St. Vincent de Paul
Saint Vincent de Paul (c. 1580-1660), founder of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) and co-founder of the Sisters of Charity, is an outstanding example of great love for the poor and unfortuanate, and the patron of charitable societies.
Vincent de Paul, a Frenchman, was born at Pouy, not far from Dax, in Gascony, and from his boyhood was remarkable for his exceeding charity towards the poor. From the care of his father’s flocks he was sent to study letters. He learned the humanities at Dax, and theology first at Toulouse, then at Saragossa. Having been ordained priest, and having taken a degree in theology, he fell into the hands of the Turks, and was led captive by them into Africa. But being sold into slavery, he won his owner (an apostate) back to Christ. By the help of the Mother of God, therefore, Vincent and his owner hurried away from the shores of the barbarians. Then Vincent undertook a journey to Rome, to visit the thresholds of the Apostles. Having returned to France he governed, in a most saintly manner, first, the parish of Clichy, and then that of Chatillon. He was appointed by the king as principal chaplain of the French galleys, and showed marvelous zeal in striving for the salvation of both the drivers and the rowers. The holy Francis de Sales appointed him superior of the nuns of the Visitation, whom he ruled for nearly forty years with so great prudence, that he amply justified the opinion of their most holy founder, who confessed that he knew no worthier priest than Vincent.
To the preaching of the Gospel unto the poor, especially to the country people, he devoted himself unweariedly, until he was disabled by old age. To this apostolic work he obligated both himself and the members of the congregation, which he specially founded under the name of secular Priests of the Mission, by a perpetual vow confirmed by the Holy See. And how greatly he labored for bettering the discipline of the clergy, is attested by the seminaries erected for senior clerics, by the frequency of sacred conferences among the priests, and by the religious exercises preparatory to the sacrament of Holy Orders; for which purposes, as well as that of giving pious retreats for laymen, he desired that the houses of his institute should be freely opened. Moreover, for the extension of faith and piety, he sent evangelical laborers, not only into the provinces of France, but also into Italy, Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and even to Barbary and to the Indies. And at the death of Louis XIII, whom he had attended and exhorted on his deathbed, Vincent himself was summoned by the queen, Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, and made a member of the young King’s Council of Conscience. In this position he most zealously urged that only the more worthy men should be placed in authority over the churches and monasteries; that civil discords, single combats, slowly-spreading false doctrines, which he both perceived and dreaded, should be ended; and that due obedience should be rendered by all to the apostolic decisions.
There was no kind of misfortune which he did not, with fatherly tenderness, endeavor to relieve. The faithful groaning beneath the Turkish yoke, infants which had been abandoned, wayward youths, maidens exposed to danger, nuns driven from their convents, fallen women, convicts condemned to the galleys, infirm strangers, disabled workmen and even lunatics, and beggars without number, all these he received and devoutly assisted with resources and in hospices which have lasted to this day. When Lorraine, Champagne, Picardy, and other provinces were devastated by plague, famine, and war, he relieved their necessities with an open hand. He founded many societies for seeking out and alleviating the lot of the wretched, among them a celebrated association of matrons, widely spread under the name of Sisters of Charity. He likewise promoted the foundation of the Daughters of the Cross, of Providence, and of St. Genevieve, for the education of the weaker sex.
Amid these and other most important affairs he was ever intent upon God, affable to everyone, and always true to himself, simple, upright, lowly, and ever shrank from honors, riches, and luxuries. He was heard to say that in nothing was there any pleasure for him except in Christ Jesus, Whom he desired to imitate in all things. At length, worn out with bodily pains, labors, and old age, on September 27th, in the year of salvation 1660, and in the eighty-fifth year of age, at Paris, in the house of St. Lazare, which is the mother-house of the Congregation the Mission, he calmly fell asleep. Since he became illustrious for virtues, merits, and miracles, Clement XII placed him among the Saints, assigning July 19th as his annual feast. And Leo XIII, at the earnest request of many bishops, claimed and appointed this notable hero of divine charity, who has deserved so exceedingly well of every class of men the special patron before God of all the charitable societies existing in the entire Catholic world, and in any way soever emanating from his foundation.
I. The continual labors and cares of St. Vincent had only one aim: the spiritual welfare of others and the prevention of all offences to God. He declaimed against those who incited others to sin and vice, and thus led them to eternal destruction. He fully comprehended the truth of the words of St. Dionysius the Areopagite: “Among all divine works none is more divine than laboring with God for the salvation of souls.” Have you no opportunity to perform a work which is so agreeable in the sight of the Lord? Think well, and do not neglect it. St. Vincent was also convinced that among all evil works, there is none more evil and displeasing to God than when we incite others to sin and thus assist the devil in gaining souls. Those who do this are called by the Holy Fathers of the Church messengers, representatives, vicars of the devil, because they are sent and incited by him to execute his plans for the destruction of men. They are his vicars, because they do that which is really the devil’s work. Still more severely speaks St. James of Nisibis: “All those,” says he, “deserve the name of devils, who prevent others from keeping those commandments, which appear hard to keep, and who advise them to follow the devices of the flesh.” He means to say that such people may be regarded as real devils; but I add that they are worse, more hurtful and more to be feared than the devils themselves, as many a person whom Satan cannot tempt, is incited to sin by their flatteries, promises, and still more by their bad example, and, hence is led to destruction. If you, therefore, desire to be a representative of the devil, or his vicar, you ought to be informed that his abiding place belongs also to you. According to the words of Christ, hell is prepared for the devil and his angels: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels ” (Matth. xxv.). Angel means a messenger, a representative. For you and your equals, as angels and messengers of the devil; for you, deceiver, as a representative of the devil, for you is hell, and in hell the eternal fire, if you do not leave your wicked ways. Endeavor to repair the evil you have occasioned, and do penance. What will you do?
II. The countenance of the dying St. Vincent expressed the comfort and happiness that filled his soul. This was probably because he thought of his innocent life, his zeal in the service of God, his constant endeavor to do good. You may well believe me when I say that you will not be thus consoled in your last hour, when you remember your sinful, unchaste life, your negligence in the service of the Almighty, your idleness in performing good works. The recollection of them will cause you inexpressible fear and horror. Before all, will the thought of those sins torment you which you committed so wantonly, and which you have not even confessed rightly, much less expiated. “They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins,” says the Holy Ghost, “and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them.” (Wisdom, iv). The wicked Antiochus did not heed his sins during the time that his health was unimpaired; he gave them not even a thought: but when his last hour approached, he said: “But now I remember the evils that I did in Jerusalem.” (I. Macc, vi.) Now, not before: now that I am called into eternity, to appear before the judgment-seat of the Most High, now I remember them against my will. But what resulted from this remembrance? “Into what tribulation am I come, and into what floods of sorrow.” (I. Mace, vi.) If you would not experience equal woes, but die comforted and happy, lead a Christian life after the example of St. Vincent. Avoid evil, and practice good works. Should your conscience be stained with sin, expiate it by sincere penance, without losing another day.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.
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