The words of Vincent’s secretary, Brother Robineau invite us to deeper reflection on the manner in which Vincent practiced humility. Here In part two Juan Corpus Delgado CM presents Vincent de Paul, a humble man, from five different perspectives:
- Vincent recognized that all good things come from God and refer back to God.
- Vincent esteemed others more highly than himself.
- Vincent avoided applause and recognition.
- Vincent saw himself as ignorant and as a sinner.
- Vincent the servant.
Vincent’s humility was rooted in his belief in God as the author of everything that is good. God’s goodness is revealed in all the good works of his creatures. Furthermore, recognizing God as God-Love enables individuals to discover their frailty and weakness. You alone, my God, you alone are the Creator of all good. Who, my God, can do anything alone? .
Vincent’s first biographer, Louis Abelly, summarizes this attitude: he states God alone was the author of any good accomplished in the missions, in the activities of the missionaries, and in all the good works they were connected with. All this was done without his having planned it and not knowing where God was leading him (Abelly III:181).
Brother Robineau saw the first manifestation of Vincent’s humility revealed in his reference to God as the founder of the Congregation of the Mission. This holy virtue was first revealed in Vincent when he attributed the establishment of the Company of the Mission to God alone, expressing the belief that he himself played no part in this. Several times he had told us, “It is a work of God; I have had no part in this” .
On several occasions Vincent referred to the establishment of the Congregation as an initiative of God. He also spoke about the foundation of the Company of the Daughters of Charity in a similar manner :
- Who could ever have imaged that this would reach its present state? If anyone had said that to me then, I would have thought he was making fun of me; yet, that was the way God was pleased to give a beginning to what you now see. Eh bien, my dear confreres, would you call human something no one had ever intended? For neither I, nor poor M. Portail ever though of it. Ah, we never thought of it! It was very far from our minds! (CCD:XII:8).
- It may be said in truth that it was God who established your Company. I was thinking about this again today and I said to myself, “Did you ever dream of founding a Company of Sisters? Oh no, not I! Was it Mile Le Gras? Just as little.” I can tell you in all truth that I never thought of it. Who then had the idea of establishing in the Church of God a Company of women and Daughters of Charity wearing ordinary attire? That would not have seemed possible. Yes, I did think about the ones [the Charities] in the parishes, but I can tell you once again that it was God, and not I (CCD:IX:165).
Not only was the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity a work of God, but all the ministries and services of the Missionaries and the Sisters were also works of God.
The ministry of spiritual retreats was a work of God (CCD:XI:142-143). God had entrusted the Missionaries with the ministry of the formation of the clergy (CCD:XI:280-281; see also CCD:XI:7-8). God blessed the popular missions and allowed them to be fruitful: …if any good is accomplished during the missions, it is He who does it, and He has no need of our reputation to touch and convert hearts (CCD:V:486).
All the accomplishments of the Daughters of Charity were the work of God: Just consider for a moment whether the establishment of those poor Sisters isn’t a work of God. I have received three or four letters this week from various places in the kingdom asking me for those poor Sisters … Now what’s that my dear confreres? Isn’t is a work of God? Quoi! poor, weak village girls, and most of them uncultured! And yet, see how they are being asked for from all sides! (CCD:XII:19-20; see also CCD:XII:34-35).
Healing from an illness (CCD:VI:37-40; see also CCD:XII:26-27), the presence of some good missionaries (CCD:VII:31-32), the privilege of being dedicated to serving the poor (CCD:XII:224-225) and even one’s defects which are signs that the Master’s work is not yet completed (CCD:XI:119) …. all of these realities come from God.
Affirming God’s goodness led Vincent to highlight his own nothingness and the nothingness and insignificance of the institutions he established: O Savior, who are we that you deign to make use of us? … You come from poor people, so there’s good reason for admiration to see that, from all eternity, God thought of doing what we see … What a motive for thanking God for placing you in this Company! A holy man, speaking to me one day about your Motherhouse, said, “M. Vincent, how happy they are in that house! They live there in peace.” Oh! Don’t be surprised at that, since the fabric of which it’s composed is poor people. For that’s how the Church began. All the Apostles were poor men, they knew nothing, went barefoot and didn’t wear linen. Nevertheless, what did they not do with the grace Our Lord gave them! They converted the whole world. What a grace, Sisters that in forming your Company, God willed to use the same fabric he used to save the whole world! 
