Abelly: Book 3/Chapter 04
The love of God has its home in the heart, and its most noble and perfect manifestations are known only to the one who practices them, and to God who by his grace is the source. Hence, it is very true that to know fully the love of God which animated Monsieur Vincent it would be necessary for us to find this out from the Holy Spirit, who alone knows which of his divine inspirations were operative in his servant, and the cooperation he gave to them. Since we will have to wait for that until the day of judgment when God will reveal the secrets of hearts, we have to be content to speak only of those few sparks of that sacred fire that appeared outwardly in his life.
According to the testimony of the beloved disciple, an assured sign of the perfect love of God is the observance of his law and fidelity to his word. <Ftn: 1 John 5:3.> Using this criterion, we can truthfully say that Monsieur Vincent loved God greatly. He was so faithful to his law and so careful to follow his holy word, that those who lived with him and observed his conduct most carefully, assure us that only an angel could have been more exact in this than he. He was so watchful of himself, mortified in his passions, balanced in his judgment, circumspect in his words, prudent in his conduct, exact in his practices of piety, and finally, so perfectly united to God as best we can judge from the outside, that the full extent of his love of God becomes clear. It filled his heart and reigned over all the powers of his soul and even over his body, governing all its movements and operations according to that eternal law which is the source of all justice and holiness.
One might say that his entire life was a continuous sacrifice made to God, not only of the honors, comforts, pleasures, and other goods of the world, but also of all that he had received from the generous hands of God: his special insights, affections, liberty, and everything else put at God's disposition. The greatest joy of his heart was to ponder the incomprehensible glory which resided in the godhead, God's ineffable love for him, and the infinite perfections embodied in the unity and simplicity of his divine essence.
His most ardent and constant wish was that God would become better and better known, adored, served, obeyed, and glorified in all places and by all creatures. Indeed all that Monsieur Vincent did and said tended to no other end than to engender, to the full extent of his capabilities, this same divine love in all hearts, and particularly in those of his confreres. These men admired and experienced the grace of the perfect charity that was in him, and which was felt by everyone who came into his presence. This led his confreres to listen with great esteem and devotion to everything he said. They sought to preserve even his least remarks, all the while having to admit that his words as they were spoken had a totally different effect from what was merely preserved on paper. The sentiments of his heart flowed into his words. They gave them a unique force and energy, so that they became words of grace, penetrating the hearts of those who heard him.
In this regard, a person of great virtue, now deceased, was present at a conference he gave to the women of the Confraternity of Charity of the city of Paris. She was so moved by what she heard that she remarked to some others present, "Ah, ladies, can we not say, as did the disciples at Emmaus, that our hearts burned with the love of God while Monsieur Vincent spoke to us? As for myself, while I have not been too attentive to the things of God, I must say that my heart is overflowing with the truth of what this holy man has said to us." <Ftn: Collet, Vie II:112, identifies her as Madame de Lamoignon.>
Another woman replied: "You must not be surprised, for he is an angel of the Lord. He allows the love of God which burns in his heart to appear on his lips as burning coals." <Ftn: Marie-Louise de Gonzague, duchess of Mantua, later queen of Poland.> Another woman who was present added, "That is true, and his only goal is to have us share in this same love of God."
Another time several prelates were in attendance at a clergy conference being given at Saint Lazare. At the end of his talk Monsieur Vincent deferred to them, as was his custom whenever a prelate was present. All those present begged him to continue, but as he had excused himself, the oldest of the prelates said: "Monsieur Vincent, you must not in your humility deprive the Company of the sentiments with which God has inspired you on this topic. There is such an unction of the Holy Spirit in your words that we all are touched, and so all of us here present ask you to share your thoughts with us. A word from your lips means more than anything we might have to say." <Ftn: The speaker is not identified, but Collet, Vie II:112-13, records several similar remarks.>
The great love that Monsieur Vincent had for God was shown particularly in the uprightness and purity of his intentions, in which he always and solely sought the greater glory of his divine Majesty. He did everything, even that which appeared trivial, with a view of pleasing God, and of doing what he believed would be most agreeable to him. He often said that God does not pay as much attention to our external actions as he does to the love and purity of the intentions with which we act. The little things done for God are not so inclined to be motivated by vanity and pride as are others which are more important, but which too often go up in smoke. He also said that to please God in great actions we must first accustom ourselves to pleasing him in lesser ones.
One day one of his confreres was accused before the community of having done something through a desire for human respect. Moved by his love of God, Monsieur Vincent said: "It would be better to be tied hand and foot and thrown into a raging fire than to do anything merely to please others." He then began to speak on the one hand of some of the perfections of God, and on the other, of the faults, imperfections, and misery of human beings. He emphasized the folly of those who fail to work for God, and who lose the merit of all their time and trouble by having only base and human motives in view. He added these worthy and remarkable words:
- "Always honor the perfections of God. Let us take as our goal the perfection most opposed to our own imperfections, as for example, his meekness and mercy opposed to our anger, his wisdom as contrasted to our blindness, his grandeur and infinite majesty so superior to our baseness and vileness, his infinite goodness so opposed to our meanness. Let us strive to do all our actions to honor and glorify the perfection most contrary to our defects. <Ftn: CED XI:63-64.>"
He added that this intention should be the soul of all our actions, greatly increasing their price and value. He used the familiar comparison of the clothes reserved by princes and lords for special days of celebration. These were not admired so much because of the cloth they were made of, but because of the brocade, pearls, and other precious gems that adorned them. In the same way we should not be content to do good deeds, but we should enrich them with noble and holy intentions, doing them solely to please and glorify God.
This same integrity of intention which he often had on his lips and always in his heart, were the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, as expressed in the Gospel, "seek first the kingdom of God." <Ftn: Matt 6:33.> He used to say:
- "O Lord, these words urge us to allow God to reign in us, and to cooperate with him in extending and increasing the kingdom of God in the conquest of souls for him. Is it not a great honor for us to be called to help in this great and important design? Do we not become like the angels, whose sole occupation is the promotion of the kingdom of God? What possible position could be more desirable than ours, to be engaged in extending the kingdom of God? What remains for us, my brothers, but to respond worthily to such a holy and sanctifying vocation? <Ftn: Abelly's version differs considerably from CED XII, 130-31.>"