Abelly: Book 3/Chapter 05/Section 01
Monsieur Vincent showed his appreciation and fidelity to this holy practice in an almost unique way. He never took up any work or sought any temporal advantage for his Congregation unless he clearly recognized this was in keeping with the will of God. Even then he acted only if he was strongly urged to do so by others. He was always careful to conserve the resources divine Providence had given his Company, because God so willed it, but he never went ahead to seek out such benefits. He did not bother himself with these matters or seek them out. Neither did he even seek to have recruits for his community, although it would certainly have been permissible and even praiseworthy to persuade others to enter a state in which they could better serve God, provided this was being done through a pure zeal for his glory. The practice of this holy man was to await the good pleasure of God, and follow it faithfully, but never to run ahead of it. This is a rare enough virtue. He was so filled with the desire that the will of God rule his heart and rule over all those dependent upon him, that he took it as a maxim to spare no expense, no trouble, not even life itself, when it was a question of accomplishing this most holy will.
He found it hard to accept that those called by God to a state or profession of holiness would sometimes decide on their own, even with good or reasonable pretexts, to move on to something else. This is what he wrote to a pastor in this quandary, who had been thinking of resigning his responsibility:
- "I would counsel you not to be too hasty. What you are about to do merits serious consideration. I would be chagrined if you had taken a final step without praying to God, and consulting Monsieur Duval, or Monsieur Coqueret, or both. It is a question of knowing if God wills you to leave the wife he has given you. <Ftn: Michel Alix, pastor of Saint-Ouen-L'Aumone; see CED I:190.>"
The superiors of the houses of his Congregation have remarked that in all his letters he recommended nothing more often than this conformity in all events to the good pleasure of God. Several of them had written to him to alert him of threatened legal proceedings, or the dangers posed by malicious persons to their goods, property, and houses. His usual response was that nothing could come about except by the designs of God. God was, after all, the master, not only of temporal possessions, but of our very lives, and so could dispose of them just as he saw fit.
When suffering from spiritual aridity or bodily infirmities, he recommended that all should live in submission to the will of God. Those in this condition should be content to remain in the state in which God was pleased to place them, and they should not even desire to be relieved unless it became clear that this would be agreeable to him. He used to say it was the noblest and most excellent practice he knew of upon earth, for both lay persons and priests alike.
When one of the leading and most useful priests of the Congregation fell sick and was in danger of death, Mademoiselle le Gras, superior of the Daughters of Charity, was very affected by the possibility of his death. Monsieur Vincent wrote to her as follows:
- "You must act against what causes pain, break its spirit heart, or soften it, to prepare the heart for what will come. It seems that our Lord is about to take his portion of our little Company. It belongs entirely to him, I devoutly hope, to use as he wills. In my own case, my greatest wish is to hope for nothing except the accomplishment of his holy will. I cannot express how far advanced our dear sick confrere is in this holy practice. It seems our Lord wants to call him where he can continue this practice throughout all eternity. May he give us a like submission of reason and feeling to his adorable will! He shall be the source of both our reason and feeling if we serve him alone. Let us pray that you and I may always have this same desire to be in union with him, since in this way we already experience paradise in this life. <Ftn: CED I:586-87; he refers to Antoine Portail.>"
On another occasion, seeing a good lady in great anxiety over what was to become of her son, he wrote:
- "Give both the son and the mother to our Lord, and you will both profit. Allow him to accomplish his will in you and in him. In your spiritual exercises, strive to attend to his will without wishing anything else. This is all you need to do to give yourself wholly to God. How little it takes to become holy. The highest and almost the only means is to strive always in all things to do the will of God. <Ftn: The recipient is Louise de Marillac; CED II:36; Abelly has edited the original.>"
This same lady took sick on one occasion. She wrote to Monsieur Vincent, asking him to reveal to her the sickness of her soul, which she felt was the cause of her bodily ailment. He responded:
- "I cannot tell you any other cause of your illness except that it is in the designs of God. Adore his will without trying to understand why God is pleased to have you in a state of such sufferings. It is most glorious to abandon ourselves to his guidance, without seeking to know the reason for his actions. His holy will itself is his reason, since his reason is his will. Embrace this sentiment, as Isaac accepted the will of Abraham, and as Jesus Christ did that of his Father. <Ftn: CED IV:446-47.>"
He himself had taken this practice of conformity to the will of God so much to heart that he rejoiced to see evidence of this sentiment among his confreres. He wrote to one of them:
- "God be praised that you are ready to do his holy will in everything, and to live and die wherever he calls you to. This is what we find in true servants of God, in truly apostolic men, who stop at nothing. This is a mark of God's true children, ever ready to respond to the designs of such a worthy Father. I thank him for you with a great sentiment of tenderness and gratitude as I ask of his divine bounty. I am persuaded that a heart as prepared as yours is, will receive heavenly graces in abundance to accomplish much good upon earth. <Ftn: CED IV:446-47.>"
The will of God is known in two ways: either in those events we have no control over, those which depend solely on his good pleasure, such as sicknesses, losses, or other accidents of life, or those which his commandments or his counsels reveal to us. These tell us what things are pleasing to him, but they still leave us with full liberty to respond as we see fit. The second way we know the will of God is through the interior movements of his inspirations. Monsieur Vincent made it a personal rule to respond to either indication of God's will. First, he kept himself in a disposition of submission to God's will, even in the most serious accidents that might happen, since those were ordained or at least permitted by God. His disposition and resolution was to receive and accept these events. He did so not only with patience and submission, but with affection and joy. He remained content to see God's holy will accomplished in himself, and that all God's directives would be faithfully carried out.