As Vincent contemplated God’s goodness, he discovered and professed his own unworthiness … fearing that he was an obstacle and impeded the on-going manifestations of God’s goodness:
- O Monsieur, how the abominations of my life grieve me at the sight of this mercy from God on the Company(CCD:II:287).
- How many open doors to serve Our Lord … and that the abominations of my life may not make the Company unworthy of this grace (CCD:V:180).
Affirming God as the author of all good led Vincent to distrust himself as well as distrust his feelings and desires:Remember that you and I are subject to a thousand outbursts of nature and recall what I told you about finding myself, in the early stages of the project of the Mission, with it constantly on my mind. That made me wonder whether the affair sprang from nature or from the evil spirit, and I purposely made a retreat in Soissons so that God might be pleased to remove from my mind the pleasure and eagerness I was experiencing in this matter. God was pleased to answer my prayer in such a manner that, by His mercy, He took them both away and allowed me to be in the opposite dispositions … I think that, if God is granting some blessing to the Mission and I am less a subject of scandal to it, I attribute it after God to this fact. I wish to remain in this practice of neither concluding nor undertaking anything while I am caught up in these ardent hopes at the prospect of great benefits (CCD:II:278).
Affirming God as the author of everything good enabled prayers of thanksgiving to flow from Vincent’s heart and also made him faithful to the blessings that he had received: Most Honored Father then knelt down and said, “Blessed are You, my God, for the graces You are giving the members of this little Company. Please continue to grant them, my God, and don’t permit them to abuse them by glorying in them; but rather give them the grace to humble themselves in proportion as You raise them up, admiring Your power of working so many wonders in such lowly subjects”(CCD:IX:464)
This affirmation of God as the author of all that is good and Vincent’s belief that good should be viewed as coming from God alone led Vincent to discover that there is nothing extraordinary in exercising the ministries that God entrusted to the Congregation: Are you really aware that we are worse than the demons? Yes, worse than the demons! For, if God had given them one-tenth of the graces he has given us, mon Dieu, what use would they not have made of them? … Let us look very carefully into ourselves; and, when we have done all we should, let us conclude that we are useless servants, yes, useless servants; let us remember that, after our actions have been carefully examined with regard to their essence, their qualities, and their circumstances, we will see that we have done nothing worthwhile in our entire life. If we want to see this truth more deeply, let us look at how we made our meditation this morning, how we prayed the Little Hours, how we spent the morning, and so on for the rest of the day. Let us go back to other days, please, and examine all our actions before God and how we carried them our(CCD:XII:287).
Finally, Vincent also expressed this affirmation of God as the author of all good in his humble attitude during prayer:When he prayed, he did so with such prostration and humble posture, and showed such a marvelous submission and dependence on God, that everyone was edified with it. For myself in particular, I admit that many times I was touched and moved to do the same .
In Vincent’s correspondence we encounter distinguished individuals from the upper ranks of society. At various times these persons wrote to Vincent seeking advice. Vincent’s responses are filled with expressions of respect, deference and esteem (see, CCD:IV:178-179).
This esteem for others is especially obvious when Vincent wrote to different persons to acknowledge and/or express his gratitude for the benefits that these individuals bestowed upon the Company or some of its members (see, CCD:VII:98, 184; VIII:75, 538).
Because of his esteem for others, Vincent spontaneously yielded to his confreres and professed his unworthiness to the Daughters of Charity ; he asked his confreres to yield the pulpit to a Capuchin … because our maxim and custom is to yield the pulpit to whoever comes to a place where we are working. This is based on what Our Lord teaches implicitly: “If anyone asks for your cloak, give him your coat as well,” and he practiced this .
Together with this esteem and respect for others, Vincent refrained from defending himself … an action which involved not revealing less favorable aspects of an adversary or discrediting an individual. On one occasion a magistrate in Parliament had stated that the Missionaries at Saint-Lazare did not preach popular missions. When a confrere suggested that Vincent defend himself he responded: Let him be. I will never justify myself except by works (CCD:XII:396). On another occasion¸ a priest, who died soon after, spread the rumor that M. Vincent had had a benefice bestowed on someone in return for a library and a large sum of money. M. Vincent took his pen to justify himself, but after reflecting on it said, “O you wretched man! What are you thinking? Quoi, you want to justify yourself, and here we have just heard of a Christian falsely accused in Tunis, who suffered torments for three days and finally died without uttering a word of complaint, although he was innocent of the crime of which he was accused. And you want to excuse yourself? Oh no, it shall not be so!” (CCD:XII:397). Some people were spreading the rumor that Cardinal Mazarin had married Anne of Austria and that Vincent had presided over the ceremony. Brother Robineau, who became aware of this rumor, pointed out Vincent’s patience who without any further reference to this rumor simply stated: this is as false as the devil .
