Recently, I visited the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY. This isolated rural spiritual community was the home of the prolific author Thomas Merton. As I walked around the grounds, I saw a sign with one of my favorite Psalm passages: “Be still and know that I am God!” (Ps. 46:11). In that bucolic setting, it’s so easy to reflect on that wonderful statement of faith. Don’t move. Sit and be quiet. Just listen to God in the breeze. Ponder and meditate.
But, that is not what the monks do. They certainly pray. They assembly seven times each day to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as well as attend mass. But, they have quite a rigorous work schedule. They make cheese, fudge, and fruitcake (wonderful Christmas gifts) as well as care for the many guests they might have at one time, who are on retreat. To me, these consecrated religious live the Psalm passage in a way that recognizes the balance between experiencing prayer through meaningful work while remembering to step back and dedicate time to work at prayer.
This same model can be applied to our advocacy work as Vincentians.
We have 11 position papers on our national web site (http://www.svdpusa.org/members/Programs-Tools/Programs/Voice-of-the-Poor/Position-Papers). These statements, rooted in Catholic teaching, outline the view of The Society on issues that are of critical concern to the lives and well-being of those we serve. Many people have spent time and hard work discerning the complex issues, weighing all sides, discussing, debating, and questioning many aspects of every topic. Each paper has been reviewed by the US Bishops office as well as Catholic Charities. It is then taken to our Board and, if approved, voted on by the National Council. Each paper provides a guidepost to Vincentians to help form their conscience about the issue.
Once the position has been adopted by The Society, the work turns to you and me. To use the monastic analogy, our tasks move from contemplative to action. It is up to us to study each statement and work to implement the policy, whether that is at a local, regional, or national level.
In many cases, the challenge may seem overwhelming. In today’s political climate, where politicians seem to be rewarded by re-election whether they have done anything or not, why should we have any hope that we can influence legislation that protects those with the weakest voices in our communities? Why should I continue to try when I can’t even get my conference to agree on some of these positions?
That is where we turn back to the inspiration of monastic communities. These men and women work and pray for all of us. They don’t do it for immediate reward. They don’t have a naughty or nice list, like Santa. They have faith. At the end of the day, they must “Be still and know that I am God.”
That is all we can do as Voice of the Poor Vincentians. We can use position papers as reflections during conference meetings. We can urge fellow Vincentians to write or call public officials. We can sign petitions, attend meetings, carry signs in public demonstrations, or organize voter registration drives. And then, we must “Be still and know that I am God.” We rely on our faith in God and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit that we are serving those in need and living out the Gospel in a meaningful way, just as we do on our home visits.
“Radical servanthood challenges us, while attempting persistently to overcome poverty, hunger, illness, and any other form of human misery, to reveal the gentle presence of our compassionate God in the midst of our broken world.” (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison). Or, as another contemplative puts it:
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes, with which he looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
— Teresa of Ávila (attributed)