Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles St. Vincent Ferrer, the patron of builders, construction workers, plumbers.
Vincent Ferrer was an activist. He was renowned as a preacher, miracle worker, adviser to popes and kings and champion of Christian unity. However, he founded his tireless work on a deeply personal spirituality:
“You must open the interior eyes of your soul on this light, on this heaven within you, a vast horizon stretching far beyond the realm of human activity, an unexplored country to the majority of men. The ordinary observer sees in the ocean only the realm of storms, and never guesses that a few feet below the surface its waters are always limpid, and in a scintillating clarity is found vegetation and living creatures of wondrous diversity, marvelous in beauty and structure, mysterious depths where the pearl is formed.
“Such is the depth of the soul where God dwells and shows himself to us. And when the soul has seen God, what more can it want? If it possesses him, why and for whom can it ever be moved to abandon him?
“So, at any price, preserve yourself in that calm through which the soul sees the eternal Sun. This vision of God will also show you yourself. The heights of greatness will show you the depths of misery. But fear nothing….When you have realized your true worth you will be able to judge your faults sanely, your own crimes will come home to you in full light, and the faults of your neighbor will remain in shadow.”
This sense of peace with God steadied Vincent for his service in the stormy fourteenth century, when plague, famine, and war devastated Europe. And heresy and division racked the Church. His life spanned the Great Western Schism, when there were rival popes at Rome and at Avignon, France. Vincent was loyal to the Avignon popes, but he pressured them to cooperate with efforts to restore unity.
The schism reached its nadir after 1409 with three men claiming to be pope. At the Council of Constance in 1414, the bishops resolved to depose one claimant and ask the other two to resign, so that a new pope could be elected. The pope at Rome was willing to abdicate, but Benedict XIII, Vincent’s friend, adamantly refused. Vincent then declared publicly that because Benedict was blocking the unity vital to the Church, the faithful could justly withdraw their allegiance. Thus, the saint’s vast popularity significantly contributed to ending the schism. Benedict was ultimately deposed, the Roman pope stepped down and a new pope was chosen.
Vincent Ferrer’s main work, however, was revitalizing faith at the grass roots. In 1398, the saint was deathly ill and prayed for recovery so that he might continue preaching. Vincent said that Christ appeared and healed him. “You will preach repentance throughout the world,” Jesus had said, which the saint took as a commission.
For twenty years after 1399, Vincent crisscrossed Europe four times on foot. Everywhere, large crowds gathered to hear his message about the folly of sin, the need for repentance and the imminence of the end of the world. Like St. Paul and many other saints, Vincent expected Jesus to come soon to wrap up history. In response to his ministry thousands revolutionized their lives. Thousands also were miraculously healed during his missionary visits. Thus, St. Vincent Ferrer brought new life to people who had been battered by disease and war in the world and by confusion and division in the Church.
“You can only give what you yourself possess. In fact, you must have much more than you attempt to give, to enable you to give without despoiling yourself.”
— St. Vincent Ferrer
(Image Credit: Catholic.org)