Louis Abelly describes another event that took place at Court: On another occasion he prevented the king from appointing an unfit person to a bishopric. His action caused the man’s relatives to be most resentful. They then invented a calumny against him, adding just enough detail to convince the court of the truth of the charge. These things came to the ear of the queen, who at the first opportunity asked him, smiling, if he knew what people were saying. He replied quietly: “Madame, I am a great sinner.” When Her Majesty retorted that he ought to justify himself, he replied: “Such things and more were said against our Lord, and he never justified himself” (Abelly III:191).
Vincent did not defend himself. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to prostrate himself before the feet of the former prior of Saint-Lazare to ask forgiveness for the inconveniences (real or imagined) that the Missionaries had caused. During the June 20th, 1647 council meeting of the Daughters of Charity, Vincent referred to this and said: Alas, Sisters! I had to go throw myself at his feet, ask pardon for everyone who had displeased him, and take the blame once again. He would calm down, and then, on another occasion, it would begin all over again. I think he saw me at his feet over fifty times .
The humble attitude of Vincent de Paul, which led him to esteem others more than himself, did not however make him complicit with regard to injustice. Humility is not weakness. An influential individual in the Court reproached Vincent for his persistent opposition to the conferral of an ecclesiastical benefice on one of his relatives (a person who was clearly unworthy of said position). Vincent calmly responded to this individual: Monsieur, I know that I owe you respect but thanks be to God you do not have power over my conscience . The tenderness of humility is not opposed to fidelity to God and does not bow to human respect.
Vincent’s humility was also revealed in his reaction to praise and gestures of recognition that were directed toward him. Rather than feeling complemented, he was embarrassed and felt the need to point out his own defects of character .
He was embarrassed and tortured when someone praised him . During the February 29th, 1658 council meeting of the Daughters of Charity, the Sister expressed their pleasure in listening to Vincent’s words and viewed his words as an expression of God’s will: Most Honored Father in his great humility was very surprised at this; in his usual manner he began to speak in terms of very great disregard for himself saying: “I am a miserable sinner who only spoils everything. If there is any fault in the Company, I am the cause of it.” Then he became very quiet and his silence and recollection made us clearly understand that we had greatly embarrassed him* (CCD:XIIIb:359-360).
When Vincent received letters from people who sought advice or who expressed their gratitude, Vincent would blush with embarrassment and felt obliged to respond by pointing out his own stupidity and lack of formation. Some excerpts from his letter provide us with examples of this:
- I blush with shame, Monseigneur, every time I read the last letter you did me the honor of writing [to] me, and even every time I think of it, seeing to what an extent you, Excellency, have humbled yourself before a poor swineherd by birth and a wretched old man full of sins (CCD:VIII:383).
- I am embarrassed, Madame, that you are consulting a poor priest like me, since you are aware of my poverty of mind and my miseries (CCD:V:178-179).
- I received with all possible respect and submission your letter which was filled with the exceptional sentiments of deference and benevolence you profess in my regard. I was deeply embarrassed by it, seeing how far I am from the eminent qualities you, in the goodness of your heart, attribute to me, without my ever having done anything to deserve it. What indeed is there to praise, I ask you, in a man lacking everything, and whose father was a poor farmer? (CCD:VII:617; see also V:341-343).
Louis Abelly (Abelly III:182) and H. Maupas du Tour  point out another manifestation of Vincent’s humility: when Vincent took up residence in Paris he did not want to called “de Paul” so as not to be confused with someone who was a member of some noble family. Brother Robineau correctly points out that it was at the time of the foundation of the Company that Vincent wanted to be called by his name, “Monsieur Vincent” … as one would say Monsieur Pierre or Monsieur Jacques .
On several occasions Vincent rejected outward signs of reverence and praise and recognition:
• Even though this was a practice in other communities, Vincent would not allow the Missionaries to make some exterior sign of reverence toward him when they passed in from of him in chapel: I am well aware of that and we have to respect their reasons for doing so, but I have much stronger ones for not allowing it in my regard, I, who ought not to be compared to the least of men since I am the worst of all .
