July 19, 2019: ST. VINCENT DE PAUL
July 19, 2019: ST. VINCENT DE PAUL, CONFESSOR
[Founder of the Lazarites, or Fathers of the Mission]
The just shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall thrive like the cedar of Libanus in the house of the Lord.
This man despising the world, and triumphing over all things on earth, laid up riches in heaven both by word and deed.
O God, who didst strengthen blessed Vincent with Apostolic courage to preach the gospel to the poor, and promote the honour of the Ecclesiastical Order; grant, we beseech thee, that we, who respect his merits, may be instructed by the examples of his virtues. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Vincent was a man of faith that worketh by charity (Gal, v. 6). At the time he came into the world, viz., at the close of the same century in which Calvin was born, the Church was mourning over many nations separated from the faith; the Turks were harassing all the coasts of the Mediterranean. France, worn out by forty years of religious strife, was shaking off the yoke of heresy from within, while by a foolish stroke of policy she gave it external liberty. The Eastern and Northern frontiers were suffering the most terrible devastations, and the West and centre were the scene of civil strife and anarchy. In this state of confusion, the condition of souls was still more lamentable. In the towns alone was there any sort of quiet, any possibility of prayer. The country people, forgotten, sacrificed, subject to the utmost miseries, had none to support and direct them but a clergy too often abandoned by their bishops, unworthy of the ministry, and well-nigh as ignorant as their flocks. Vincent was raised up by the Holy Spirit to obviate all these evils. The world admires the works of the humble shepherd of Buglose, but it knows not the secret of their vitality. Philanthropy would imitate them; but its establishments of to-day are destroyed tomorrow, like castles built by children in the sand, while the institution it would fain supersede remains strong and unchanged, the only one capable of meeting the necessities of suffering humanity. The reason of this is not far to seek: faith alone can understand the mystery of suffering, having penetrated its secret in the Passion of our Lord; and charity that would be stable must be founded on faith. Vincent loved the poor because he loved the God whom his faith beheld in them. “O God!” he used to say, “it does us good to see the poor, if we look at them in the light of God, and think of the high esteem in which Jesus Christ holds them. Often enough they have scarcely the appearance or the intelligence of reasonable beings, so rude and so earthly are they. But look at them by the light of faith, and you will see that they represent the Son of God, who chose to be poor; he in his Passion had scarcely the appearance of a man; he seemed to the Gentiles to be a fool, and to the Jews a stumbling-block, moreover he calls himself the evangelist of the poor: evangelizare pauperibus misit me (St. Luke, iv. 18).” This title of evangelist of the poor, is the one that Vincent ambitioned for himself; the starting point and the explanation of all that he did in the Church. His one aim was to labour for the poor and the outcast; all the rest, he said, was but secondary. And he added, speaking to his sons of St. Lazare: “We should never have laboured for the candidates for priesthood, nor in the ecclesiastical seminaries, had we not deemed it necessary in order to keep the people in good condition, to preserve in them the fruits of the missions, and to procure them good priests.” That he might be able to consolidate his work in all its aspects, our Lord inspired Ann of Austria to make him a member of the Council of Conscience, and to place in his hands the office of extirpating the abuses among the higher clergy and of appointing pastors to the churches of France. We cannot here relate the history of a man in whom universal charity was, as it were, personified. But from the bagnio of Tunis where he was a slave, to the ruined provinces for which he found millions of money, all the labours he underwent for the relief of every physical suffering, were inspired by his zeal for the apostolate: by caring for the body, he strove to reach and succour the soul. At a time when men rejected the Gospel while striving to retain its benefits, certain wise men attributed Vincent's charity to philosophy. Now-a-days they go further still, and in order logically to deny the author of the works, they deny the works themselves. But if any there be who still hold the former opinion, let them listen to his own words, and then judge of his principles: “What is done for charity's sake, is done for God. It is not enough for us that we love God ourselves; our neighbour also must love him; neither can we love our neighbour as ourselves unless we procure for him the good we are bound to desire for ourselves, viz.: divine love, which unites us to our Sovereign Good. We must love our neighbour as the image of God and the object of his love, and must try to make men love their Creator in return, and love one another also with mutual charity for the love of God, who so loved them as to deliver his own Son to death for them. But let us, I beg of you, look upon this Divine Saviour as a perfect pattern of the charity we must bear to our neighbour.”
The theophilanthropy of a century ago had no more right than had an atheist or a deist philosophy to rank Vincent, as it did, among the great men of its Calendar. Not nature, nor the pretended divinities of false science, but the God of Christians, the God who became Man to save us by taking our miseries upon himself, was the sole inspirer of the greatest modern benefactor of the human race, whose favourite saying was: “Nothing pleases me except in Jesus Christ.” He observed the right order of charity, striving for the reign of his Divine Master, first in his own soul, then in others; and, far from acting of his own accord by the dictates of reason alone, he would rather have remained hidden for ever in the face of the Lord, and have left but an unknown name behind him.
