Remember back to your First Communion? My memories have been honed by the pictures my parents took of rowdy kids standing in straight lines, hair slicked down, hands folded, and (mostly) eyes toward heaven in as much devotion as we could muster under the watchful eyes of Sister Ursula.
Our church tradition places the sacrament of the Eucharist to be preceded by Reconciliation. As we all prepared to make our first confession, we were eencouraged to do a thorough examination of our conscience. I still remember how seriously I went through the commandments and compared those to my actions over the entire span of my 7 year old life. At that time, the best I could come up with were things like disobeying my parents and fighting with my brother and sister.
In the many years since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the extraordinary teaching offered by our faith to help guide our conscience and our actions. And I’ve spent time studying resources available to us to help form our beliefs and to compare our actions to the standards of our faith.
Jesuits are known for Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which include the Daily Examen, a way to prayerful reflect on your day in order to “detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.” (http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen#sthash.zjMn2NF5.dpuf).
The US Bishops offer a similar opportunity to examine and form conscience in light of voting and our engagement in public life in their document Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/index.cfm).
The glossary of The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an Examination of Conscience as “The prayerful self-reflection on our words and deeds in the light of the Gospel to determine how we may have sinned against God”. The Bishops offer several tools with which to do this exercise, include one dealing with social issues (http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/examination-conscience-in-light-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm).
Here we offer a similar list of social concerns, from the position papers approved by The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (http://www.svdpusa.org/members/Programs-Tools/Programs/Voice-of-the-Poor/Position-Papers).
Affordable Housing (Italicized text from the Position Paper)
“Vincentians visit individuals and families with no homes, families on the verge of homelessness, and families who live in hazardous and substandard conditions.
The Rule of the Society reminds us of our mission. “No act of charity is foreign to the Society.” Councils and Conferences, recognizing the need for safe and affordable housing, seek to provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent housing, and rent/mortgage assistance.”
- On my home visit, do I judge the family by their housing?
- When visiting a home in deplorable conditions what do I do about it?
- How do I encourage the preservation and production of quality housing for low-income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people?
- Do I encourage the people I visit to fully participate in the betterment of their neighborhoods?
- Do I collaborate with nonprofit community groups and churches to build and preserve affordable housing?
- How do I work with state and local governments to do more to meet our common responsibility for housing?
“Vincentians visit unemployed and low-skilled, minimum wage workers struggling to make ends meet. They see young single mothers with poor literacy skills who have no idea how they will ever get off public assistance. Vincentians visit the incarcerated; many lack basic education and now, with a criminal record, the hope of landing a legitimate job diminishes even further.”
- Am I aware of funding levels to schools in low income areas?
- Do I consider the educational level of those we serve and the needs that they have for personal development and economic self-sufficiency?
- If there are children in a family I visit, do I discuss education with the parents? Do I ask how the children are doing?
- Do I know about school resources that might be available to students having difficulty?
- Am I aware of affordable day care in my area?
- Do I use a home visit to provide financial skills education for the family?
Health Care for the Poor
“Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul see people with diverse medical needs in home visits and in special works activities. They visit seniors who cannot afford to pay for both food and prescription medicines. They visit families where children do not have simple inoculations or access to basic medical care for childhood illnesses. Vincentians see adults in pain with ailments for which there would be relief were they able to afford basic medical aid. Some Councils have taken steps to work with community groups to open medical clinics for the poor and to assist with prescriptions. Yet much more is needed.”
- Am I committed to protecting human life, from the health of low income parents, to prenatal nutrition, to a healthy birth, and to ensuring that every human being is able to live a healthy life to natural death?
- Do I recognize that the dignity of every person includes access to quality medical care?
- Do I put the wellbeing of those in need before my political views regarding health care?
- Do I take seriously my responsibility to ensure that the rights of persons in need are realized?
- Do I urge those in power to implement programs and policies that give priority to the human dignity and rights of all, especially the vulnerable?
“Vincentians encounter the suffering Christ in countless individuals and families who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness. Struggling for mere existence, they are caught in a vicious cycle with no quick-and-easy solutions.”
- How do I follow The Rule of the Society which asks us to deliver charity and to search for justice by identifying the root causes of poverty and working towards their elimination?
- Do I look out for and act on issues from the perspective of the homeless?
- Do I work with local, state and federal officials to find effective short and long-term solutions to homeless in our community?
- How do I insure that the needs of those suffering from homelessness are not ignored?
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul reaffirms our adherence to Catholic Social Teaching, whose foundation is the inviolable dignity of every person from the moment of conception to natural death. We call for care and protection of victims of trafficking. We call for rigorous local, national and international efforts to identify and punish individuals and businesses that trade in persons. We call for greater efforts to eliminate the root causes of poverty. The weak and vulnerable must be protected from this evil.
- Do I know about the problems caused by human trafficking in my State and resources available to victims’ services available in my area?
- Do I advocate for strong anti-trafficking laws in my state that will protect these neighbors in need?
Hunger manifests itself in many way. Hunger affects the productivity and health of workers running on empty. Elderly pensioners scrimp to try to get by. Hungry children are affected with poor concentration, behavior difficulties, and low achievement scores. With adequate nourishment serious physical, mental, and developmental consequences can be prevented. As followers of Jesus, the words of our Savior make obvious our responsibility to those who hunger and thirst. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul must be a Voice of the Poor.