• He rejected the idea of having a book dedicated to him: But what are you telling me, Monsieur, when you inform me that you have dedicated a book to me? If you had reflected that I am the son of a poor plowman, you would not have given me this embarrassment, nor done you book the injustice of putting on its title page the name of a poor priest who has no other renown that his wretchedness and sin. In the name of Our Lord, Monsieur, if this work is still at a stage where it could be dedicated to someone else, do not burden me with this obligation (CCD:III:121).
• During the repetition of prayer a Brother stated that he had not taken advantage of the good example of M. Vincent:Vincent let that go, but after the repetition he said, “Brother, it is a practice among us never to praise anyone in his presence” stating further that he was truly a wonder, but a wonder of malice, more wicked than the devil and that the devil had not merited being in hell as much as he did. And he added that he was not exaggerating .
• Vincent refused to allow a tapestry to be hung in Saint Joseph’s Hall where he received visitors. He also refused to have curtains hung around his bed . • A man visited Vincent, bringing him some verses that he had written in praise of him. This man began to read them in his presence, but as soon as Vincent realized that they were about him, he left the room immediately .
• When Vincent visited some distinguished individual and said person desired to accompany him to the door when he was leaving, Vincent would attempt to deter this by recalling the fact that he was the son of a poor plowman .
• As superior of the community he wanted no other title: I am the son of a plowman; I was brought up on country food and now that I am Superior of the Mission, would I want to delude myself and be treated like a gentleman? Let us remember where we come from, Sisters, and we will find that we have good reason to praise God (CCD:X:275).
• It seems that on more than one occasion he rejected ecclesiastical honors (Abelly III:184).
• He saw the Missionaries, the local communities and the Congregation as unworthy of the benefits and services that were bestowed upon them (CCD:VII:326ff.).
• With a certain pleasure Vincent affirmed that among his relatives there was no individual who held a distinguished rank (CCD:V:398). Vincent saw no virtue in his own behavior (CCD:V:340; IV:173) and did not feel that he was able to help others (CCD:IV:378-379; V:581).
• He asked for nothing for himself, but rather he was always ready to deprive himself of everything (Abelly III:183).
• Despite the requests of Mesdames Goussault and de Lamoignon, Vincent would not allow his portrait to be painted.Therefore, we had to have an artist come here secretly some years before his death. He went to a great deal of trouble and spent much time ensuring that he was not seen or recognized by Monsieur Vincent as being an artist. We placed the artist in places from which he could see Monsieur Vincent. He had the opportunity of observing Monsieur when he officiated in the church on solemn feast days, when he said Holy Mass, during meals while he was seated in the dining room and finally at the end of his life when he heard Holy Mass since he could no longer celebrate because of his illness. Then when he had thus observed him, he went to a private room where he worked. In this way, little by little, his portrait was made .
Among the expressions of Vincent’s humility we mention here his habit of attributing good to others or the Community rather than pointing to himself (CCD:II:566; see also Abelly III:185-186). He stated: I am delighted that God works his marvels without me, who am only a wretched man (CCD:XII:395). He had a habitual attitude of concealing his gifts and activities and all he had undertaken for the good of others. He did this to such an extent that even members of his own Congregation knew only a fraction of the good works he had been involved with (Abelly III:182).
In the presence of the Missionaries Vincent accused himself of vain satisfaction … He had allowed the Ladies of Charity to speak about all the good that Brother Jean Parré was doing in the areas of Champagne and Picary and noted that Madame Talon had stated: If the Brothers of the Mission are so successful in doing the good we have just heard, what will the priests not do! (CCD:XI:307). Remembering what had occurred Vincent said: That, my dear confreres, is what caused me, wretch that I am, to give in to that self-satisfaction I have just mentioned to you, instead of referring it all to God, from whom all good comes (CCD:XI:307).
H. Maupas du Tour testified that Vincent always looked for ways to present himself as the least of all . Louis Abelly states: He took every occasion to abase himself, to lessen himself in the esteem of others as fas as he was able (Abelly III:182). A. Dodín has found 105 expression of Vincent’s humility in the more than eight thousand pages of document that have preserved (letters, conferences, documents) . These expressions of humility were spontaneously spoken when Vincent saw that certain individuals wanted to recognize or praise his initiatives, accomplishments or virtue .