“Let us honour,” he wrote, “the hidden state of the Son of God. There is our centre: there is what he requires of us for the present, for the future, for ever; unless his Divine Majesty makes known in his own unmistakable way that he demands something else of us. Let us especially honour this Divine Master's moderation in action. He would not always do all that he could do, in order to teach us to be satisfied when it is not expedient to do all that we are able, but only as much as is seasonable to charity and conformable to the Will of God. How royally do those honour our Lord who follow his holy Providence and do not try to be beforehand with it! Do you not, and rightly, wish your servant to do nothing without your orders? and if this is reasonable between man and man, how much more so between the Creator and the creature!” Vincent then was anxious, according to his own expression, to “keep alongside of Providence,” and not to outstep it. Thus he waited seven years before accepting the offers of the General de Gondi's wife, and founding his establishment of the Missions. Thus, too, when his faithful coadjutrix, Mademoiselle Le Gras, felt called to devote herself to the spiritual service of the Daughters of Charity, then living without any bond or common life, as simple assistants to the ladies of quality whom the man of God assembled in his Confraternities, he first tried her for a very long time. “As to this occupation,” he wrote, in answer to her repeated petitions, “I beg of you, once for all, not to think of it until our Lord makes known his Will. You wish to become the servant of these poor girls, and God wants you to be his servant.” For God's sake, Mademoiselle, let your heart imitate the tranquillity of our Lord's heart, and then it will be fit to serve him. The Kingdom of God is peace in the Holy Ghost; he will reign in you if you are in peace. Be so then, if you please, and do honour to the God of peace and love.”
What a lesson given to the feverish zeal of an age like ours, by a man whose life was so full! How often, in what we can call good works, do human pretensions sterilize grace by contradicting the Holy Ghost! Whereas, Vincent de Paul, who considered himself “a poor worm creeping on the earth, not knowing where he goes, but only seeking to be hidden in thee, my God, who art all his desire,”—the humble Vincent saw his work prosper far more than a thousand others, and almost without his being aware of it. Towards the end of his long life, he said to his daughters: “It is Divine Providence that set your Congregation on its present footing. Who else was it, I ask you? I can find no other. We never had such an intention. I was thinking of it only yesterday, and I said to myself: Is it you who had the thought of founding a Congregation of Daughters of Charity? Oh! certainly not. It is Mademoiselle De Gras? Not at all. O my daughters, I never thought of it, your ‘sӕur servante’ never thought of it, neither did M. Portail (Vincent's first and most faithful companion in the Mission). Then it is God who thought of it for you; Him therefore we must call the Founder of your Congregation, for truly we cannot recognise any other.”
Although with delicate docility, Vincent could no more forestall the action of God than an instrument the hand that uses it, nevertheless, once the Divine impulse was given, he could not endure the least delay in following it, nor suffer any other sentiment in his soul but the most absolute confidence. He wrote again, with his charming simplicity, to the helpmate given him by God: “You are always giving way a little to human feelings, thinking that everything is going to ruin as soon as you see me ill. O woman of little faith, why have you not more confidence, and more submission to the guidance and example of Jesus Christ? This Saviour of the world entrusted the well-being of the whole Church to God his Father; and you, for a handful of young women, evidently raised up and gathered together by his Providence, you fear that he will fail you! Come, come, Mademoiselle, you must humble yourself before God.”
No wonder that faith, the only possible guide of such a life, the imperishable foundation of all that he was for his neighbour and in himself, was, in the eyes of Vincent de Paul, the greatest of treasures. He who compassionated every suffering, even though well deserved; who, by an heroic fraud, took the place of a galley-slave in chains, was a pitiless foe to heresy, and could not rest till he had obtained either the banishment or the chastisement of its votaries. Clement XII in the Bull of canonization bears witness to this, in speaking of the pernicious error of Jansenism, which our Saint was one of the first to denounce and prosecute. Never, perhaps, were these words of Holy Writ better verified: The simplicity of the just shall guide them: and the deceitfulness of the wicked shall destroy them (Prov, xi. 3). Though this sect expressed, later on, a supreme disdain for Monsieur Vincent, it had not always been of that mind. “I am,” he said to a friend, “most particularly obliged to bless and thank God, for not having suffered the first and principal professors of that doctrine, men of my acquaintance and friendship, to be able to draw me to their opinions. I cannot tell you what pains they took, and what reasons they propounded to me; I objected to them, amongst other things, the authority of the Council of Trent, which is clearly opposed to them; and seeing that they still continued, I, instead of answering them, quietly recited my Credo; and that is how I have remained firm in the Catholic faith.”
But it is time to give the full account which Holy Church reads to-day in her Liturgy. We will only remind our readers that in the year 1883, the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the St. Vincent de Paul Conferences at Paris, the Sovereign Pontiff Leo XIII proclaimed our Saint the Patron of the societies of charity in France.
