At Work in the Vineyard of the Lord

”Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.”

- Matthew 20:8

Workers work and workers get paid. Workers who work longer get paid more.

That’s the rule Jesus overturns like tables in the temple in this parable where everyone gets the same wage at quitting time, whether they came in at dawn or an hour before. There is righteous indignation.

I feel like the worker who came in late and reaped the same rewards as those who came early. Oh, I got recompense from my early explorations of Jesus and his ministry but I didn’t get the big payoff until I joined the Catholic Church in ’97 and really began to “get it” around the turn of the century.

But now I have discovered one of the greatest rewards of all: the work and the volunteers behind the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

All these years I only knew St. Vincent de Paul as the large thrift store in Taylor that clothed us for the first decade of starting Down Home Ranch. I was grateful for it, and donated stuff to it, and I knew the Catholic Church was responsible for it. That was it.

Once the Ranch was up and going in the early teens of this century, I was free to explore other ministries. I went to an ACTS retreat, served on some retreat teams, and studied to qualify as a Spiritual Companion. Afterwards I continued to study and became a qualified Spiritual Director. Still I hungered for ongoing “rubber meets the road” ministry. I love being on ACTS teams, but they only happen once a year, so very recently I went to a St. Vincent de Paul weekly meeting at St. Louis. I had no idea what to expect.

I told those in the small group I was just exploring to find out how SVDP works and if it might be for me. In the group were the usual suspects I’d come to recognize and know from Sunday and weekday Masses and other events. That was in May and it didn’t take but a few weeks to know that I wanted to stay.

Mostly I sat and listened throughout the meeting. I became familiar with the work and its workings, and very impressed by how hard the Vincentians strive to meet the needs of the “neighbors” within our conference boundaries. I was touched by both the prayerfulness of our meetings and the humility of our members and those served by our work.

Vincentians work with neighbors to keep the lights on, feed their families, and access other sources of help. Any neighbor within our conference boundaries is eligible for help once a year. Neighbors need not be affiliated with the Catholic Church or any other organization.

Volunteer office workers do telephone intake mornings during the week, and allotment of funds is decided at the Tuesday night meetings. Vincentians visit our neighbors in their homes, not to determine the level of need, but to bring them the aid they have sought and to visit and—if they are open—to pray with them. Parishioners from St. Theresa help with home visits, taking half of each week’s case load, but St. Louis maintains and staffs the office.

I accompanied an experienced Vincentian on two back-to-back visits to elderly Hispanic men living alone on meager resources and suffering from severe medical disabilities.

The first neighbor who welcomed us to his dilapidated home—shared with a revolving door of strangers—settled us in the kitchen and graciously offered us water, which we accepted. I kept quiet as my companion explained how SVDP would help. We stayed for about 40 minutes, while the neighbor shared his life story and how he came to be sick, poor, and alone. He blamed himself mostly. Before we left, we offered to pray with him. He accepted the invitation to pray himself—an open, honest, and gracious prayer that touched our hearts.

As we left I burst into tears, partly from anger at the condition of this “rental property” that was raking in cash for somebody while literally falling down around our neighbor, but mostly because of his loneliness, helplessness, and isolation.

The second neighbor we visited lived in a decent apartment that was cool, clean, and cluttered. He too had gotten behind on his utility bills and needed assistance. He was grateful for our visit and he too prayed at the end of it.

As these events have been unfolding the past several weeks, the daily readings of the Church have focused on the many parables featuring “the kingdom of heaven is like…””

Fr. Simon on Relevant Radio (Austin 970 AM) says the phrase “kingdom of heaven” depicts not a place, but rather God’s “royal nature.” We who stand to inherit the kingdom are not the seekers of the pearl, the treasure, the gold coin. Rather we are the pearl, the treasure, the gold coin. We are the lost sheep Jesus leaves the others to go find.

We are also His hands in the world—He has no others—and I’ve witnessed nothing that better exemplifies the willingness to be His hands than the SVDP.

So when that call comes once a month to support the social ministries of St. Louis, I’m going to dig a little deeper.

I hope you will, too.


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