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 de Paul, the patron of charities, hospitals, and volunteers.
St. Vincent de Paul spent the early years of his priesthood ministering among the wealthy in the French countryside near Paris. In 1609, he became tutor to the children of the Gondi family, an involvement that taught him a principle for his work: evangelize the rich and direct them to serve the poor.
At that time, Vincent observed that many poorly catechized peasants were not making good confessions. He also noticed that inadequately trained priests did not know how to administer the sacrament of Penance. Encouraged by Madame Gondi, in 1617 Vincent preached a parish mission that pointed to his future. He stirred so many people to repentance, that Jesuits from a nearby town had to help hear confessions.
In 1625, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission, a community of priests with a threefold commitment. Members obligated themselves to pattern their lives on Christ, to take the gospel to the rural poor and to help educate priests in their practical duties. The priests mainly conducted parish missions, preaching and hearing confessions.
Vincent gave his brothers a rule that displayed his commonsensical application of Scripture. For example:
“Jesus, the Lord, expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. This means giving a straightforward opinion about things in the way we honestly see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without double-dealing or manipulation, our intention being focused solely on God. Each of us, then, should take care to behave always in the spirit of simplicity, remembering that God likes to deal with the simple, and that he conceals the secrets of heaven from the wise and prudent of this world and reveals them to little ones.
“But while Christ recommends a dove’s simplicity, he also tells us to have a serpent’s prudence. He means that we should speak and behave with discretion. We ought, therefore, to keep quiet about matters which should not be made known, especially if they are unsuitable or unlawful. When we are discussing things which it is good and proper to talk about we should hold back any details which would not be for God’s glory, or which could harm some other person, or which would make us foolishly smug.
“In actual practice this virtue is about choosing the right way to do things. We should make it a sacred principle, then, without exception, that since we are serving God we will always choose God-related ways for accomplishing our work, and see and judge things from Christ’s point of view and not from a worldly-wise one; and not according to the feeble reasoning of our own mind.”
With the collaboration of St. Louise de Marillac, in 1633 Vincent founded the Sisters of Charity, the first community of “unenclosed” women dedicated to care of the sick and the poor. To support the sisters, Vincent recruited rich women, who as Ladies of Charity gave their time and money.
In his last years Vincent was confined to an armchair with swollen and ulcerous legs. But he remained cheerful, directing his charitable works by writing hundreds of letters. He was nearly 80 years old when he died in 1660.
St. Vincent de Paul stumbled into his life’s work. Thus, he is a healthful model for those who suffer stress trying “to find God’s plan” for their lives. Vincent did not start with grandiose plans. He began much more simply. When he observed a need, he figured out a Christian way to meet it. If we would do more of that, we would be better Christians with lower blood pressure.
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.