Vincent de Paul, a Frenchman, was born at Pouy, near Dax, in Aquitaine, and from his boyhood was remarkable for his exceeding charity towards the poor. As a child he fed his father's flock, but afterwards pursued the study of humanities at Dax, and of divinity first at Toulouse, then at Saragossa. Having been ordained priest, he took his degree as Bachelor of Theology; but falling into the hands of the Turks was led captive by them into Africa. While in captivity he won his master back to Christ, by the help of the Mother of God, and escaped together with him from that land of barbarians, and undertook a journey to the shrines of the Apostles. On his return to France he governed in a most saintly manner the parishes first of Clichy and then of Châtillon. The king next appointed him Chaplain of the French galleys, and marvellous was his zeal in striving for the salvation of both officers and convicts. St. Francis of Sales gave him as superior to his nuns of the Visitation, whom he ruled for forty years with such prudence, as to amply justify the opinion the holy Bishop had expressed of him, that Vincent was the most worthy priest he knew.
He devoted himself with unwearying zeal, even in extreme old age, to preaching to the poor, especially to country people; and to this Apostolic work he bound both himself and the members of the Congregation which he founded, called the Secular Priests of the Mission, by a special vow which the Holy See confirmed. He laboured greatly in promoting regular discipline among the clergy, as is proved by the seminaries for clerics which he built, and by the establishment, through his care, of frequent Conferences for priests, and of exercises preparatory to Holy Orders. It was his wish that the houses of his institution should always lend themselves to these good works, as also to the giving of pious retreats for laymen. Moreover, with the object of extending the reign of faith and love, he sent evangelical labourers not only into the French provinces, but also into Italy, Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and even to Barbary, and to the Indies. On the demise of Louis XIII, whom he had assisted on his deathbed, he was made a member of the Council of conscience, by Queen Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV. In this capacity, he was most careful that only worthy men should be appointed to ecclesiastical and monastic benefices, and strove to put an end to civil discord and duels, and to the errors then creeping in, which had alarmed him as soon as he knew of their existence; moreover, he endeavoured to enforce upon all a due obedience to the judgments of the Apostolic See.
His paternal love brought relief to every kind of misfortune. The faithful groaning under the Turkish yoke, destitute children, incorrigible young men, virgins exposed to danger, nuns driven from their monasteries, fallen women, convicts, sick strangers, invalided workmen, even madmen, and innumerable beggars. All these he aided and received with tender charity into his hospitable institutions… When Lorraine, Campania, Picardy, and other districts were devastated by pestilence, famine, and war, he supplied their necessities with open hand. He founded other associations for seeking out and aiding the unfortunate; amongst others the celebrated Society of Ladies, and the… widespread institution of the Sisters of Charity. To him also is due the foundation of the Daughters of the Cross, of Providence, and of St. Genevieve, who are devoted to the education of girls. Amid all these and other important undertakings his heart was always fixed on God; he was affable to every one, and always true to himself, simple, upright, humble. He ever shunned riches and honours, and was heard to say that nothing gave him any pleasure, except in Christ Jesus, whom he strove to imitate in all things. Worn out at length, by mortification of the body, labours, and old age, on the 27th September, in the year of salvation 1660, the 85th of his age, he peacefully fell asleep, at Paris, at Saint Lazare, the mother-house of the Congregation of the Mission. His virtues, merits, and miracles having made his name celebrated, Clement XII enrolled him among the Saints, assigning for his annual feast the 17th July. Leo XIII, at the request of several Bishops, declared and appointed this great hero of charity, who has deserved so well of the human race, the peculiar patron before God of all the charitable societies existing throughout the Catholic world, and of all such as may hereafter be established.
Another account of St. Vincent de Paul
Even in the most degenerate ages, when the true maxims of the gospel seem almost obliterated among the generality of those who profess it, God fails not, for the glory of his holy name, to raise to himself faithful ministers to revive the same in the hearts of many. Having, by the perfect crucifixion of the old man in their hearts, and the gift of prayer, prepared them to become vessels of his grace, he replenishes them with the spirit of his apostles, that they may be qualified to conduct others in the paths of heroic virtue, in which the Holy Ghost was himself their interior Master. One of these instruments of the divine mercy was St. Vincent of Paul. He was a native of Poui, a village near Acqs, in Gascony, not far from the Pyrenӕan mountains. His parents, William of Paul, and Bertranda of Morass, occupied a very small farm, of which they were the proprietors; and upon the produce of which they brought up a family of four sons and two daughters. The children were brought up in innocence, and inured from their infancy to the most laborious part of country labour. But Vincent, the third son, gave extraordinary proofs of his wit and capacity, and from his infancy showed a seriousness and an affection for holy prayer far beyond his age. He spent a great part of his time in that exercise, when he was employed in the fields to keep the cattle. That he might give to Christ, in the persons of the poor, all that was in his power, he deprived himself of his own little conveniences and necessaries for that purpose, in whatever it was possible for him to retrench from his own use. This early fervent consecration of himself to God, and these little sacrifices, which may be compared to the widow's two mites in the gospel, were indications of the sincere ardour with which he began to seek God from the first opening of his reason, to know and love him; and were doubtless a means to draw down upon him, from the author of these graces, other greater blessings. His father was determined, by the strong inclinations of the child to learning and piety, and the quickness of his parts, to procure him a school education. He placed him first under the care of the Cordeliers, or Franciscan friars, at Acqs, paying, for his board and lodging, the small pension of sixty French livres, that is, not six pounds English, a year.
