"This is my belief, this is my experience" - Faith as an experience of Saint Vincent

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Santiago Barquín, CM

(This article first appeared in, La Experiencia Espiritual de San Vicente de Paúl [XXXV Semana de Estudios Vicencianos], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2011, p. 333-396).


Introduction

I have accepted the theme in the manner that it was given to me and I have not made any changes. I am unsure, however, about my interpretation and formulation of the theme. I hope that I do not stray from the main point and therefore disappoint you in this regard … but then if I should fail in this matter, you are the ones who will inform me about this: first, the director of this Vincentian week of study; second, those listening and those who will read this presentation.

I do not pretend to present here a thesis or a detailed study of Vincent’s faith or his human and Christian experience as a believer. Rather I intend to present that which Vincent’s faith and experience suggest to me as a result of some personal information that Vincent himself offers … and I will contrast this information with a passage from the gospel of Saint Mark.

During an on-going formation session Father Benito Martínez spoke about these words of Vincent de Paul: this is my faith, this is my experience (CCD:II:316). This phrase, he said, expresses two types of arguments that the Saint used to reinforce the truth of his statement: one divine, an argument from faith, and the other human, an argument from human experience that was obtained throughout the course of his life [1]. But are these simply two arguments to strengthen the truth of his words? Does not one argument imply the other and therefore are these not two views of the same reality?

I do not pretend to describe with exactness that which we call faith or the distinct manners of belief that we discover in the person, life and thought of Vincent de Paul. This would be too much to suppose. Others offer us answers to all of this and so we simply refer to those individuals [2]. I am not attempting to develop a doctrinal treatise on this theme. Recently a Vincentian Missionary has published a study that provides us with insight into this matter … this work should be consulted [3]. Here I am going to reflect out loud about that which led Vincent de Paul to mature in his faith and to practice his faith through a series of charitable activities.


Such is my belief and such is my experience

Antonio Orcajo, in his study on the spirituality of Saint Vincent de Paul [4], affirms the following: Saint Vincent de Paul frequently refers to his faith and experience [5]. Then he immediately adds: The doctrine that Vincent shares is the fruit of having lived a life rooted in the gospels and the experiences obtained as a result of having lived such a life. Distinct from other teachers whose point of reference was a well-formulated doctrine that was not necessarily lived, Vincent begins with activities that he engaged in, trails that he overcame, and experiences that enriched his faith [6].

That which Vincent taught and transmitted to his followers had its origins in a life rooted in the gospel and the experiences of his life. Those realities were not learned in some school nor formulated into some theory. Therefore we can say that Vincent acted in a manner that was distinct from other masters of traditional spirituality. Vincent lived and practiced what he later taught and communicated: trials, sufferings, experiences of every type … all enriching and providing his faith with a deeper meaning.

I am not going to mention here all the references that were pointed out in footnote #5. I will only recall one that I consider clear, significant and precise with regard to the subject of our reflection. In this citation we find the phrase (according to the Spanish [English] translation of the works of Saint Vincent de Paul) that I have used at the beginning of this section, a phrase that is different from the title of this presentation. I refer to a letter that Vincent wrote to Bernard Codoing, a Vincentian Missionary and, at that time, superior of the local community in Rome. This letter was written in 1642 and I include here the complete text of that letter that has been passed on to us. The plan that you put before me of going to begin your mission on the estates of the Cardinals seems a human one to me and contrary to Christian simplicity. O Monsieur, may God preserve us from doing anything from such base motives! His Divine Goodness asks that we never do good in any place to make ourselves look important, but that we always consider Him directly, immediately, and without intermediary in all our actions. This gives me the opportunity to request two things of you, prostrate in spirit at your feet and for the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ: the first, that you avoid as far as possible putting yourself forward; and the second, that you never do anything out of human respect. In conformity with this, it is just in every way that you should honor for some time the hidden life of Our Lord. There is a certain treasure enclosed therein, since the Son of God remained thirty years on earth as a poor artisan before He manifested Himself. He also always blesses humble beginnings much more than those accompanied by a lot of show. You will say to me perhaps: what will this court think of us and what will they say about us in Paris? Monsieur, let people think and say whatever they wish. Rest assured that the maxims of Jesus Christ and the examples of His life are not misleading; they produce their fruit in due time. Anything not in conformity with them is vain and everything turns out badly for one who acts according to the contrary maxims. Such is my belief and such is my experience. In the name of God, Monsieur, hold that as infallible and keep yourself well hidden (CCD:II:315-316) [7].