Vincent considered himself to be unworthy of the responsibilities that he had been entrusted with:
• He considered himself unworthy to be the superior of the Company: …I embrace the entire house in spirit with a heart filled with the realization of unworthiness to serve them in the position I hold, and yet, filled with affection … .
• He signed official correspondence using the phrase “unworthy superior of the Congregation. When signing public documents that were written by others, he added the word “unworthy” to the title “superior of the Mission” .
• He considered himself unworthy to be a member of the Council of Conscience: I ask God that I may be regarded as a simpleton, which I am, so as not to have to continue in this type of commission, and that I may have greater leisure to do penance, and give less bad example to our Little Company (CCD:XII:397).
• He was unable to make precise references to texts from the Scriptures and asked his confreres to help him complete such biblical citations (see, CCD:XI:156-157, XII:13-15, 157-158, 193-194).
• Vincent felt that he had not done anything that was good: I do not know how it is with others, but for myself I know that I deserve to be punished; I know you are good, that you love God, you are sincere and that you walk rightly before his Divine Majesty; but in myself, alas, I see nothing but what merits punishment. All my actions are nothing but sins and that is what makes me fear God’s judgments (CCD:XII:287).
• He even felt unworthy to eat the food that was placed before him. When he entered the dining room he would think: O poor man what have you done today to go drink and eat? Have you earned the bread and the meat that you are going to eat?.
• Vincent regarded himself as truly ignorant. An individual who was an ardent believer in Jansenism spoke with Vincent to convince him of his errors. Unable to do this, he began to criticize Vincent and became angry, called him ignorant and stated he could not understand how Vincent could be the superior general of the Congregation. Vincent humbled himself and responded that he also did not understand how he could be superior general because I am even more ignorant than you know (Abelly III:186)
On various occasions Vincent referred to his humble origins in order to convince some individuals who were speaking with him that he was unworthy and lacking in virtue. The following accounts have been gathered together by Louis Abelly (CCD:XII:394; Abelly III:186-187). To a poor woman who said to him, “My Lord, give me some alms!” M. Vincent replied, “My poor woman, you don’t know me very well. I’m a poor pig farmer, the son of a poor villager.” … A poor woman who met him at the door as he was saying good-bye to some visitors of rank begged him for alms, saying she had been the servant of “Madame, his mother.” “My good woman,” M. Vincent replied, “you mistake me for someone else. My mother never had a servant; she was a servant herself, and was the wife and I the son, of a peasant.” … When a young man, who was a relative of a priest of the Company, declined to sit beside M. Vincent and kept his head covered out of respect for him, M. Vincent said to him, “Why, Monsieur, do you find it hard to sit next to a swineherd and the son of a peasant? (CCD:XII:394-395).
In the conferences to the Daughters of Charity Vincent spontaneously referred to his peasant origins: It will be very easy for me to speak to you about the virtues of good village girls because I know them by experience and by nature since I am the son of a humble tiller of the soil and lived in the country until I was fifteen .
From Vincent’s correspondence and his conferences to the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity we could compose a true anthology of expressions of humility: here I am taking up space uselessly, ut quid terram occupo (so that I am cluttering up the ground (CCD:XII:384); I am the poorest and most useless of your servants ; a reprobate and the greatest sinner of the universe (CCD:XII:394); I am a great sinner (CCD:I:121); the greatest sinner on earth (CCD:VIII:267); I am the most unworthy of all men and worse than Judas toward Our Lord (CCD:VII:611); a wretched man ; I, a wretched man … a scandal to everyone, not only to you (CCD:XI:354); I am the only one who is a miserable sinner, who does only harm on earth (CCD:I:500); the most wretched of all sinners in the world(CCD:II:621); this poor wretch and the greatest of all sinners ; this wretched man who is speaking to you now(CCD:XII:111); the most frail and miserable of all men ; the most abominable and despicable sinner in the world(CCD:V:370); I have more faults than anyone else (CCD:VIII:169); the most wicked of the Vincents and of all men in the world (CCD:II:232); worse than the devil (CCD:X:352); the most human and least spiritual of men (CCD:IV:552);this wretch … the most ignorant and wretched member of the Company ; the most ignorant, most abominable of men (CCD:VI:294); I, the harshest and least gentle of men (CCD:IX:221); an ignoramus, a student of the fourth form; I am a poor, wretched, fourth level student (CCD:XII:238); I am a nitwit (CCD:IV:55); poor keeper of pigs(CCD:XII:242); I … the most uncouth, the most ridiculous, the most stupid of men among these persons of rank to whom I could not say six consecutive words without letting it be seen that I have neither wit nor judgment … what is worse, I have no virtue ; I am a poor plowman and a swineherd and, what is worse, the most abominable and detestable of all the sinners in the world ; wretched man, vile person that I am … a beggar, a swineherd, riding in a carriage (CCD:XII:19); a wretched keeper of pigs, piling up fault upon fault every day by my bad habits and by my ignorance, which is so great that I hardly know what I am saying (CCD:XII:220); a beggar, a wretch .
