As you read in the last issue of The Catholic Virginian, this Sunday, Sept. 27, we will begin the Octave of Service as part of our diocesan bicentennial observance. As the Bicentennial Task Force was planning for our 200th anniversary, they felt that a diocesan-wide time for service was fitting given that our patron is St. Vincent de Paul.
An octave in the Church applies to joyous occasions like Christmas and Easter. Our bicentennial Octave of Service should be such an occasion, a time when we joyfully give of our time and talent in service to others over eight days.
When I arrived in the diocese, I was pleased to learn that there is an annual day of service for Pastoral Center employees on or near Sept. 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. On Thursday, Oct. 1, we will again be assisting several entities throughout the community in various ways.
Growing up, I saw firsthand how the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul touched people’s lives, as my dad was the president of the conference at our parish. Their outreach included not only temporal needs, but spiritual needs, as he and his fellow Vincentians always took time to pray with those they served. That is why I am encouraged that we have six St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences in our diocese engaged in this work.
Service is integral to our faith. These works are a tangible witness to the Gospel. As St. James reminds us: “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (Jas 2:14).
St. Vincent de Paul understood those words and instructed his followers to live by them when he wrote: “We should assist the poor in every way and do it both by ourselves and by enlisting the help of others…. To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and work.”
Preaching the Gospel by words and work has been a hallmark of our diocese. As we read our history, we learn that bishops, clergy, religious and laity were at the forefront of serving those most in need. Ministering to those afflicted with Yellow Fever, providing medical care to injured soldiers from both armies during the Civil War and educating African American children when no one else would, the Catholic community’s Gospel witness combined faith and works.
Examples of faith and works are part of diocesan and parish life today. The Food and Hunger Fund that we support through our Annual Diocesan Appeal has distributed $137,000 to 24 parishes, just this year. The need is always there.
Over the last six months, Commonwealth Catholic Charities spent $1 million helping people, especially those impacted by COVID-19, and day in and day out, our parishes continue to provide this witness through meal programs and food distribution, as well as through other forms of outreach.
This is what we, as Catholics, do! As Pope Francis has reminded us throughout his pontificate, we are to “go to the peripheries.” Not only are we to help those who seek our help, but we are to seek those who need our help. We are to intentionally seek out and offer to assist the poor among us.
On Oct. 1, prior to beginning our diocesan day of service, I will bless a new statue of St. Vincent de Paul that will stand outside of the Pastoral Center. My hope is that this statue will be a reminder to all who visit of the exemplary life our diocesan patron led. May it be one from which we all find inspiration.