A Vincentian View: The Vincentian Heart
The Theology Department at St. John’s University has offered me the opportunity to teach the course on Vincent de Paul next semester. I really have enough to do, but the thought of teaching this course during the 400th Anniversary Year of the Congregation of the Mission made my acceptance unavoidable. One of the real advantages is that I have begun to read material which I had been putting off “till I had more time”—we know how that works. This essay brings together two paragraphs which capture my imagination as I strive to describe the spirit and heart of Vincent de Paul.
The first paragraph comes from the Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis as he writes at the close of the Year of Mercy. It cannot help but direct our attention to our holy founder’s vision:
“In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognizing the inviolable dignity of human life.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, 20 November 2016, #18)
The second paragraph comes from the funeral oration for Vincent delivered on November 23, 1660 by Henri de Maupas du Tour. Fr. Ed Udovic, CM gave permission for me to use his wonderful translation:
“To uncover the full extent of his zeal you would need to cross the seas and travel to the very limits of Christianity. You would also need to visit prisons, and the darkest dungeons. You would need to visit all the places where the sick are to be found. You would need to go to the great General Hospital. You would need to see the tears of the afflicted that he wiped away and the wounds that he healed. You would need to see the indigent he clothed. You would need to see the five, six or seven thousand people who, according to a reliable source, are assisted daily by the Confraternities of Charity he founded, and the Sisters, and the Ladies of Charity whom he also founded. France, Savoy, Piedmont, Italy, Poland and other faraway places all were the charitable scenes of his charitable works and love.” (Henri de Maupas du Tour. The Funeral Oration for Vincent de Paul, 23 November 1660. Introduction, Annotation, and Translation by Edward R. Udovic, CM. DePaul University Vincentian Studies Institute. Chicago, Illinois, 2015. p. 99)
The funeral oration came from the lips of one who knew Vincent personally and who felt his heart. The paragraph above presents only a small sample of his admiration and gratitude for such a great soul.
Honestly, I would be embarrassed to write anything after reading these two pieces. They offer an appropriate reflection for those of us who celebrate Vincent and the Vincentian charism. We hear of how we have been led and how we must lead. May God grant us supple hearts. I hope to be grateful to my students for what they will teach me by their needs, their questions, and their lives.