“God is with the simple and humble; He assists them, blesses their work, blesses their undertakings. Quoi! Are we to believe that God will help a person who’s trying to ruin himself? That He’ll help a man ruin himself, as do those who preach other than humbly and simply, who preach themselves, etc.? Such a thought can’t even enter our mind!” (CCD, volume XII, conference 182).
Vincent de Paul
- There are little doubts about the predilection of Mr. Vincent for the virtues of simplicity and humility. This statement is confirmed in the text, to the point of saying that “God is with the simple and humble” … We must affirm that He is also with those who practice the rest of the virtues … but, at that moment, it was timely to “re-mark” these two that, along with meekness, mortification and zeal for evangelizing work, make up the virtuous pentagon of the Vincentians.
- The application of these two virtues to “preaching” leaves us a little worried. By sources of the time we know that the majority of the clergy (French in this case) suffered from a more than obvious lack of formation. Therefore, it was hardly possible that Mr. Vincent was refering to this priest (something different is his concern to improve their competence, as we would say today). Those who he is openly addressing are his own missionaries, better trained in all likelihood, but — we can guess by what he tells them — they communed with the “higher” forms of preaching.
- They “preach themselves,” he said, something that “can’t even enter our mind.” I wonder “who” were at that moment listening to him if only to see their faces, asking themselves “is it me?” Because, possibly, given the practical character of St. Vincent, he was refering to some (or many) of those present. Be that as it may, the warning was sufficiently serious and appropriate, especially considering the majority of the recipients of the preaching: the “poor country folks.”
- But he does not stop there: he continues affirming that who does not preach with simplicity and humility “will help a man ruin himself.” That is, not only (the missionary) “sins” for not doing things right but is a cause of perdition for those who listen to him. Perhaps this is where we must include the last of the expressions “can’t even enter our mind!” A call, therefore, of attention for his missionaries (extendible to every vincentian) with the aim that they not only practice these virtues in their “action” but also in their personal life.
Questions for dialogue:
- Does simplicity and humility have anything to do with improvisation or lack of preparation of our preaching?
- Are these two virtues significant traits of our preaching?
- Do we adequately prepare our work from this perspective?
- What are our “sources” for preparing the homilies?
- Do we convey simplicity and humility?
Mitxel Olabuenaga, C.M.