When Vincent referred to the Congregation of the Mission or the Company of the Daughters of Charity he used very humble expression: what makes you look to our Little Company for we are nothings but poor folk (CCD:XII:395); this Little Company (CCD:I:406); this poor Little Company (CCD:II:230); it is the least in the Church of God and the most insignificant of all Companies (CCD:XI:104); this Little Company … if we can call a Company a fistful of men of lowly birth, learning, and virtue, the dregs, the sweepings and the rejects of the world (CCD:XI:2); poor beggars of the Mission (CCD:VIII:254); who are we to be on the mind of the greatest Queen in the world, poor, weak creatures — or, to put it better, beggars — that we are! Yes, Sisters, that is what we are, both you and I (CCD:X:2); simple country women, swineherds as I was, we should never presume on our own strength (CCD:IX:14); you are poor country girls, children of plowmen, like myself (CCD:IX:529); poor village girls and daughters of workmen .
Vincent’s awareness of his sinfulness led him to view himself as the cause of all that afflicted the Company, the local community, and the various ministries. He attributed all the failures in the house and in the Company to his own sinfulness:
- I am afraid of spoiling the affair by my wretchedness. However, I shall not go into detail. Our Lord will make up for what is lacking in me, if he so pleases .
- I fear that my sins may make me unworthy of procuring any relief .
- I have often told the Company, Monsieur, that no ill comes to it except through my fault. The difficulty being encountered in that mission makes this clear enough, and I ask your pardon for that, prostrate in spirit at your feet and those of the men who are with you (CCD:VII:20).
- We will await with great joy the good Officialis of Poznan. I am very much afraid that my stupidity and our boorishness may disedify him (CCD:VII:92).
- If we have failed in that, it is due to my wretchedness. I ask God to forgive me for it, wretched man that I am(CCD:XII:235).
Because Vincent saw himself as a sinner and the cause of all the evil that occurred in the Company, he asked for forgiveness on more than one occasion:
• Louis Abelly assures us that on several occasions when Vincent was living at the Collѐge des Bons-Enfants, he knelt down before seven or eight Missionaries who then composed the community. He admitted in their presence the gravest sins of his past life. He also had the custom, on the anniversary of his baptism, of kneeling before the community to ask God’s pardon for all the sins he had committed during the time the divine Goodness had allowed him to spend on earth. He would beg the Company to pardon the scandal he may have caused and to pray to God for his mercy (Abelly III:187-188)
• Monsieur Vincent asked pardon of Alexandre Véronne in front of his Assistant: You should know, Monsieur that this good Brother came all the way to Richelieu to help me and I was not as welcoming as I had usually been. I most humbly ask his pardon in your presence and I ask you to pray that God may grant me the grace of no longer committing similar faults (CCD:XII:396).
• Once Vincent suggested to one of the brothers of the house at Saint Lazare to give lodging to a poor person passing through. The brother opposed the idea with reasons and hesitations. Monsieur Vincent felt he had to speak more firmly to have him carry out his orders, but later his humility caused him some remorse. He went to the garden, where some older priests of the Congregation were gathered, to ask pardon of the Company for the scandal he continued to give, and which he only recently had given in speaking rudely to a brother of the poultry yard. One of the priests who was present for this humiliation added: What he did was known to everyone. That same evening, however, I went to his room as was my custom, after the community’s general examination of conscience. I saw him kissing the feet of that brother (Abelly III:188).
• Brother Robineau tells us that during chapter Vincent knelt down and publically asked for forgiveness for having spoken in anger on two occasions; in the presence of several confreres he asked for their forgiveness for having judged them wrongly; he also asked forgiveness of M. Portail and M. Blondel for having interrupted them while they were speaking during common recreation . Vincent not only humbled himself and asked for forgiveness for the faults that he believed he had committed against the Company in general and against each member of the Congregation in particular, but he also knelt before the laity and even though they were not family or relatives, he asked for their forgiveness for the faults he had committed .
