The Vincentian Way

Notes on our approach to those we serve

St Vincent de Paul offers guidance on how to develop meaningful relationships with people in need.

“We should not judge the Poor by their clothes and their outward appearance, nor by their mental capacity, since they are often ignorant and uncouth.

On the contrary, if you consider the Poor in the light of faith, then you will see that they take the place of God the Son, who chose to be poor. Indeed, in His passion, having lost even the appearance of man, foolishness to the Gentiles and a scandal to the Jews, he showed He was to preach to the Gospel to the Poor in these words — “He has sent me to preach the good news to the Poor.”

Therefore we should be of the same mind and should imitate what Christ did , caring for the Poor, consoling them, helping them and guiding them.

Christ chose to be born in poverty and took poor men as His disciples; He himself became the servant of the Poor and so shared their condition that whatever good or harm was done to the Poor, He said He would consider done to himself.

Since God loves the Poor, He also loves the lovers of the Poor: when someone loves another, he loves too those who love or serve that other. So we too hope that God will love us on account of the Poor. We visit them then, we strive to concern ourselves with the weak and the needy, we so share their sufferings that with the apostle we feel we have all things to all men. Therefore we must strive to be deeply involved in the cares and sorrows of our neighbour and pray to God to inspire us with compassion and pity, filling our hearts and keeping them full.

The service of the Poor is to be preferred to all else, and to be performed without delay. If at a time set aside for prayer, medicine or help has to be brought to some poor man, go and do what has to be done with an easy mind, offering it up to God as a prayer.

Do not be put out by uneasiness or a sense of sin because of prayers interrupted by the service of the Poor; for God is not neglected if prayers are put aside, if God’s work is interrupted, in order that another such work may be completed. Therefore when you leave prayer to help some poor man, remember this — that the work has been done for God. Charity takes precedence over any rules, everything aught to tend to it above all; since it is itself a great lady, what it orders should be carried out. Let us show our service to the Poor, then, with renewed ardour in our hearts, seeking out above all any abandoned people, since they are given to us as lords and patrons.” – St Vincent de Paul

Thoughts on Vincentian visiting

Remember that just as God is not interested in how much you have given to the Poor, but rather why you gave it, so too with visiting. Sure it is a duty in that you are responding to Christ’s command, but love must always supersede duty. Visiting the Poor must always be seen as a humble demonstration of love.

When visiting:
Try to develop a warm, natural relationship. Be a friendly person. Chat about ordinary, everyday topics (weather, children, the price of eggs, recipes, etc.). Avoid the controversial and the depressing.

If the client is obviously illiterate or nearly so, gently offer to write dictated letters to their families whom they might not have seen in ages. Maybe read from a newspaper if that would be appreciated.

When dealing with old folk, perhaps offer to do their shopping for them (and maybe slip in a thing or two), or take them to visit an old friend, or on an outing of some sort.

When the visit draws to a close, make certain that you have accomplished the purpose of the visit. Review the person’s situation so that he/she can see how you have understood the situation and invite any corrections or additional information.

Present the client with the immediate options available to him/her, explaining the results of each choice. Include the option of doing nothing about his/her problem. Make it clear that the Conference will discuss the situation in strict confidence and will authorise whatever assistance is thereafter deemed appropriate.

Think about praying with those you are trying to help. Start with just an Our Father if you are not used to the idea, and then go on to spontaneous prayers requesting God’s loving intervention in the client’s life and affairs.

After the visit, discuss impressions with your visiting partner preparatory to making a full report to the Conference. Become aware of the facilities, rules, forms and benefits that are available from the likes of the Departments of Social Services, Home Affairs (good luck in your dealings with them), your local Town Council, Legal Aid, the Black Sash, as well as the work opportunities that are on offer through the Departments of Labour and Environmental Affairs and, once again, the local Town Council.

Although you are probably better equipped to deal with these bodies, don’t do everything on behalf of the client. We are there to help those who help themselves.

Sometimes it is necessary to go with the client to a work opportunity, or to the hospital. At other times it will make the client feel better if he/she goes there on their own. Your help may simply consist in giving him/her careful directions on how to get there (with perhaps the necessary taxi fare).

People need to have a part in any decision affecting their lives. They are more likely to cooperate in a plan of action if they are involved in determining what that plan will be. Each situation has to be handled individually. Some people need a great deal of help and guidance, but only in relatively rare situations is a client totally unable to function.

The true helper enables: he does not push or dictate to people. You will have to decide whether to withhold suggestions, or to give minimal advice, or whether to become more direct and encourage a certain course of action. Often it is a combination of these two approaches which is required. This is what makes your job difficult, but challenging and interesting.

Just who do you think you are?

She is a mother who has been abandoned by the father of her children; she has no work, nor any prospect of finding work – the list of her problems can go on and on as you will know from your experience. You arrive on the scene as a Vincentian.

From her perspective, are you:

  • An angel sent from heaven by God with a food parcel?
  • Someone who shrugs in sympathy because nothing can be done for her, and drifts off?
  • A font of suggestions and helpful directions by way of Government Grant resources?
  • A distraction in her day leaving behind only disappointment?
  • A listening ear and a shoulder to cry on in a world that couldn’t care less?
  • Her sole rock of continuing support until she finds her feet and can resolve her problems?