Through his writings, we invite you to discover Frederic Ozanam, co-founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and one of the most beloved members of the Vincentian Family (and about whom, perhaps, we may still know very little).
Frederic wrote much in his 40 plus years of life. These texts — which come to us from the not too distant past — are a reflection of the family, social and ecclesial reality lived by their author and which, in many aspects, bears similarities with what is currently lived, especially as regards the inequality and injustice suffered by millions of impoverished men and women in our world.
In mid-July 1844, Amélie left for Dieppe, a coastal city on English Channel, some 200 kilometers from Paris, seeking a remedy for some ailments that she suffered. Frederic was in Paris working, although he made a brief visit on July 21 and 22. On his return, he wrote almost daily. In his letter dated July 27, he informed her of the procedures that were being carried out to appoint him Professor of Literature at the Sorbonne, thus, succeeding Claude Fauriel (who had died on July 15). Indeed, Fauriel’s death meant that if he did not get the position of professor, he might not be allowed to continue in his position as substitute professor. Obviously, obtaining the university chair would, on an economic level, be a great relief for the couple and would ensure their future stability. It was in that context that Frederic wrote the previous words.
Frederic placed every aspect of his life in the hands of God, including his uncertainty with regard to the future. He believed that God was concerned about all of creation, especially about the life of each of his children. In times of trial he also knew that he would not be deceived by God who is infinitely compassionate.
Ozanam, following the example of many others who have had recourse to the Word of God, internalized and based his life on the following scripture verses which invite people to place their confidence in the God of history:
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you”.
“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”
With similar words, Saint Vincent de Paul, in one of his conferences with the Daughters of Charity, encouraged them to trust in Divine Providence:
To have confidence in Providence means that we must hope that God will take care of those who serve him, as a husband takes care of his wife and a father his child. That is how — and even more so — God takes care of us. We have only to abandon ourselves to his guidance … as an infant does to its wet nurse. If she puts the baby on her right arm, the child is quite content; if she moves him to the left one, he does not care; as long as he has her breast, he is satisfied. We must, then, have the same confidence in Divine Providence, since God takes care of all that concerns us, just as a nursing mother takes care of her baby, and a husband his wife. We must, then, abandon ourselves entirely to Providence, as the child abandons itself to the care of its mother, and as a wife puts her trust in the care her husband takes of her possessions and of the entire family. The reason obliging us to trust in God is that we know he is good, that he loves us very tenderly, that he wills our perfection and our salvation, that he takes thought of our souls and bodies, and that he wants to give us whatever we need for the good of both (CCD:X:403-404).
The followers of Jesus Christ know that their whole existence is in the hands of a provident Father who is attentive to their needs and listens to their prayers:
“We are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him”.
I John 5:14.
We may not always achieve what we want or need, but even in the most adverse situations we can trust that everything that happens is part of the divine plan that we can perhaps intuit, but do not know. Jesus Christ asks us to trust the loving Father and encourages us not to worry about things that are perishable. Furthermore, we are invited to work at building up the Kingdom of God on earth, knowing that God is going to take care of us even during times of adversity, suffering or illness
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t lirfe more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?
Pope Francis reflected on this text and stated:
Thinking of the many people who live in precarious conditions, or even in a poverty offensive to their dignity, these words of Jesus could seem abstract, if not illusory. But actually they are relevant, now more than ever! They remind us that you cannot serve two masters: God and wealth. As long as everyone seeks to accumulate for themselves, there will never be justice. We must take heed of this! As long as everyone seeks to accumulate for themselves, there will be no justice. Instead, by entrusting ourselves to God’s providence, and seeking his Kingdom together, no one will lack the necessary means to live with dignity … In order to ensure that no one lacks bread, water, clothing, a home, work, health, we need to recognize that all people are children of the Father who is in Heaven and, therefore, brothers among us, and that we must act accordingly
Angelus, Sunday, March 7, 2014.
Thus, if we trust in divine Providence, then we must act in a manner so that this same providence is extended to all people, especially to those who are most in need. Years later the Pope returned to this same idea that is expressed in the Word of God and in the thinking of Saint Vincent:
The first step in Christian prayer is consigning ourselves to God, to his providence. It is as if to say: “Lord, you know everything; I do not even have to tell you about my pain; I ask only that you be here beside me: You are my hope”. It is interesting to note that, in the Sermon on the Mount, immediately after teaching the words of the “Our Father”, Jesus exhorts us not to be worried or troubled about things. It seems like a contradiction: first he teaches us to ask for daily bread and then he tells us: “Do not be anxious, asking ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Mt 6:31). But the contradiction is only apparent: a Christian’s request expresses trust in the Father; and it is precisely this trust that enables us to ask for what we need without worry or agitation.
General Audience, February 27, 2019.
In the midst of his uncertainty Frederic knew that he could rely on the God of mercy. At times when he was foundering, Frederic was able to place his trust in the God of all people, place his life in the hands of God and accept God’s will even when that will was difficult and incomprehensible. He experienced this in a very real way when, aware that he did not have much more time to live, he wrote his “Prayer from Pisa” and prayed that God might give him time to educate his daughter. Yet even during that time of intense anxiety, Fredric was able to pray and say:
I am the one for whom you ask. It is written at the beginning of the book that I must do your will. And I have said: “I am coming, Lord”. I am coming if you call me and I have no right to complain.
Pisa, April 23, 1853.
At the present time, we live in the midst of serious social and personal problems. Many people can see their own situation reflected in that of Frederic. May his example encourage us to walk through life with confidence, knowing that God is faithful to his promises … even though we may find ourselves unable to understand God’s plans.
Suggestions for personal reflection and group discussion:
- In the midst of complex situations, at times of uncertainty and pain, what does our personal and/or community prayer sound like?
- What message of hope do we communicate to those who experience anxiety, illness or the approach of death?
- How, as Pope Francis counsels us, are we actively building up the kingdom of God, trusting in God’s providence?
 At the end of November 1844, Frederic was named the successor of Claude Fauriel and appointed to the position of professor of Literature at the Sorbonne.