Vincent had been four years at the schools, when Mr. Commet, a gentleman of that town, being much taken with his virtue and prudence, chose him sub-preceptor to his children, and enabled him to continue his studies without being any longer a burden to his parents. At twenty years of age, in 1596, he was qualified to go to the university of Toulouse, where he spent seven years in the study of divinity, and commenced, bachelor in that faculty. In that city he was promoted to the holy orders of subdeacon and deacon in 1598, and of priesthood in 1600, having received the tonsure and minor orders a few days before he left Acqs. He seemed already endowed with all those virtues which make up the character of a worthy and zealous minister of the altar; yet he knew not the full extent of heroic entire self-denial by which a man becomes dead and crucified to all inordinate self-will; upon which perfect self-denial are engrafted the total sacrifice of the heart to God, perfect humility, and that purity and ardour of divine charity which constitute the saint. Vincent was a good proficient in theology, and other sciences of the schools, and had diligently applied himself to the study of the maxims of Christian virtue in the gospel, in the lives of the saints, and in the doctrine of the greatest masters of a spiritual life. But there remained a new science for him to learn, which was to cost him much more than bare study and labour. This consists in perfect experimental and feeling sentiments of humility, patience, meekness, and charity; which science is only to be learned by the good use of severe interior and exterior trials. This is the mystery of the cross, unknown to those whom the Holy Ghost has not led into this important secret of his conduct, in preparing souls for the great works of his grace. The prosperity of the wicked will appear at the last day to have often been the most dreadful judgment, and a state in which they were goaded on in the pursuit of their evil courses; whilst, on the contrary, it will then be manifested to all men that the afflictions of the saints have been the greatest effects of divine mercy. Thus, by a chain of temporal disasters, did God lay in the soul of Vincent the solid foundation of that high virtue to which, by his grace, he afterwards raised him.
The saint went to Marseilles in 1605, to receive a legacy of five hundred crowns, which had been left him by a friend, who died in that city. Intending to return to Toulouse, he set out in a felucca, or large boat, from Marseilles to Narbonne, but was met in the way by three brigantines of African pirates. The infidels, seeing the Christians refuse to strike their flag, charged them with great fury, and on the first onset killed three of their men, and wounded every one of the rest; Vincent received a shot of an arrow. The Christians were soon obliged to surrender. The first thing the Mahometans did was to cut the captain in pieces because he had not struck at the first summons, and, in the combat had killed one of their men and four or five slaves. The rest they put in chains; and continued seven or eight days longer on that coast, committing several other piracies, but sparing the lives of those that made no resistance. When they had got a sufficient booty they sailed for Barbary. Upon landing, they drew up an act of their seizure, in which they falsely declared that Vincent and his companions had been taken on board of a Spanish vessel, that the French consul might not challenge them. Then they gave to every slaves pair of loose breeches, a linen jerkin, and a bonnet. In this garb they were led five or six times through the city of Tunis to be shown; after which they were brought back to their vessel, where the merchants came to see them, as men do at the sale of a horse or an ox. They examined who could eat well, felt their sides, looked at their teeth, to see who were of scorbutic habits of body, consequently unlikely for very long life; they probed their wounds, and made them walk and run in all paces, lift up burdens, and wrestle, to judge of their strength. Vincent was bought by a fisherman, who, finding that he could not bear the sea, soon sold him again to an old physician, a great chemist and extractor of essences, who had spent fifty years in search of the pretended philosopher's stone. He was humane, and loved Vincent exceedingly; but gave him long lectures on his alchemy, and on the Mahometan law, to which he used his utmost efforts to bring him over; promising, on that condition, to leave him all his riches, and to communicate to him, what he valued much more than his estate, all the secrets of his pretended science. Vincent feared the danger of his soul much more than all the hardships of his slavery, and most earnestly implored the divine assistance against it, recommending himself particularly to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to which he ever after attributed his victory over this temptation. He lived with this old man from September 1605 to August 1606, when, by this physician's death, he fell to the share of a nephew of his master, a true man-hater. By resignation to the divine will, and confidence in providence, he enjoyed a sweet repose in his own heart under all accidents, hardships, and dangers; and by assiduous devout meditation on the sufferings of Christ, learned to bear all his afflictions with comfort and joy, uniting himself in spirit with his Divine Redeemer, and studying to copy in himself his lessons of perfect meekness, patience, silence, and charity. This new master sold him in a short time to a renegade Christian, who came from Nice, in Savoy. This man sent him to his temat, or farm, situate on a hot desert mountain. This apostate had three wives, of which one, who was a Turkish woman, went often to the field where Vincent was digging, and out of curiosity would ask him to sing the praises of God. He used to sing to her, with tears in his eyes, the psalm, “Upon the towers of Babylon,” &c, the “Salve Regina,” and such like prayers. She was so much taken with our holy faith, and doubtless with the saintly deportment of the holy slave, that she never ceased repeating to her husband that he had basely abandoned the only true religion, till, like another Caiaphas, or ass of Balaam, without opening her own eyes to the faith she made him enter into himself. Sincerely repenting of his apostasy, he agreed with Vincent to make their escape together. They crossed the Mediterranean sea in a small light boat which the least squall of wind would overset; and they landed safe at Aigues-Mortes, near Marseilles, on the 28th of June, 1607, and thence proceeded to Avignon. The apostate made his abjuration in the hands of the vice-legate, and the year following went with Vincent to Rome, and there entered himself a penitent in the austere convent of the Fate-Ben-Fratelli, who served the hospitals according to the rule of St. John of God.