• On numerous occasions, as Vincent share his reflections with the Community on various themes, he would pause and ask forgiveness of his confreres:
Oh wretched man that I am! I have been studying this lesson so long and have still not learned it! I lose my temper, I change, I complain, I find fault. Just this evening I berated the Brother at door who came to tell me that someone was asking for me, saying to him, “Mon Dieu, Brother! What are you doing? I told you I did not want to speak to anyone.” I pray that God — and that Brother — will forgive me! At other times I am very brusque with some of them and speak loudly and harshly. I have not yet learned to be gentle. Oh, wretched man that I am! I entreat the Company to put up with me and to forgive me (CCD:XII:154-155; see also CCD:XI:325-326, 344-345, XII:32-33).
Last Friday I gave the Company reason to be scandalized because I was shouting so loud and clapping my hands that it seemed like I was annoyed with someone; that is why I ask pardon of the Company for this (CCD:XI:236).
O wretched man that I am! What poor use have I not made of the sickness and of the minor inconveniences God has been pleased to send me! How many acts of impatience have I committed, wretch that I am, and what scandal have I not given to those who have seen me acting like that! Help me, brothers, to ask God’s forgiveness for having made such poor use of my little discomforts as I have done in the past and for the grace to make good use in the future of those it may please his Divine Majesty to send me in my old age and in the little time I have left to live on earth(CCD:XII:29).
Then, recollecting himself, he reflected: O you wretch! You are an old man like those people; small things seem big to you and difficulties frighten you. Yes, Messieurs, just getting up in the morning seems a great affair to me and the slightest inconveniences appear insurmountable. So then, there will be small-minded men, people like myself, who will try to cut back the practices and ministries of the Company (CCD:XII82).
Now, my dear confreres, we’re guilty of what I’ve just mentioned. What did I say, that everyone was guilty! There’s some excuse for everyone; I, wretched man, am the only one who has sinned for not having seen that this Rule was in vigor among us. I’m the only one answerable before God for all the sins and failings committed in the divine service because, in my wretchedness, I wasn’t steadfast in seeing that things were observed according to what the Rule prescribed. Pray to Our Lord for me, Messieurs that He may forgive me. But how has this happened? I repeat, it’s because of my negligence, and I’m very well aware that, if God didn’t have pity on me, and if He treated me according to my sins, I’ d have to suffer torments in hell on that account. Let’s tell the truth: at Saint-Lazare we don’t keep that Rule at all; it seems as if it isn’t made for us; off we go, some in this direction, some in the other, to say our Office in private — as if we weren’t obliged to say it in common. Who’s guilty of that, Messieurs? It’s this miserable man, who would get down on his knees if he could — you’ll excuse my infirmities. So then, we have fallen. Or sus, may the Divine Majesty be pleased to put us back on our feet again! (CCD:XII:269-270)
• In his conferences to the Daughters of Charity we find further testimony of the forgiveness that Vincent requested as a result of his failings:
Most Honored Father let us see his very profound humility on this point by telling us something we didn’t know. He said he had committed a fault in regard to a Brother, who was reporting some business matter to him. “I spoke sharply to him,” he said, “and other persons could hear it. I think M. Portail was present.” He repeated the same thing two or three times to give M. Portail the opportunity to say that he had been there, but M. Portail didn’t say a single word. On the following day, M. Vincent went on, when the same Brother was taking care of business with me, I spoke to him sharply again. I recognized my fault when I was examining my conscience, and in full chapter I knelt down and said, “I ask your pardon for having spoken sharply to you,” and I asked him to ask God to forgive me(CCD:IX:451-452).
I recommend it very often to our men, and I also recommend it to you for everything; for there is not anyone who does not need forbearance (CCD:X:388).
• In a letter date October 29, 1654, Vincent asked Mother Marie-Catherine de Glétain to enter into solidarity with him in asking pardon of God: For more than thirty years I have had the honor of serving your houses in this city, but, alas! dear Mother, I, who should have made great progress in virtue at the sight of incomparably holy souls, am none the better for all that. … I entreat you most humbly to help me ask pardon of God for the poor use I have made of all His graces .
• He asked the missionaries to join together and ask God to forgive him his sins:
… while in your retreat you have sent several of them to heaven to obtain mercy for me for the abominations of my life (CCD:II:314).
