Vincent – taking his Christian life more seriously after 30

by | Aug 14, 2014 | Uncategorized

Incarnate Love“What had happened to persuade the young Vincent (about thirty) to begin to take his Christian life more seriously? Something must have brought Vincent to his decision. We are not told his motivation and more curious still is the fact that these changes occur after the mysterious 2-4 year absence.” is the question posed by Brian Jackson CM in an article “Vincent de Paul and his early ministry to the poor” appearing in the website Vincentians in Asia Pacific.

The aim of this paper is to examine three intertwined characteristics in the life of Vincent as he moved towards his primary focus in discipleship: to follow Christ the evangelizer of the poor.

These three are

1. The emergence of the poor as central to his ministry
2. The emphasis he placed on doing the will of God
3. The distinction he made between affective and effective love of the poor

To illustrate the importance of these three aspects of Vincent’s discipleship, I will take the years between 1612 and 1617. These seem to be very critical years in his development. They provide a kind of watershed. In a sense, everything else unfolds from this point on, or, by 1617 everything was in place so that the direction of his life is established. (In my overall analysis I am somewhat influenced by an unpublished paper of Tim Williams CM¹ which deals with conversion at this time of Vincent’s life).

Can we say, then, that in early critical experiences in the development of Vincent’s mission[1] we see three major elements:

  • There is a turning to the poor. That is, in deeper conversion to God Vincent was becoming the follower of Christ, the evangelizer of the poor.
  • This change rests on his desire to do God’s will As seen in his willingness to seek a director and follow his counsel.
  • His service of the poor is a practical ministry. That is, active and effective love for the poor emerges out of these early experiences and remains a constant in Vincent’s life.

He then reflects extensively on each of these elements.

Whether one reads these reflections perhaps those who wish to follow Vincent can well ask themselves

  • How have I turned to the service of the poor? Would others recognize this in me?
  • Am I willing to seek and follow guidance from those who have turned toward serving the poor?
  • Is my service both affective and effective?

(Graphic courtesy of the DePaul Vincentian Image Archive)