Vincent received great comfort at the sight of a place most venerable for its preeminence in the church, which has been watered with the blood of so many martyrs, and is honoured with the tombs of the two great apostles Ss. Peter and Paul and many other saints. He was moved to tears at the remembrance of their zeal, fortitude, humility, and charity, and often devoutly visited their monuments, praying earnestly that he might be so happy as to walk in their steps, and imitate their virtues. After a short stay at Rome, to satisfy his devotion, he returned to Paris, and took up his quarters in the suburb of St. Germain's. There lodged in the same house a gentleman, the judge of a village near Bordeaux, who happened to be robbed of four hundred crowns. He charged Vincent with the theft, thinking it could be nobody else; and in this persuasion he spoke against him with the greatest virulence among all his friends, and wherever he went. Vincent calmly denied the fact, saying, “God knows the truth.” He bore this slander six years, without making any other defence, or using harsh words or complaints, till the true thief being taken up at Bordeaux on another account, to appease his own conscience and clear the innocent he sent for this judge, and confessed to him the crime. St. Vincent related this in a spiritual conference with his priests, but as of a third person; to show that patience, humble silence, and resignation are generally the best defence of our innocence, and always the happiest means of sanctifying our souls under slanders and persecution; and we may be assured that Providence will in its proper time justify us, if expedient.
At Paris Vincent became acquainted with the holy priest Monsieur de Berulle, who was afterwards cardinal, and at that time was taken up in founding the congregation of the French Oratory. A saint readily discovers a soul in which the spirit of God reigns. Berulle conceived a great esteem for St. Vincent from his first conversation with him; and to engage him in the service of his neighbour, he prevailed with him first to serve as curate of the parish of Clichi, a small village near Paris; and soon after to quit that employ to take upon him the charge of preceptor to the children of Emmanuel de Gondy, Count of Joigny, general of the galleys of France. His lady, Frances of Silly, a person of singular piety, was so taken with the sanctity of Vincent, that she chose him for her spiritual director and confessor. In the year 1616, whilst the Countess of Joigny was at a country seat at Folleville, in the diocess of Amiens, Vincent was sent for to the village of Gannes, two leagues from Folleville, to hear the confession of a countryman who lay dangerously ill. The zealous priest, by carefully examining his penitent, found it necessary to advise him to make a general confession, with which the other joyfully complied. The penitent by this means discovered that all his former confessions had been sacrilegious for want of a due examination of his conscience; and afterwards, bathed in tears, he declared aloud, in transports of joy before many persons and the Countess of Joigny herself, that he should have been eternally lost if he had not spoke to Vincent. The pious lady was struck with dread and horror to hear of such past sacrileges, and to consider the imminent danger of being damned in which that poor soul had been; and she trembled lest some others among her vassals might have the misfortune to be in the like case. Far from the criminal illusion of pride by which some masters and mistresses seem persuaded that they owe no care, attention, or provision to those whose whole life is employed only to give them the fruit of their sweat and labours; she was sensible from the principles both of nature and religion, that masters or lords lie under strict ties of justice and charity towards all committed to their care; and that they are bound in the first place, as far as it lies in their power, to see them provided with the necessary spiritual helps for their salvation. But to wave the obligation, what Christian heart can pretend to the bowels of charity, and be insensible at the dangers of such persons? The virtuous countess felt in her own breast the strongest alarms for so many poor souls, which she called her own by many titles. She therefore entreated Vincent to preach in the Church of Folleville, on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in 1617, and fully to instruct the people in the great duty of repentance and confession of sins. He did so; and such crowds flocked to him to make general confessions that he was obliged to call in the Jesuits of Amiens to his assistance. The congregation of the mission dates its first institution from this time, and in thanksgiving for it, keeps the 25th of January with, great solemnity.