The expression, such is my belief and such is my experience, is not an isolated phrase or an idea disconnected from the life and the thought of Vincent de Paul. The letter that I have cited provides us with a specific context which enables us to understand the meaning of Vincent’s words. What does the letter express? What is the letter suggesting? We do not know the content of the letter that Monsieur Codoing wrote to Vincent, but in this letter, which is Vincent’s response, he reproduced the information and the proposals that he, as superior, had presented. Vincent rejected such plans because they contradicted the life of faith and the experience of Vincent as well as that of the Congregation of the Mission.

The proposal to provide popular missions on the estates of the cardinals in Rome (according to the motive that was offered to undertake said ministry) seems [to be] a human [motivation] and is also contrary to Christian simplicity. Why does Vincent view this proposal as too human and contrary to Christian simplicity? Because the motive behind offering these missions is none other than to make ourselves look important. For Vincent this was a very human motivation … it was a very base and worldly motive. Furthermore, such a plan did not take into consideration God directly, immediately and without intermediary. What is even worse, said plan was proposed with hidden intentions. According to Vincent, Bernard Codoing was acting precipitously and was motivated by fame, prestige and success … all of which would make him noticed. Yes, to be motivated in this manner is human but it is not in accord with the teachings or the example of Jesus Christ. Therefore it is most important that individuals become aware of, learn and follow Jesus’ teachings. Indeed, it is very clear that the maxims of Jesus and the examples of his life will never mislead us, but will produce their fruit in due time. Finally, everything that does not conform to this principle is vain and everything turns out badly for one who acts according to the contrary maxims.

At first sight it can appear that Vincent was harshly reprimanding his representative in Rome. Nevertheless, we can see that the tone of this letter is very gentle … much love and affection and tenderness is expressed. The letter reveals a father’s love as he corrects his young son with tenderness and firmness so that he learns the path of a Christian’s life and faith. Like a good father and teacher, Vincent wrote to Monsieur Codoing and offered his counsel with the humility and simplicity that characterized his whole life. He said: This gives me the opportunity to request two things of you, prostrate in spirit at your feet and for the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Vincent, motivated by that love which all people have received from Jesus Christ, requested two things of Bernard Codoing and, speaking figuratively, knelt before him with complete humility and with no pretension of superiority … thus in a loving fatherly manner Vincent offered his counsel.

What are these two requests? The first request is to avoid, as far as possible, putting yourself forward and the second request is to never do anything out of human respect, that is, do not act in order to please other people or to satisfy those human inclinations that are nourished by selfishness, pride, arrogance and vanity. Vincent also stated his reasons and arguments in words that were based on the gospel and faith. It is necessary that you should honor for some time the hidden life of Our Lord since in that hidden life there is a certain treasure enclosed. Jesus himself lived in this way and remained thirty years on earth as a poor artisan before He manifested Himself. Vincent than provides a further argument: God always blesses humble beginnings much more than those accompanied by a lot of show. As a result of his faith and experience, Vincent was grounded on the principles of the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast. Above everything else, Vincent offered this quasi-infallible teaching because it was based on the experiences of his faith and life. Thus Vincent concluded his letter to Bernard Coding with the words: such is my belief and such is my experience. With a certain urgency Vincent exhorted Monsieur Coding to accept these principles as infallible and above all else, he should keep himself well hidden.

Vincent frequently referred to these principles and this exhortation when he wrote to his delegate in Rome. We will not pause here in order to engage in a critical analysis of their correspondence. Before moving forward, however, we pose the following question: how did Vincent acquire the faith and the experience that he referred to? In the following sections of this presentation I hope to respond to this question. But let us begin by reflecting on and analyzing a passage from Saint Mark’s gospel.

Faith and the following of the authentic disciple

In the middle of his gospel, Saint Mark, the evangelist, presents Jesus traveling to Jerusalem. The journey is being utilized by Jesus in order to form his disciples. He had arrived in Jericho, traveled through the city, and is now on his way to the Holy City. As he leaves the city he encounters a blind man, sitting by the roadside and begging. He is not on the road, that is, he is not accompanying or following Jesus … he had only heard people speak about Jesus but he did not know Jesus personally. According to the passage many people accompanied Jesus, but were they truly following Jesus? How enthusiastically did they accompany Jesus? Did they understand what it meant to be with Jesus and to follow him? It seems that the evangelist selected this event in order to allow us to discover who are the people who really see and who are the people who are blind, … who are the true disciples of Jesus and who are not. Let us now allow the evangelist to speak to us. They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pit on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way (Mark 10:46-52; see also Matthew 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43).