- Am I aware of the harm that malnutrition or poor nutrition does to our communities?
- When forming my opinion about government safety net programs, do I base my decisions on facts or political views?
- Do I know the income levels in my state for a family to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP, formally known as Food Stamps?
- Do I know the process for applying for SNAP in my community?
- Do I help families who might be eligible for public assistance to get enrolled?
- Am I aware of summer feeding programs in my area for children who rely on schools for breakfast and lunch during the school year?
Vincentians are frequently in contact with individuals and families who have relocated to the United States. Some refer to immigrants as “illegals” while others use the label “undocumented.” Regardless of the name given: All are children of God. As Catholics we know that the human dignity of every person regardless of legal status must be preserved. We also know that any policy adopted to address the situation of newcomers, whether identified as refugees, undocumented aliens, or legal residents newly residing in the US, must be mindful of the common good.
- How do I see the Face of God in those I visit who are from another culture or country?
- How do I welcome the stranger in our communities?
- Am I aware of resources available to people who have legal challenges to their citizen status?
- Have I reflected on Church teaching about dealing with immigrants and immigration laws?
- Do I work to influence public policy to reflect that Church teaching?
Research shows that the poor pay higher prices for goods including mortgages, auto loans and even basics, such as groceries, insurance, and financial services. When funds are needed, alternative finance services, such as payday lenders, check cashers, money transmitters, title lenders, rent-to-own providers, pawn shops and tax preparation services that provide refund anticipation loans, proffer funding options.
- I understand the challenges that those in need face because they pay more in fees for financial services.
- On each home visit, I ask about existing banking relationships to help families avoid check cashing and other fees.
- I ask families about tax preparation services they might use and let them know where the Volunteer Tax Assistance Programs (VITA) are and the earnings thresholds are for my area.
- I reflect on the teachings of the Church: “Those, whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family, either directly or indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2269).
- I work with legislators and public policy influencers to change laws that allow financial predators to victimize the poor and vulnerable in my community.
America’s criminal justice system is broken. The US Catholic Bishops came to this conclusion…. According to their statement: Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: “All those whom we consulted seemed to agree on one thing: the status quo is not really working—offenders are often not rehabilitated, and many communities have lost their sense of security. All of these committed people spoke with a sense of passion and urgency that the system is broken in many ways. We share their concern and believe that it does not live up to the best of our nation’s values and falls short of our religious principles.”
- Do I recognize that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender?
- Do I stand with, and pray for, the victims of crimes and their families?
- Do I also pray for healing for offenders and their families?
- Am I aware of the number of single parent families I visit who have been split apart because the other parent is incarcerated?
- Do I understand that crime is primarily an offense against human relationships, and secondarily a violation of a law?
- Do I seek ways to make a difference at the front end of life to help avoid a life time of criminal behavior?
- Do I work to protect the dignity of others when it is being threatened?
Self Sufficient Wages
As Vincentians, we believe in living gospel values. As the largest Catholic lay organization in the United States, it is essential that we support Catholic teachings. I urge you to ensure that those employed by the Society in the United States be afforded the greatest possible respect and a wage that reflects our values of creating self-sufficiency for whomever we serve.
It is up to the local Council Board to investigate and determine a sufficient wage that creates self-sufficiency for our employees.
- If I am an employer, do I pay wages that will keep my employees from needing to visit a food pantry or to receive public assistance?
- Do I pay a wage that recognizes the dignity of work and the person?
- Could a person raise a family on the wages I pay?
- Do the policies I have for workers allow for health insurance, sick and vacation time?
- As a consumer, do I recognize that paying the least amount possible for a product or service often falls back on the worker making less than a self-sufficient income? Am I willing to pay a bit more for a product or service so that a worker might better support a family?
- As an owner, do I treat workers fairly?
- As a worker, do I give my employer a fair day’s work for my wages?
We are committed to providing a place at the table for all, a place that offers all with opportunities to participate and grow. Each of us who serve, work, volunteer or are associated with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, USA have a personal responsibility to advance diversity and inclusion. While this national level emphasis is important in the work we do, it is meaningless without follow-up at the Regional, District, Council and Conference level. Therefore, we call on all our Vincentians, employees, associates and volunteers to take advantage of resources provided within and outside the Society that will help achieve this end. (proposed Position Paper, scheduled for approval vote at this year’s Annual Meeting)
- Do I recognize the face of Christ reflected in all others around me whatever their race, class, age, or abilities?
- How do I welcome others into my conference who have different cultural, ethnic, physical, and intellectual backgrounds than mine?
- How do I help seek out those who need to be at the table but aren’t?
- As a leader, how do I ensure diversity for future Vincentian leadership?
- Do I see all members of the human family as my brothers and sisters?
- Do I recognize and respect the economic, social, political, and cultural rights of others?
Civility (not a position paper but an important topic of reflection)
“Let us learn, first of all, to defend our belief without hating our adversaries, to appreciate those who do not think as we do, to recognize that there are Christians in every camp, and that God can be served now as always! Let us complain less of our times and more of ourselves. Let us not be discouraged, let us be better.”
Blessed Frederic Ozanam
- How do I recognize Christ in those who are on the opposite side of an issue from my opinion?