When I began my Vincentian journey, I was barely 14 and by far one of the youngest members in WA. Those who mentored me and brought me into the Society were in their early 20s with about a 30-plus year age gap between them and our core membership. I’ve literally grown up in the Society, alongside countless members and staff many of whom I have been privileged to call a mentor and friend.
The passing of beloved life-long WA member Br Geoff Seaman in August encouraged me to pause and reflect on just how many Vincentians have been called home to the Lord along the way. It’s only now as I (reluctantly) approach my 30s I begin to realise that perhaps with greater age also comes a greater and more frequent understanding of loss. In mourning our departed brothers and sisters, we often seek to celebrate their life, yet all too often it seems that these celebrations don’t take place until after they’re no longer with us.
It occurs to me that if you want to celebrate someone, congratulate them on their achievements and thank them for a lifetime of service, why not do it while they’re here with us and able to enjoy the celebration? If today and every day is truly the day that the Lord has made, why should we not be present in it and give thanks with and for our brothers and sisters in Christ at every opportunity?
To that end, I have often come to ask myself and reflect upon exactly what it is that keeps me a part of the Society.
As a teenager I was unconvinced that this ‘ageing’ organisation could relate to me at all. Yet, 14 years on, I have countless treasured memories of friends, mentors, experiences and lessons learned. It saddens me to think that the majority of those with whom I was privileged to create those memories have all but departed the Society.
We rationalise that people have other priorities throughout their lives, be it pursuing a career, starting a family, travel or otherwise. We accept this as an inevitability, hoping that one day, most likely when they have retired, they will return to the Society. But I can’t help thinking there is an underlying, more distressing truth—a lack of purpose or, more specifically, a lack of faith.
So, what is it that keeps you a part of the Society?
For a time, my answer to this question was increasingly difficult to find. Moreover, the answers I did find often lacked a sense of conviction. And so I asked myself: If I lack conviction in understanding the purpose of my work with the Society, can I ever really fulfil our Vincentian mission?
Fond memories are important—these are a product of the relationships we build with our Vincentian brothers and sisters. The warm, fuzzy feeling we get from helping those in need is important—it tells us that we truly care about the least of our brothers and sisters. But these things are superficial, for ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).
Fundraising, social justice advocacy, emergency relief, youth support, mental health and homelessness services are important but they are not the purpose of the Society. These Good Works are but a product of our Mission as a lay-Catholic organisation to bring Christ and his Church’s message of love to the world, unified in a journey together towards holiness, because true holiness is a perfect union with Christ.
We have no other form of spirituality than that of the example Christ gave us. We have no other service to those in need than that which Christ alone can provide through his presence in us. The Catholic beliefs and ethos of the Society must be preserved in placing Christ at the centre of all that we do.
Instil this true purpose in every Vincentian and in everything we do and I guarantee that, just like Br Geoff, each and every Vincentian will be a Vincentian for life.
Keenan Klassen is President of the Swan Region, St Vincent de Paul Society WA.