In those matters where he was at liberty to act, he sought always to do what he felt was most agreeable to God. He formed his intention at the beginning of each action, saying within himself: "My God, I do this, or I leave that, because I believe it to be your holy will and agreeable to you." From time to time he renewed this sentiment, so that always and everywhere he would accept the will of God faithfully and religiously. He called this practice the "treasure of the Christian," because it embodied mortification, indifference, self-denial, imitation of Jesus Christ, union with God, and in general all the virtues, since they are virtues only when they are agreeable to God in conformity to his will. He is the source and rule of all perfection.
Coming to know the will of God in interior inspirations is always difficult, for it is easy to be deceived. Self-love can disguise the inclinations of human nature as movements of the Holy Spirit. Monsieur Vincent used to say that we should put a pinch of salt on these movements so as not to be fooled. He meant we have to discern carefully, not trusting our own mind or inclination. This is what he once said to his confreres on this subject:
- "Among the multitude of thoughts and inclinations that incessantly arise within us, many appear to be good, but do not come from God and are not pleasing to him. How, then, should one discern these? We must look at them carefully, have recourse to God in prayer, and ask for his light. We must reflect on the motives, purposes, and means, to see if all these are in keeping with his good pleasure. We must talk over our ideas with prudent persons, and take the advice of those placed over us. These persons are the depositories of the treasures of the wisdom and grace of God. In doing what they suggest, we are carrying out the will of God. <Ftn: Abelly gives a much different version from CED XII:340-55.>"
Speaking one day to his community, he made some important remarks on this matter. I imagine that some present here have today undertaken some actions which in themselves are good and holy, but which may have been rejected by God because they were done through the natural movement of their own will. Is this not what the prophet said, speaking for God: "I do not want your fasts which you think honor me, for they do just the opposite. When you fast, you are doing your own will, and this spoils and compromises your offering." <Ftn: Isa 1:11, and 58:3-4.> We could say the same of other works of piety, in which the addition of our own will spoils our devotions, our missions, our penances, etc. For the past twenty years, I have never read this epistle in the mass, taken from the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, without being very upset. What must we do, if we are not to waste our time and our efforts? We must never act through the self-motivation, inclination, humor, or imaginings, but rather accustom and habituate ourselves to fulfill the will of God in everything, never just in some things. This is the effect of grace which makes the person and his actions pleasing to God. <Ftn: CED XII:155-56.>
We shall finish this chapter by considering a devout reflection which this holy man made one day on the happiness of a Christian confirmed in this practice of conformity to the will of God.
Notice the holy dispositions in which he lives, and the blessings which accompany all he does. He is committed to God, to him alone, and God leads him in everything and by everything. He could say with the prophet: Tenuisti manum dexteram meam, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me ["With your counsel you guide me, and in the end you will receive me in glory"]. <Ftn: Ps 73:23-24.> God holds him by his right hand, and he accepts this divine guidance for tomorrow, the following week, the whole year, and his entire life, in peace and tranquility, and in an uninterrupted movement towards God. Everywhere he spreads in the souls of his neighbors the happy spirit with which he himself is filled. If you compare him with those who follow their own inclinations you will see how filled with light he is, how fruitful in his work. He makes notable progress, and all his words have strength and energy. God blesses all his undertakings, and accomplishes by his grace the designs God has for him. The advice he gives to others and all his actions give great edification. On the other hand, when we look at those attached to their own inclinations and pleasure, their thoughts are worldly, their words those of slaves, and their works are lifeless. All this comes from their being attached to creatures. These allow nature to influence their souls, while grace acts in those who raise their hearts to God and aspire only to accomplish his will. <Ftn: CED XI:46-47.>