By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Visit the Poor

Last Saturday evening I had the great blessing of celebrating Mass with members of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They were gathered in Edmonton for their national convention.

I make no secret of my long-standing admiration for this organization, having known of it since my days of youth in Halifax. It is essentially an organization of Catholic laypersons dedicated to caring for the poor. Of course, there are many such movements in the Church. What is distinctive of SSVP is their commitment to visit. They do not insist that the poor come to them, but when they learn of a need they go out, two by two, to visit them in their homes and assess their need so as to make provision.

Our Eucharistic celebration occurred on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Both the Scripture readings for that feast, as well as the occasion itself, underscored the importance of the visitation that stands at the heart of the SSVP ministry.

The readings spoke of the wondrous truth that God has visited his people. The first, from Exodus, spoke of God "visiting" Moses on Mt Sinai and making known his essence as tenderness and compassion - as love, in other words. This love became incarnate in Jesus, who is God's ultimate visitation to his people through the wonder of the Incarnation. In the Gospel passage from John Jesus made clear that this divine visit is motivated by love: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son..." (John 3:16). God's visit is a manifestation of concern and an assurance of nearness. The visits undertaken by members of SSVP, known as Vincentians, mirror this love and thus bring both assistance and hope.

Placing the work of SSVP against the backdrop of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity deepens our appreciation of what they do. God the Father sent His Son and Holy Spirit to the world with the precise purpose of freeing us from sin so that we might participate, even now to a degree, in His own Trinitarian life! In other words, God's visitation is made with a view to communion. This, too, is mirrored by the visits undertaken by Vincentians to the poor. How often has our Holy Father challenged us to go out to the peripheries of society - to the poor, the needy and the forgotten - with the love of Christ! When SSVP members visit the poor they are saying to them, in effect: "You may find yourself on the margins of society but you are never on the peripheries of God's love or of the Church's concern. On the contrary you are at the centre and you are of great value." God's visitation affirms the truth that each person is of inestimable dignity regardless of circumstance. This affirmation is made concrete in the visitation of Vincentians to the poor and to anyone in need.

I give thanks to God for the ministry of the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and pray that their work continue to expand and the support they receive from the People of God be strengthened.