, even if the programme is not to their liking, the Scripture or theme chosen will be and each prayer type will have their say.
We must know God to bring him to the poor. We do this by our service, not by judging or proselytizing. We bring Christ to the poor by bringing our experience, love and compassion and by looking for the face of Christ in them. We can only do this if we know Christ. We know Christ by reading Holy Scripture, by spending time with Him in prayer and silence. We must get into the habit of prayer and reflection in our personal lives and at our meetings.
Most importantly at our meetings we must pray for each other. Our meetings should be conducted in a sense of prayer and if it ever becomes heated, pause to pray and reflect. It is better to hold off a short while on a decision than to act in anger. If we keep Christ at our board tables, our decision will be blessed. If an individual or Conference loses vitality or commitment, you can be sure that it is because there has been a failure to root spirituality firmly on the foundations that our Rule sets out for us. Lift each other up in prayer. Listen to the needs of our Vincentian family. We should encourage and affirm each other. Pray for our families. Pray for our friends the poor. Our life as a Vincentian is Prayer. Ensure that when we invite others to join the Society, we invite them to grow in the life of Christ.
(The following is adapted from Fr. Leo Burns, Spiritual Director, National Council, March 1985)
The world today has many needs: the need for peace, for justice, for human rights, for a greater recognition of the dignity of the human person, and a need for compassion. Yet, underneath all these needs is the cry for compassion -- the cry for understanding and appreciation of the human condition. We seem to lack the time to be present to each other, and our busy lives often do not leave much time for prayer. Few people have the opportunity to share this gift of compassion with others as do Vincentians. In order to be able to share that gift of Christ’s love and compassion, we must be willing to grow in the love of Christ and His Church ourselves, to commit ourselves ever more generously to serving Him in His Church. When God moves in your life, it is uncomfortable. He does not move you to be still. He moves you to do His will. In the divine economy, that is an investment worth making. It is the hundredfold reward of which our Lord speaks!
When Pope John Paul ll met with representatives of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on April 28, 1983, he recognized the unique vocation we share as Vincentians. He spoke of the compassion of Christ for the poor brought to the homes of the needy by Vincentians through a person-to-person contact. Pope John Paul 11 also encouraged us to increase our Vincentian Spirituality and our commitment and compassion for the poor. He said, “In your conference meetings, you should find not only the practical means of discovering and serving in an organized way the poor who surround you, but also a spiritual deepening, a Christian reflection, which balances prayer and action. For one must allow oneself to be transformed by the words of Christ, in order to render Him present in our world."At the beatification of Frederic Ozanam in August 1997 in Paris France, Pope John Paul ll had more to say on the compassion of Christ shown to the poor through the works of Vincentians. He recalled Frederic’s dedication to prayer. His love of Christ and his loyal devotion to Our Lady. He recalled that Frederic thought always of the poor before himself. Blessed Frederic Ozanam is listed as a lay saint for our times. He is a man like us, a man of flesh and blood, a man rooted in his time. He was truly a man of the Gospel Beatitudes. He was a man of prayer.