Last week we celebrated the Feast day of St. Vincent de Paul (a co-patron of our archdiocese). He is of course known through the St. Vincent de Paul Societies that are active here and throughout the world to help the poor as well as the founder of the Congregation of the Missions (the Vincentians). In a letter
that he wrote for the Vincentians he said:
“It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else
and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy
person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do
whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to
God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because
you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not
neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works
is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when
you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this
very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly more
important than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to
This is good advice to recognize that while rules and disciplines are necessary and important to follow, such as the rules for daily prayers, we have to realize the reason for and hierarchy of different rules when they may conflict.
At the same time I have to admit this quote or at least the idea has been used many times to not necessarily do what was the more important (as charity is a specific mission for Vincentians beyond what it is for others) but rather to justify what a person wants to do. It takes a development of our conscious and humility to live this out faithfully. It also takes faith in another to not be too quick to judge them on the reasons or justification for their actions. And this is all difficult enough when we are just comparing the priority of different actions that are each good, it gets much more difficult when we realize either of our choices can result in harm.
Our community in the St. Louis area has been facing numerous situations with conflicts in priorities, values, rules and concerns. Desires to maintain peace, desires to end abuses, desires to exercise rights, responsibilities to protect. All of these are being actively lived out in our community and we need to recognize the internal conflicts we need to address in order to decide our actions, and recognize the conflicts others also face in deciding their actions.
We will not be able to end all poverty tomorrow, but we can ease it for the person in front of us today. Similarly we should not expect to solve all our problems tomorrow, but we need to recognize they exist and be willing to address the conflicts that are causing them today.