By the advice of Monsieur de Berulle, St. Vincent left the house of the countess in 1617, to employ his talents among the common people in the villages of Bresse, where he heard they stood in great need of instruction. He prevailed upon five other zealous priests to bear him company, and with them formed a little community in the parish of Chatillon in that province. He there converted by his sermons the Count of Rougemont and many others from their scandalous unchristian lives to a state of eminent penance and fervour, and in a short time changed the whole face of the country. The good countess, his patroness, was infinitely pleased with his success, and gave him sixteen thousand livres to found a perpetual mission among the common people in the place and manner he should think fit. But she could not be easy herself whilst she was deprived of his direction and advice; she therefore employed Monsieur de Berulle, and her brother-in-law, Cardinal de Retz, to prevail with him to come to her, and extorted from him a promise that he would never abandon the direction of her conscience so long as she lived, and that he would assist her at her death. But being extremely desirous that others, especially those who were particularly entitled to her care and attention, should want nothing that could contribute to their sanctification and salvation, she induced her husband to concur with her in establishing a company of able and zealous missionaries who should be employed in assisting their vassals and farmers. This project they proposed to their brother, John Francis, of Gondi, the first Archbishop of Paris, and he gave the college of Bons Enfans for the reception of the new community. All things being agreed on, St. Vincent took possession of this house in April, 1625. The count and countess gave forty thousand French livres to begin the foundation.
St. Vincent attended the countess till her pious death, which happened on the 23rd of June, the same year; after which he joined his congregation. He drew up for it certain rules or constitutions which were approved by Pope Urban VIII in 1632. King Lewis XIII confirmed the establishment by letters patent, which he granted in May the same year; and, in 1633, the regular canons of St. Victor gave to this new institute the Priory of St. Lazarus, which being a spacious building was made the chief house of the congregation, and from it the fathers of the mission were often called Lazarites or Lazarians. They are not religious men, but a congregation of secular priests, who after two years' probation make four simple vows, of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. They devote themselves to labour, in the first place, in sanctifying their own souls by the particular holy exercises prescribed in their institute; secondly, in the conversion of sinners to God; and thirdly, in training up clergymen for the ministry of the altar and the care of souls. To attain the first end, their rule prescribes them an hour's meditation every morning, self-examination thrice every day, spiritual conferences every week, a yearly retreat of eight days, and silence except in the hours allowed for conversation. To comply with the second obligation, they are employed eight months every year in missions among the country people, staying three or four weeks in each place which they visit, every day giving catechism, making familiar sermons, hearing confessions, reconciling differences, and performing all other works of charity. To correspond with the third end which St. Vincent proposed to himself, some of this congregation undertake the direction of seminaries, and admit ecclesiastics or others to make retreats of eight or ten days with them, to whom they prescribe suitable exercises; and for these purposes excellent rules are laid down by the founder. Pope Alexander VII in 1662, enjoined by a brief, that all persons who receive holy orders in Rome, or in the six suffragan bishoprics, shall first make a retreat of ten days under the direction of the fathers of this congregation, under pain of suspension. St. Vincent settled his institute also in the seminary of St. Charles in Paris, and lived to see twenty-five houses of it founded in France, Piedmont, Poland, and other places.
This foundation, though so extensive and beneficial, could not satisfy the zeal of this apostolic man. He by every other means studied to procure the relief of others under all necessities, whether spiritual or corporal. For this purpose he established many other confraternities, as that called Of Charity, to attend all poor sick persons in each parish; which institute he began in Bresse, and propagated in other places where he made any missions; one called Of the Dames of the Cross, for the education of young girls; another of Dames to serve the sick in great hospitals, as in that of Hotel Dieu in Paris. He procured and directed the foundation of several great hospitals, as in Paris that of foundlings, or those children who, for want of such a provision, are exposed to the utmost distress, or to the barbarity of unnatural parents; also that of poor old men; at Marseilles the stately hospital for the galley-slaves, who, when sick, are there abundantly furnished with every help both corporal and spiritual. All these establishments he settled under excellent regulations, and supplied with large sums of money to defray all necessary expenses. He instituted a particular plan of spiritual exercises for those that are about to receive holy orders; and others for those who desire to make general confessions, or to deliberate upon the choice of a state of life. He also appointed regular ecclesiastical conferences on the duties of the clerical state, &c. It must appear almost incredible that so many and so great things could have been effected by one man, and a man who had no advantages from birth, fortune, or any shining qualities which the world admires and esteems. But our surprise would be much greater if we could enter into a detail of his wonderful actions, and the infinite advantages which he procured others. During the wars in Lorrain, being informed of the miseries to which those provinces were reduced, he collected charities among pious persons at Paris, which were sent thither, to the amount of fifteen or sixteen hundred thousand livres, says Abelly; nay, as Collet proves from authentic vouchers, of two millions, that is, according to the value of money at that time, considerably above one hundred thousand pounds sterling; and he did the like on other occasions. He assisted Xing Lewis XIII at his death, and by his holy advice and exhortations that monarch expired in perfect sentiments of piety and resignation. Our saint was in the highest favour with the queen regent, Anne of Austria, who nominated him a member of the young king's council of conscience, and consulted him in all ecclesiastical affairs, and in the collation of benefices; which office he discharged ten years.
