The estimated population of unhoused people in the U.S. today stands at over 500,000 which is up from 276,000 only a year ago. Worldwide, the count of people without housing is a staggering estimate of 150 million. The causes of the recent increase are many – below are listed some ways to help in the manner of the “Apostle of Charity”, St. Vincent de Paul – but first, a story from the Gospel of Luke which illustrates the challenges of the "rich and poor divide".
The Parable of the Rich Man and the Poor Man
The Gospel of Luke (Chapter 16:19-31) spoke of a man lying outside a rich man’s house, “And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” (Lk 16:20-21) Regrettably, the rich man did not assist Lazarus, and when they both died, the rich man found himself in torment, while Lazarus was in comfort at Abraham’s side. Neither Abraham or Lazarus could assist the rich man who pleaded for relief from his suffering, “Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’” (Lk 16: 25-26)
The Life of St. Vincent de Paul and Charitable Organizations
September 27 is the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660). He was born into a poor farming family and reportedly became a priest to improve his living conditions. However, this motivation all changed when, as a young priest, he heard the dying confession of a poor tenant farmer of a wealthy landlord. The lack of knowledge of the spiritual teachings of the Church of the dying man startled Vincent - the poor man knew nearly nothing about his religion. Young Vincent found a new motivation for his life after preaching a memorable sermon in a village chapel in Folleville, France about the necessity of repentance. Afterward, villagers stood in long lines to go to confession and learn more about the Gospel. Vincent then brought together a small group of missionary priests to administer to the "spiritually hungry" in the rural villages. This was the birth of the Congregation of the Mission (initiated in 1626) which eventually became known as the “Lazarists” or the “Vincentians”.
Vincent didn’t stop there. In and around Paris, he established the Confraternities of Charity—associations of laywomen (mostly wealthy of noble families) who visited, fed, and nursed the sick and poor – and established hospitals for the poor. In 1633, he worked with St. Louise de Marillac (1591 - 1660) to co-found the Daughters of Charity, the first non-cloistered religious group of women devoted to active charitable works. In 1833, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charitable organization dedicated to the service of the poor, was founded by Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (1813 - 1853).
Today the Congregation of the Mission numbers 3,600 members, and the communities of the Daughters of Charity have 27,000 members working in over 80 countries of the world. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has 875,000 members in 130 countries.
A Believer in Action
St. Vincent de Paul was a man of God who recommended long prayer and meditation before action so that one could come to recognize the divine will; and said that “You must have an inner life”. However, his motto was TOTUM OPUS NOSTRUM IN OPERATIONE CONSISTIT (Action is our entire task). See more at The Vincentian Encyclopedia https://famvin.org/wiki/Vincentian_Encyclopedia.
How to Help
St. Vincent de Paul helped start many organizations with solutions to the sufferings of the poor, sick and those without housing. His actions sought a response to the problem that the rich man in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 16: 19-31) faced in the afterlife.
Here are some ways to help today:
- Provide a kind word and/or a smile to those in need in your city or town – as St. Mother Teresa said, “Every time that you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing”.
- Volunteer your time and talents at an organization providing support to those in need – see opportunities in your area at The St. Vincent de Paul Society https://ssvpusa.org/volunteer/.
- Contribute to an organization providing aid to the poor and those without housing, such as to The St. Vincent de Paul Society https://ssvpusa.org/donate/ which supports nearly 100,000 volunteers of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the U.S.
- In your prayers, include intentions for the poor, the sick and those without permanent housing; and pray that those with resources will be generous.