St. Vincent de Paul


Editor’s Note: Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a good friend of St. Francis de Sales, spiritual director for St. Jane de Chantal, and tireless servant of the poor and marginalized. Vincent and Francis shared many of the same passions for God and God’s people. In today’s entry, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ, reflects on the importance of the witness of Vincent’s life for people today. Like Francis, Vincent has a number of powerful quotes that offer much food for thought for people today.
Quotes from St. Vincent de Paul

Let us love God, my sisters and brothers, let us love God. But let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.
Go to the poor: you will find God.

It is from your hands that Our Lord, in the person of the sick, seeks relief.

Lord, help me to make time today to serve you in those who are most in need of encouragement or assistance.

When you are called from your prayers or the Eucharistic celebration to serve the poor, you lose nothing, since to serve the poor is to go to God. You must see God in the faces of the poor.

The poor have much to teach you. You have much to learn from them.

The net result of my experience on the matter is the judgment I have formed, that true religion – true religion, sisters and brothers, true religion is to be found amongst the poor.

The poor are your masters. You are the servant.

Let us, my sisters and brothers, cherish the poor as our masters, since Our Lord is in them, and they are in Our Lord.
Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances.
St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal articulated a classic spirituality in the Church. While Salesian Spirituality offers a distinct gift to the people of God, it does not stand in isolation. Francis and Vincent were friends, and De Sales had a significant influence on the younger man at a key point in his life. Later Vincent was associated with the Visitation community in Paris and was spiritual director to St. Jane. So it is not surprising that the maxims quoted above communicate the same good sense and awareness of God’s presence and action that can be found in the sayings of the Salesian saints.
Three Points from St. Vincent’s Life for Us.
1. Vincent came from a disadvantaged background in rural France. He left the farm at the age of 14 to train for the priesthood. It seems that Vincent was a sincerely religious young man, but it is also clear that his family saw this vocation as a way to advance beyond their economically precarious standing. A patron quickly recognized his outstanding potential, and he advanced to ordination and a comfortable position as chaplain and tutor to a wealthy family. It seems that Vincent also wanted to move beyond his humble background; there is a story that he refused to visit with his father who came to school in his shabby working clothes. There were even some accusations of financial mishandlings on his part during this period.
However, for a variety of reasons, but essentially because relationship with God was a deep part of his identity, he heard the voice of the Lord challenging him. He stepped out of the comfort of his secure upper class position to risk all for Christ. Vincent found ways to reach the poor and had a great way of getting the wealthy involved in helping.
2. Education and formation of the clergy is another area of Vincent’s efforts. He was very aware that so much hands-on work needed to be done, but he believed that ministers need to have thoughtful preparation and grounding in prayer in order to really help anyone, especially the poor.
The attitude anyone brings to charity work is hugely important. This famous quote of his expresses this well: You will find out that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the bowl of soup and full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give bread and soup. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor. They are your masters, and the more difficult they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them.
3. He stood as an ally with the Salesian family in opposing the influence of Jansenism in the Church of their time. Jansenists saw God as a harsh judge who had predestined all humanity either to heaven or to hell. This way of approaching Christianity promoted an austere spirituality. It was admirable in the energy of its devotion and commitment, but tragic in its distorted understanding of God. It encouraged an immature attitude toward the love of God that assumed that humans need to earn God’s love, rather than receive it as grace. Fear and guilt were often its motivators, rather than trust in the goodness, beauty, truth and love of God.
Unfortunately, the error that Fr. Jansen articulated still shows up to burden Christians in our time. Salesian Spirituality and the thought of St Vincent continue to guide believers to a true and healthy vision of the living God.
“Forgive the Bread You Give Them”
Almost every day and in every encounter with the poor, I think of this quote of St. Vincent. I can’t say I know exactly what Vincent meant when he said it, but it has several meanings for me encountering needy individuals.
It reminds me that meeting material needs of the poor is important, but it is not the only thing. It reminds me that I have “bread-”things to give and things to meet my needs-but it could be otherwise. I need to be grateful and to take nothing for granted. The quote articulates the incompletion of all service and charity. We may help feed someone or give them kindness and respect, money or clothes, but likely there are other needs. They may still be homeless or illiterate, without job skills, burdened with mental illness or addiction, without good parenting skills, and that is not OK.
St.Vincent de Paul teaches us, despite all the incompleteness, to get out there and do something.
Outpourings of affection for God, of resting in his presence, of good feelings toward everyone and sentiments and prayers like these … are suspect if they do not express themselves in practical love which has real effects.

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