Amidst so many and so great employs his soul seemed always united to God; in the most distracting affairs it kept, as it were, an eye always open to him, in order to converse continually with him. This constant attention to him he often renewed, and always when the clock struck, by making the sign of the cross (at least secretly with his thumb upon his breast), with an act of divine love. Under all crosses, disappointments, and slanders, he always preserved a perfect serenity and evenness of mind, which it did not seem in the power of the whole world to disturb; for he considered all events only with a view to the divine will, and with an entire resignation to it, having no other desire but that God should be glorified in all things. Whether this was to be done by his own disgrace and sufferings, or by whatever other means it pleased the divine majesty, he equally rejoiced. Not that he fell into the pretended apathy or insensibility of the proud Stoics, or into the impious indifference of the false Mystics, afterwards called Quietists, than which nothing is more contrary to true piety, which is always tender, affectionate, and most sensible to all the interests of charity and religion. This was the character of our saint, who regarded the afflictions of all others as his own, sighed continually with St Paul after that state of glory in which he should be united inseparably to his God, and poured forth his soul before him with tears over his own and others' spiritual miseries. Having his hope fixed as a firm anchor in God, by a humble reliance on the divine mercy and goodness, he seemed raised above the reach of the malice of creatures, or the frowns of the world; and he enjoyed a tranquillity within his breast which no storms were able to ruffle or disturb. So perfect was the mastery which he had gained over his passions that his meekness and patience seemed unalterable, whatever provocations he met with. He was never moved by affronts, unless to rejoice secretly under them, because he was sure to find in them a hidden treasure of grace, and an opportunity of vanquishing himself. This is the fruit of the victory which perfect virtue gains over self-love; and it is a more perfect sacrifice to God, a surer test of sincere virtue, a more heroic victory, and a more glorious triumph of the soul to bear a slander, an injurious suspicion, or an unjust insult, in silence and patience, than the most shining exterior act of virtue; a language often repeated, but little understood or practised among Christians. Perfect self-denial, the most profound humility, and an eminent spirit of prayer were the means by which St Vincent attained to this degree of perfection: and he most earnestly recommended the same to his disciples. Humility he would have them to make the basis of his congregation, and it was the lesson which he never ceased to repeat to them, that they ought to study sincerely to conceal even their natural talents. When two persons of extraordinary learning and abilities once presented themselves, desiring to be admitted into his congregation, he gave them both a repulse, telling them, “Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penance, and to plant the gospel spirit of charity, humility, meekness, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.” He laid it down also as a rule of humility, that, if possible, a man ought never to speak of himself or his own concerns, such discourse usually proceeding from, and nourishing in the heart, pride and self-love. This indeed is a rule prescribed by Confucius, Aristotle, Cato, Pliny, and other philosophers; because, say they, for any one to boast of himself is always the most intolerable and barefaced pride, and modesty in such discourse will be suspected of secret vanity. Egotism, or the itch of speaking always of a man's self, shows he is intoxicated with the poison of self-love, refers every thing to himself, and is his own centre, than which scarce any thing can be more odious and offensive to others. But Christian humility carries this maxim higher, teaching us to love a hidden life and to lie concealed and buried, as being in ourselves nothingness and sin.
St. Vincent exerted his zeal against the novelties concerning the article of divine grace which sprang up in his time. Michael Baius, doctor and professor of divinity at Louvain, advanced a new doctrine concerning the grace conferred on man in the two states before and after Adam's fall, and some other speculative points; and Pope Pius V, in 1567, condemned seventy-six propositions under his name. Some of these, Baius confessed he had taught, and these he solemnly revoked and sincerely condemned with all the rest in 1580, in presence of F. Francis Toletus, afterwards cardinal, whom Gregory XIII had sent for that very purpose to Louvain. Cornelius Jansenius, and John Verger, commonly called Abbé de St. Cyran, contracted a close friendship together during their studies first at Louvain, afterwards at Paris, and concerted a plan of a new system of doctrine concerning divine grace, founded, in part, upon some of the condemned errors of Baius. This system, Jansenius, by his friend's advice, endeavoured to establish in a book, which, from St. Austin, the great doctor of grace, he entitled Augustinus. After having been Bishop of Ipres from 1635 to 1638, he died of the pestilence, having never published his book, in the close of which, he inserted a declaration that he submitted his work to the judgment of the church. Fromond, another Louvanian divine, an abler scholar, and a more polite writer, polished the style of this book, and put it in the press. Verger became director of the nuns of Port-Royal, had read some ancient writers on books of devotion, and wrote with ease. But his very works on subjects of piety, however neatly writ, betray the author's excessive presumption and forbidding self-sufficiency. He became the most strenuous advocate for Jansenism, and was detained ten years prisoner in the castle of Vincennes. He died soon after he had recovered his liberty, in 1643. This man had, by his reputation, gained the esteem of St. Vincent; but the saint, hearing him one day advance his errors, and add that the church had failed for five or six hundred years past, he was struck with horror, and from that moment renounced the friendship of so dangerous a person. When these errors were afterwards more publicly spread abroad, he strenuously exerted himself against them; on which account Gerberon, the Jansenistical historian, makes him the butt of his rancour and spleen. But general and vague invectives of the enemies to truth are the commendation of his piety and zeal. Our saint's efforts to destroy that heresy, says Abelly, never made him approve a loose morality, which on all occasions he no less avoided and abhorred than the errors of the Jansenists. He was particularly careful in insisting on all the conditions of true repentance, to render it sincere and perfect; for want of which he used to say, with St. Ambrose, that some pretended penitents are rendered more criminal by their sacrilegious hypocrisy in the abuse of so great a sacrament, than they were by all their former sins.