The road to Jerusalem had become an authentic workshop of Christian formation for Jesus’ companions. Jesus, the master, the teacher, instructed his followers about all that was necessary if they wanted to be authentic Christian followers. Three times Jesus told them about his impending passion, death and resurrection which awaited him in Jerusalem (a fundamental dimension of accompanying Jesus). How did the disciples react to these announcements? How did they understand Jesus’ words? The evangelists tell us that Jesus’ followers constantly failed to understand him as they traveled along this path of formation and instruction. After the first announcement Peter rebuked Jesus who in turn told Peter: Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do (Cf., Mark 8:32-33; Matthew 16:23). After the second announcement Mark indicates: they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. The disciples then began to discuss who would occupy the places of honor in the Kingdom of God and who was most important (Cf., Mark 9:32-34; Matthew 17:22-23, 18:1-6; Luke 9:44-48). Then after the third announcement, James and John, the sons of Zabedee state: grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left (Cf., Mark 10:37; Matthew 20:20-28). When this request was verbalized the other ten disciples, who were thinking the same thing, became visually angry because the two brothers had anticipated their own desire (Cf., Mark 10:37ff; Matthew 20:24-28). The evangelist also enables us to see why the disciples felt confused about their inability to drive out evil spirits (Cf., Mark 9:28-29; Matthew 17:19-21) while others, who were not part of their group, were able to act in that manner (Cf., Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50). In other words, according to Mark, the disciples who accompanied Jesus frequently did not understand his teaching … and more seriously, they did not want to understand (Cf., Mark 10:10-12; Matthew 19:23-26).

Now that we have highlighted and provided a context for the passage from Mark, let us analyze this passage [8]. We have pointed out that the disciples did not accept Jesus’ message because they could not understand it and since they did not understand it, they did not want to accept it. Therefore, according to Mark, the disciples were incapable of understanding Jesus and incapable of following him. This was also the situation of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who was sitting on the roadside. Mark chose this passage to conclude this section of his gospel because he saw in this event a type of parable about the inability of the disciples to follow Jesus and the confusion as well as the discomfort of the early Christian community [9]. This passage offers those individuals (the disciples and the Christian community) a remedy for their lack of understanding and their inability to follow Jesus.

Like Bartimaeus, the disciples had separated themselves from Jesus’ path. They accompanied him through force of habit and perhaps in some mechanical way. Like the blind man, they too were blind because they did not want to see. Let us look at Bartimaeus’ situation before and after his encounter with Jesus. At the beginning we are told that he is blind and a beggar and that he is sitting on the roadside where Jesus will pass. On hearing that Jesus is approaching, Bartimaeus wants to know him and so he cries out in a loud voice. After his encounter with Jesus, he recovered his sight, but more significantly, he followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. In both situations Bartimaeus is presented as a representative and model of every disciple of Jesus.

Thus it is easy for us to understand that in this passage “the road” and “the blindness” have a symbolic meaning [10]. “The road” symbolizes the following of Jesus and “the blindness” refers to the disciples’ inability to understand the demands of authentic discipleship. Both realities are related to one another. The disciples are blind and have separated themselves from Jesus’ path in the same way that Bartimaeus had done.

What changes the situation of the blind man? We can easily understand that what changes the situation of Bartimaeus is his encounter with Jesus [11]. Said encounter is the pivotal moment in the narration. Bartimaeus cries out; when he was told that Jesus was calling him, he tossed his cloak aside and approached Jesus; then he presented his request. In other words, Bartimaeus acted, and acted in a proper manner. More specifically: Each movement is important. Bartimaeus cries out more loudly with a request on his lips. When he is told that Jesus is calling him, he puts aside everything that he has (his beggar’s cloak) and he approaches Jesus. Then Jesus asks him the same question that he posed to the sons of Zebedee: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus’ response, however, is different: he does not ask for a position of honor in Jesus’ kingdom, but wants to recover his sight [12].