… I shall end by recommending you to pray for the infinite number of abominations in my life, so that it may please his mercy to have pity on me (CCD:II:455)
• Vincent’s recognition of his sinfulness became at one and the same time a prayer of repentance and a prayer of trust:
I entreat you to ask God to pardon me all the abominations of my past life and particularly this last year .
I ask God with all my heart, Sisters, to forgive you your failings. And I, wretched man that I am, don’t keep my own Rules, and I ask you to forgive me for this! I’m very guilty in your regard in what concerns your work. Please ask God to have mercy on me. For my part, I’ll ask Our Lord Jesus Christ to give you himself His holy blessing, and I won’t say the words of it today because the faults I’ve committed in your regard make me unworthy of it. I ask Our Lord to be the one to do it .
O my God, what an account I will have to give you for so many things that are not being done through my fault(CCD:XI:326; see also, CCD:XI:352-353, XII:18-19, 205-207).
If there is anyone who needs this, it is the wretched man who is speaking to you now; I fall, I relapse, I often let my mind wander and I rarely enter into myself again. I pile up fault upon fault; that is the miserable life I lead and the bad example I give. Then, recollecting himself, M. Vincent added: O you Pitiful man! You have such an obligation to lead an interior life and here you are in the state of falling and relapsing! May God forgive me for this! (CCD:XII:111).
O my Savior, you who will accuse me of all me harshness and who know there is almost no temptation to which I have not yielded forgive me, grant me and the other Superiors the grace of listening carefully to admonitions and to give them in Your spirit. What good reason I have to humble myself for having failed so much in this, and to ask pardon of you and of the whole Company for it! I’d like to be able to get down on my knees to do this, but my infirmity prevents me. So, bear with me, my dear confreres, since I am an abomination, and pray to God for me (CCD:XII:296-297).
Brother Robineau has communicated to us Vincent’s manner of acting in dealing with the Missionaries. He always used the word “pierre” (to ask) when he wanted someone to do something, no matter what it was, even the littlest thing. He used to say “Sir or my Brother I ask you pleased to do this or to go here or there,” and he never issued words of command, at least I do not ever recall having noticed this, although I had the honor of being with him and of speaking with him very often from 1647 on until his death, except for one time when he ordered me to do something. At present, I do not recall why nor what the issue was .
Vincent did not hesitate to take the last place: When a mission was given in Saint Lazare for the poor, he sometimes taught the catechism lessons. The place he chose to hear the confessions of these poor folk was at the back of the church, at the door used to exist the church and go out to the street, since it was the most abject place, the last, and the most uncomfortable .
I have several times seen him in the kitchen where put on an apron and washed the dishes with our brothers who were there . When he was at table for dinner, he wanted to be served only after the two poor men who were present. When it happened several times that the servers came to him bringing a soup or a plate before the poor, he made a sign that the poor should be served first .
During meals he sat at the first place he found and among the others … even at the penance table .
I have often seen him serving at Holy Mass in our church at Saint-Lazare as if he were just a simple cleric, whereas he was in truth the institutor and general of the Company and a venerable old men in his seventies .
When speaking with the poor, he would remove his hat and speak with people in a gentle and respectful manner. When poor persons visited him, he had them sit down next to him and spoke to them with happiness, goodness and humility .
During the Fronde Vincent took his turn with the other Missionaries in guarding the house: during the troubles in Paris, he took his turn on the watch, making the rounds like the others during the night in order to guard the house.
He ceded precedence to others, especially other priests .
While retaining for himself all that was painful, he would not accept any of the honors and titles going with the office(Abelly, III:192).
Because of his physical condition Vincent began to use a carriage when traveling … he referred to his as his Infamy and would invite those who were accompanying him to enter the carriage before him .
The minutes of the First General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission, which was held in 1642, refer to Vincent’s willingness and his acceptance (in a spirit of obedience and service) of continued service as superior of the Congregation: At the end, M. Vincent de Paul, Superior General of the Congregation, after having represented to the Assembly how incapable he felt to lead it, earnestly begged the members, in all humility, on his knees, to elect another Superior General. The Assembly responded that it could not elect another Superior during the lifetime of the one whom God in His goodness had elected for them. After a few other entreaties, he accepted, declaring that this was the first act of obedience he thought he was rendering to the Assembly, and he begged the members to help him by their prayers. The Assembly not only promised to do this, but even to renew the profession of obedience they had made to him .
To be concluded…
Tags: CM, Congregation of the Mission, Vincent