For September’s Holy Hour, we had a meditation on St. Vincent de Paul:
But I wanted to give this first reflection on St. Vincent de Paul, because I think meditating on his life, his conversion story, has a lot to teach us, who are preparing to be diocesan priests, because he himself was a plain old diocesan priest to begin with.
* Worldly man: To begin with, Vincent was ordained in 1600 and actually was worldly and ambitious man. Why did he become a priest? For the Money! Which sounds a little funny to us now, but one of the main reasons why he wanted to become a priest was he was hoping to get an important Church office (like a rector, or vicar, or bishop, or some honorary position, which then included a greater income or benefice) and thus make enough money to retire early, return home, and leave a good inheritance for the rest of his family (siblings, nieces, nephews, etc.) Vincent saw his priesthood much more as a career and not really at all as a vocation.
For the first eight years of his priesthood Vincent lived with this worldly mindset. It wasn’t until he ended up in Parish, where he met a couple very holy priests, that his conversion began to happen!
It began with these priests who started introducing him to some good spiritual books, who started teaching him about the idea of God’s Providence being at work in his life.
*The Poor Parishioners (Encountering the Poverty of Others): After four years or so in parish, he was made a pastor for the first time of a little poor parish in the country. And it was here that he fell in love with the people there, his parishioners, who also happened to be “the poor.” But his heart was moved and for the first time in his life he began to truly see the beauty of priesthood!
* Spiritual Darkness (Encountering the Poverty in Himself): Shortly after, moved to a new assignment where he was the tutor and chaplain of the estate of a large, wealthy family (the Gondi family). While there, after helping a fellow priest work through some struggles and doubts, Vincent himself entered a period of spiritual doubt and darkness. This lasted for a few years.
This darkness was not unlike the “dark nights” we’ve read about in some other Saints: In Mother Teresa, in Therese of Lisieux near the end of her life, where they experienced something of what might be called a “dark night of the soul.” This “dark night” even became so severe that it’s said that he wrote the Creed on a piece of paper and put it in his breast pocket over his heart, and when he could do nothing else (in his prayer and struggle), he would simply place his hand over his heart, reminding himself of his own faith
It was this prolonged experience of anguish and desperation that Vincent discovered his pown poverty, his own impoverishment, his desperate need for God, that he had nothing and was nothing without God. That he was the poorest person he ever meant
Thus inversely, he also came to the profound realization of the graciousness of God, that Vincent himself was absolutely nothing without God, and yet God graciously gives himself to Vincent, the greatest gift!
* The Mission Begins: Not long after, Vincent begins to reach out to the peasants on the estate he had been assigned, and became aware of their great spiritual need. This began his life-long mission of doing outreach to the poor
o Went to another poor parish
* Realized the priest there were also very inept and poorly formed priests, who were idle and didn’t do much.
* Thus began his organization of his mission which was two-fold
- To serve the poor
- And work for the renewal of priesthood
* Formed Confraternities of Charity, the Daughters of Charity (Louise de Marillac), Tuesday Conferences for priests (to discuss what priesthood is, the beauty of it, the ideal) and finally formed the Congregation of the Mission
Spiritual Lessons for us from Vincent
* The way God uses other people in our life and mission: Encounters with people led to his conversion (priests, parishioners) – shaped Vincent’s conversion and his mission!
And that as his mission unfolded, it was with the help of so many people whom God sent into his life.
- Ex: Louise de Marillac, Madame Gondi (benefactor of his missions), The women who formed the confraternities of charity, St. Frances de Sales and Jean de Chantal,
* Love of Priesthood and Poor came together
- Conversion to priesthood and conversion to the poor came together
- Love of being a pastor and attending to the needs of the people that led him to love the poor…
- And vice-versa, the poor showed him WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A PASTOR
- And his whole life mission as a priest was two-fold: Service to the poor and renewal of the priesthood!
*Attended to physical and spiritual needs of the poor!
- Often divide in this in our culture today
* Realization of one’s own poverty
- Finally, I think a very important thing to learn from St. Vincent is the recognition of his own poverty as part of his conversion to his mission to the poor and the fuel for his compassion for the poor he served.
For this reflection, biographical and other information drawn primarly from book: Vincent De Paul and Louise De Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings, edited by Frances Ryan and John Rybolt