“Our vocation, is not to go to one parish, or even to one diocese, but throughout the whole world, and for what end? To inflame the hearts of men, to do what the Son of God did. He came to cast fire on the earth, to inflame it with his love. What else have we to desire save that it burns and consumes all?… It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbour does not love him. I ought to…act so that they may love each other for the love of God, who has so loved them as to deliver up his son to death for their sakes. That, then, is what I am obliged to…grant me the grace that your holy love may so fill my heart that it may be the life of my life, and the soul of my actions, so that in its overflow it may enter into and operate on those souls I am bound to help.”
– St Vincent de Paul
St Vincent de Paul – Feast: 27th September
St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was born in Gascony (France) and ordained a priest at the early age of twenty. Legend says he endured a period of captivity in Tunis; at any rate, after being falsely accused of theft, he dedicated himself to evangelizing the poor, the unfortunate and the suffering. He founded the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists) and, together with St Louise de Marillac, the Daughters of Charity. These congregations, together with the well-known Society of St Vincent de Paul, continue his charitable work today.
O God, who for the relief of the poor
and the formation of the clergy
endowed the Priest Saint Vincent de Paul
with apostolic virtues,
grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit,
we may love what he loved
and put into practice what he taught.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Deus, qui ad salutem pauperum et cleri institutionem
beatum Vincentium presbyterum
virtutibus apostolicis imbuisti,
præsta, quæsumus, ut, eodem spiritu ferventes,
et amemus quod amavit, et quod docuit operemur.
Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum,
qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti,
Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
If God is real, why doesn’t He help poor, hungry, and thirsty people?
Vincent came from a poor family in Pouy, France. Because of his intelligence, his father wanted him to study, and sold two oxen to pay for his seminary training. At the time Vincent was ashamed of his low origin. Once, he even refused to receive his father when he visited him at the seminary, as he was dirty and smelled of the farm. Later he recalled this painfully as a great sin. During a voyage overseas, Vincent was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in Tunis. He spent two years in captivity. One of his masters was an old doctor, from whom he learned a lot about medicine. After his death, Vincent was sold again, this time to a compatriot who had converted to Islam to escape servitude. Eventually the man had remorse and fled with his slave to France. Now, Vincent was free to work as a priest again. Among others he was appointed as a chaplain of galley slaves.
While working as a spiritual advisor to the highborn, Vincent also visited the countryside. There he met true poverty, both material and spiritual. He saw how many people tried to share from their poverty, but it happened that some sick people received too much and others nothing. Vincent started ‘fraternities of love’ to organise material aid to the very poor. This was the origin of the later Societies of Saint Vincent de Paul. For him, the service to the lowest and poorest went hand in hand with the proclamation of the gospel. He found great spiritual poverty among both the poor and the wealthy of society. Vincent founded the Congregation of the Lazarist fathers — or Vincentians — to preach to them. To complete this mission, together with Saint Louise de Marillac, he co-founded the Daughters of Charity to care for the sick, the poor, orphans and elderly. Vincent continued to beg the rich to share their wealth with the less fortunate. This also gave him the occasion to preach the gospel to them.
In fact, there would not have to be poor, hungry and thirsty people at all if the resources and goods of our earth would be better distributed. But Jesus told us a hard truth: ‘You always have the poor with you’ (Mk 14:7). He knew how much difficulty we have in sharing. Still, he invited each of us to do so in a selfless and disinterested way, especially with those who cannot repay us (Lk 14:13-14). True, no individual can change all the misery of the world alone and it is not necessarily your vocation to give all your possessions away. Furthermore, a lot of organisation is needed to reach people who live far away from resources. But we have the example of Vincent de Paul: he simply started to help to poor people where he could reach them, and invited others to join him. If we all do this in our own little way, the world will soon be a better place to live for all!
God does indeed help poor, hungry, and thirsty people. He does so by calling you to share with others! Each of us is called to do so in our own way. Jesus did not condemn rich people, but avarice and selfishness. Nor are we to condemn others who have difficulty in sharing: we need to do our bit and at most can invite others to do so. Note that Jesus came in the first place for the spiritual well-being of the poor by preaching about the love of God. Vincent did the same. Real charity in the name of Jesus is to share both our possessions and our faith. Where can you start to share?
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