The Spirituality of the St Vincent de Paul Society is simple expressed through our Society logo. Our “good works” are symbolically presented in the hand that offers the Cup, the hand of the vulnerable who receives the Cup and the hand of Christ blessing the Cup. This is a spirituality which is practical, engaging, relational and always responding in love.
In 1833 Frederic Ozanam and six other University students met in response to a debating challenge to “Show us your works!”. This meeting of confreres was not a business meeting but one which met weekly to strengthen their friendship, share faith and spirituality and to strive to alleviate the suffering of crushing poverty of Paris.Membership to these Conferences grew quickly within the university scene and throughout many parishes around Paris.
By Frederic’s death at age 40 the Society had spread to over 50 cities in Europe and numbered over 10,000 members. After some short years the Society came to Australia. The first establishment was in Melbourne in 1854 with Fr Gerald Ward, which seemed to dissipate after a short while, then significantly to Sydney with Charles O’Neill in 1881.Much has happened since this first meeting and the first act of charity of a delivery of firewood to a widow’s door, but one aspect which remains changeless is our mission and purpose.
That message of a lay Catholic organisation striving in our work towards a more just and compassionate society, is expressed everyday through our homelessness services, assisting families broken by domestic violence, walking with our refugees and asylum seekers and those living with mental health issues and complex disabilities or to those simply doing it tough in current economic times. Above all else our conference members continue to visit people in their homes where ever possible in total solidarity with the first works of our founding members Frederic and his companions.
May we pause today in thanks to that first meeting celebrating the beginning of our good works and in commemoration of the dedicated and faith filled lives of Frederic Ozanam and his companions as well as all past and present Members, Staff andVolunteers who carry the light of hope for many in our world.
Our Spiritual Framework reminds us that we are, Grounded in faith, Living in hope and Growing in love.
Pope Francis in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium expresses his thoughts of the Mission of the Church, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”
Reflected in these words of the Pope is the Church which inspired Frederic Ozanam. It is a Church which redefines the signs of the times with a Gospel message which is practical, relational, engaging and responding in love.
In reflection on Frederic’s life I believe it can be summed up by the following theme ; “Grounded in Faith, Growing in Love, Living in Hope”. These thoughts express much of the life, work and legacy of Blessed Frederic Ozanam.
· Frederic was a man of faith. He understood the importance of his work within the guidance and nurturing of prayer and spiritual advice.
· Frederic was a man of love. His love for God and Church was strengthened because of his relationships with the poor, his confreres and his family.
Frederic was a man of hope. He saw the importance of a legacy of justice and advocacy for the poor. Therefore, it is certainly fair to say that he developed and influenced some of the key principles of Social thought and reform in the Church and society today.
Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s vision was for a Church inspired by Gospel imperatives and a model of unconditional compassion and love for the poor.
This vision today is echoed in the words and actions of Pope Francis as he leads the church in living the joy of the Gospel. For Francis, as was for Frederic, to serve the poor we must be led by the voice of the poor. The Society must always see that the poor are at the heart of the decision-making, the heart of the agenda and that their voice is the one that speaks.
In this way the journey of the Society founded by Blessed Frederic will be “transforming (their) concern into action and (their) compassion into practical and effective love.” (Society’s The Rule #2.2)
Pope Francis is in many ways today’s champion of the poor. His words and actions have captured not only a Church is difficult times but also the wider secular society. He, like minded to Frederic, expressed that; “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.” (Pope Francis, Address to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 14/6/13)
May the intercessions of Blessed Frederic continue to guide, nurture and bless our actions, reflections, discernments and conversations as we live the gospel message serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy, to shape a more just and compassionate society.