In the year 1658, St. Vincent assembled the members of his congregation at St. Lazarus, and gave to every one a small book of rules which he had compiled. At the same time he made a pathetic exhortation, to enforce the most exact and religious observance of them. This congregation was again approved and confirmed by Alexander VII and Clement X. St. Vincent was chosen by St. Francis of Sales, director of his nuns of the Visitation, that were established at Paris. The robust constitution of the zealous servant of God was impaired by his uninterrupted fatigues and austerities. In the eightieth year of his age he was seized with a periodical fever, with violent night sweats. After passing the night almost without sleep, and in an agony of pain, he never failed to rise at four in the morning, to spend three hours in prayer, to say mass every day (except on the three first days of his annual retreat, according to the custom he had established), and to exert, as usual, his indefatigable zeal in the exercises of charity and religion. He even redoubled his diligence in giving his last instructions to his spiritual children; and recited every day after mass the prayers of the church for persons in their agony, with the recommendation of the soul, and other preparatory acts for his last hour. Alexander VII, in consideration of the extreme weakness to which his health was reduced, sent him a brief to dispense him from reciting his breviary; but, before it arrived, the servant of God had finished the course of his labours. Having received the last sacraments, and given his last advice, he calmly expired in his chair, on the 27th of September, 1660, being fourscore and five years old. He was buried in the Church of St. Lazarus, in Paris, with an extraordinary concourse and pomp. An account of several predictions of this servant of God, and some miraculous cures performed by him whilst alive, may be read in his life written by Collet, with a great number of miracles wrought through his intercession, after his death, at Paris, Angiers, Sens, in Italy, &c. Mr. Bonnet, superior of the seminary at Chartres, afterwards general of the congregation, by imploring the saint's intercession, was healed instantaneously of an inveterate entire rupture, called by the physicians entero-epiplo-celle, which had been declared by the ablest surgeons absolutely incurable; this miracle was approved by Cardinal Noailles. Several like cures of fevers, hemorrhages, palsies, dysenteries, and other distempers, were juridically proved. A girl eight years old, both dumb and lame, was cured by a second Novena, or nine days' devotion, performed for her by her mother in honour of St. Vincent. His body was visited by Cardinal Noailles in presence of many witnesses, in 1712, and found entire and fresh, and the linen cloths in the same condition as if they were new. The tomb was then shut up again. This ceremony is usually performed before the beatification of a servant of God, though the incorruption of the body by itself is not regarded as a miraculous proof at Rome or elsewhere, as Collet remarks. After the ordinary rigorous examinations of the conduct, heroic virtues, and miracles of this saint at Rome, Pope Benedict XIII performed with great solemnity the ceremony of his beatification in 1729. Upon the publication of the brief thereof, the Archbishop of Paris caused the grave to be again opened. The lady marechale of Noailles, the marshal her son, and many other persons were present; but the flesh on the legs and head appeared corrupted, which alteration, from the state in which it was found twenty-seven years before, was attributed to a flood of water, which, twelve years before this, had overflowed that vault. Miracles continued frequently to be wrought by the relics and invocation of St. Vincent. A Benedictin nun at Montmirel, afflicted with a violent fever, retention of urine, ulcers, and other disorders, her body being swelled to an enormous size, and having been a long time paralytic, was perfectly cured all at once by a relic of St. Vincent, applied to her by Monseigneur Joseph Languet, then Bishop of Soissons. Francis Richer, in Paris, was healed in a no less miraculous manner. Miss Louisa Elizabeth Sackville, an English young lady at Paris, was cured of a palsy by performing a novena at the tomb of St. Vincent; which miracle was attested in the strongest manner, among others, by Mrs. Hayes, a Protestant gentlewoman with whom she lodged. Miss Sackville became afterwards a nun in the French abbey called of the Holy Sacrament, in Paris, lived ten years without any return of her former disorder, and died in 1742. St. Vincent was canonized in 1737, by Pope Clement XII.
This saint could not display his zeal more to the advantage of his neighbour than by awaking Christians from the spiritual lethargy in which so many live. He set before their eyes the grievous disorder of lukewarmness in the divine service, and explained to them, like another Baptist, the necessity and obligations of sincere repentance; for those certainly can never be entitled to the divine favour who live in an ambiguous, divided, and distracted state of sinning and repenting; of being heathens and Christians by turns. Still more dreadful is the state of those who live in habitual sin, yet are insensible of their danger, and frightful miseries! Into what extravagance, folly, spiritual blindness, and sometimes incredulity, do men's passions often plunge them! To what a degree of madness and stupidity do men of the finest natural parts sink, when abandoned by God! or rather when they themselves abandon God, and that light which he has set up in the world! Let us, by tears and prayers, implore the divine mercy in favour of all blind sinners.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.