On the 27th of September, we celebrate as a Church the feast of St Vincent de Paul. This great French saint is a living icon of a love which is ever more creative.
If one looks deeply into his holy and charitable life one right away notices how much this golden hearted man’s life was profoundly united with Christ’s most loving heart. Vincent de Paul was born in the small southern French town of Pouy (later on it was renamed Saint Vincent de Paul in his honour) on 24 April 1581. He was ordained as a priest in 1600 at the very young age of 19.
From his personal experience of Christ’ love for him, Vincent came to realize that the love of Christ is for everyone, irrespective of that person’s social status and position. Thus, as a young man, we find him ministering to both the wealthy as well as the powerful. Nevertheless, his installation as chaplain to a poor parish, and to galley prisoners, was for him a great pastoral conversion. From his experience with the suffering and excluded people, Vincent started comprehending that his vocation was principally that of working with those most marginalised and powerless. He was badly needed with the people of the periphery.
Converted by God’s mercy towards him, Vincent started encouraging his followers to bring God’s justice and love to people who could not live a full human life. He told them: Deal with the most urgent needs. Organise charity so that it is more efficient…teach reading and writing, educate with the aim of giving each the means of self-support. Intervene with authorities to obtain reforms in structure… there is no charity without justice.
Vincent de Paul went to the Father’s House in Paris on 27 September 1660 at the age of 79. He was canonised on 16 June 1737 and, in 1883, the Church chose him as the special patron of all charitable associations. The Society was named after Saint Vincent de Paul, the Vincentians, and lives his teachings and compassion for people in need. Saint Vincent de Paul is the international patron of the Society.
In his message to the Vincentian family on the fourth centenary of the Charism, of September 27, 2017, Pope Francis spells out the charism God endowed St Vicent with:
Vincent was always on the move, ever open to the discovery of God and himself. Grace entered into this constant quest: in his priestly ministry, he encountered Jesus the Good Shepherd in a striking way in the poor. On one occasion in particular, he was deeply touched by meeting the gaze of a man pleading for mercy and by the faces of a destitute family. There he saw Jesus himself looking at him, unsettling his heart and asking him no longer to live for himself, but to serve him unreservedly in the poor. Vincent would later call the poor “our lords and masters” (Correspondance, entretiens, documents XI, 349). His life then became one of unflagging service, even to his dying breath. A verse from Scripture showed him the meaning of his mission: “The Lord has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor” (cf. Lk 4:18).
Burning with the desire to make Jesus known to the poor, Vincent devoted himself passionately to preaching, especially through popular missions and by careful attention to the training of priests. He quite naturally employed a “little method”, speaking first by his life and with great simplicity, in a familiar and straightforward way. The Spirit used him as the means for a great outpouring of generosity in the Church. Inspired by the early Christians who were “of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32), Saint Vincent founded the Confraternities of Charity, who cared for those in greatest need by living in communion and joyfully sharing their possessions, in the conviction that Jesus and the poor are the treasure of great price. As he loved to repeat, “When you visit the poor, you encounter Jesus.”
This holy priest who lived the gospel in its entirety has much to teach us by his wise and discerning word. He teaches us to be faithful bearers of God’s presence. If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts. Then, he also reminds us that charity unites us with Christ and other people. Charity is the cement which binds Communities to God and persons to one another . . . Our closeness with the people should serve us to be more compassionate towards them. We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God. Moreover, the more we practice compassion the more we tend to make ourselves available to live it. In fact, Vincent used to say: I will always welcome joyfully any opportunity that comes my way to be of service to you.
St Vincent de Paul, an apostle of love who is evermore creative, pray for us!