The Essential Elements of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are Friendship, Service, and Spirituality. These elements are present throughout our works and especially in our meetings, and while each is important in itself, they become essential as they fully intertwine with one another — and with us.
Blessed Frédéric Ozanam once observed that we become closer to friends after sharing an activity with them, such as going for a walk or eating dinner. “But if purely human acts have this power,” he explained, “moral acts have it even more, and if two or three come together to do good, their union will be perfect.”
He went on to remind us that our visits to the poor are “at least equally for them as for ourselves, so as to become progressively better friends.”
This, then, is the special character of our essential element of friendship, which is built and strengthened by our service.
Our service, in turn, is animated by our spirituality. We don’t simply offer philanthropy, or volunteerism; instead, we seek to “draw nearer to Christ, serving Him in the poor and one another.” Our ideal is to relieve suffering “for love alone.”
The Society was founded specifically to enable us to live Christ’s teaching to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.
Our service puts faith into action; it is a concrete instance of our spirituality.
Finally, just as our service is an expression of our spirituality, that spirituality is itself a call to both service and to friendship; we love God, in St. Vincent’s words, “with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows.” We are members of Conferences, which are “genuine communities of faith and love, of prayer and action.”
We grow in holiness together, both in friendship and in service.