When we read quickly passages like the one that we have cited … when we read them as if we know what is coming next, we run the risk of losing their message. This has probably happened to us many times when we have read the Scriptures. For example, are we aware of the cry/request of Bartimaeus? Bartimaeus tells Jesus that he is the Son of God, compassionate and merciful. He does not use the word “Messiah” which has a political and nationalistic significance but rather invokes the name of the “promised one” who comes to share God mercy’s with the people. Bartimaeus, who cannot see Jesus who stands before him, knows Jesus better than those who are able to see him. The one who travels on the road is the one who shares God’s mercy, the one who is to come. That one, however, has already come! Therefore Bartimaeus’ cry is a request, a supplication, a prayer … it is not a planned proclamation of that which everyone wanted to hear but which God had never promised: a political Messiah! Bartimaeus, the beggar that he is, has learned through experience how to ask. Later he will know how to make an even more significant petition.

When Bartimaeus received the message that Jesus was calling him, he left behind his cloak upon which he had been sitting. This is no empty gesture in Mark’s gospel. Jesus’ call is more important than everything that the blind man possesses … his fortune which is symbolized by his cloak. As a blind man and a beggar, his cloak was an important part of his life, yet now he risks losing his cloak because he does not know what will happen to him as a result of his encounter with Jesus. Yes, he has a certain intuition and suspicion, but … Yes, Bartimaeus reveals himself to be a man of faith and a man of authentic prayer.

Jesus clearly perceives Bartimaeus’ faith and precisely because of his faith Jesus grants Bartimaeus’ request [13] because this is what Bartimaeus truly needs, this is what is best for him what will make him free, what will enable him to make decisions. Up until then other persons decided for Bartimaeus, other directed him and led him here and there … others took advantage of his poverty, misery and illness. His blindness became a form of exploitation that marginalized him from his family and from society.

If the story of Bartimaeus has surprised us, then we will be further surprised. Bartimaeus recovered his sight and made a decision to follow Jesus (and there were no economic guarantees for him as a result of said decision). He made a decision which, given his circumstances, was most important: he decided to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. According to Mark, Bartimaeus’ response offers us an explanation regarding the forms of blindness that are dimensions of the disciples’ life … dimensions that need to be healed so that one can “see anew”. Here we are not dealing with physical sight but rather we are involved with that ability to see which in turn enables one to follow [14]. As Bartimaeus became a true disciple of Jesus, he accomplished that which Jesus had requested of Peter, something which Peter did not understand or accept as Jesus began his pilgrimage to Jerusalem [15]. In other words, Bartimaeus understood that after having recovered his sight (recovered that which was of great value) he had to place himself behind Jesus, he had to follow Jesus on the road, the path that Jesus had chosen and that was described by Jesus in those passages that refer to the demands of Christian accompaniment.

What was Mark’s intention in narrating the story of Bartimaeus? Without a doubt Mark wanted to place before all Christians the need to follow Jesus and demonstrate that following Jesus means walking along a certain path. In other words, Christians must discover their real situation, their real self … they must accept this reality and after encountering Jesus, they must allow themselves to be healed. How does one learn his/her actual situation and accept it? The answer is found in the narration of the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus: one must have authentic faith, one must be able to formulate an appropriate request, one must be a prayerful person. Only contact with God will help us in this matter … will help us discover our own poverty and misery … will enable us to look for solutions that will not create further needs or dependencies. In other words: through this narration, Mark wants to share something very important with the members of the Christian community: that which is impossible for the human person is possible for God (Mark 10:27). It seemed impossible for people to renounce themselves, to lose their life, to place themselves in the last position, to become the servant and the least of all. Therefore people continued to act as though they had not heard Jesus’ words and they continued to seek power and glory (they wanted to occupy the positions of honor). They did not realize that in order to understand Jesus’ demands and in order to follow Jesus as a disciple it was necessary to be a person of prayer. They did not realize that to be a disciple was not the fruit of some conquest but a gift, something that could only be obtained from God as the result of a prolonged and heartfelt supplication. [16].

With a graphic example Mark has provided us with a lesson in understanding Jesus’ language, his demands and his “way”. Any other understanding of this would be erroneous and mistaken and would lead us astray. Only those individuals who allow themselves to be molded and transformed by God are able to follow along the right path that will enable them to accomplish God’s will and build up God’s kingdom. Thus, this is the message that the gospel wants to communicate to us … and this is the reason that Mark places this passage at the end of this section that deals with Jesus’ instructions regarding discipleship. In the following section we are going to see certain parallels between the Bartimaeus event as described by Saint Mark and what occurred to Vincent de Paul … this will enable us to understand Vincent’s life and faith and experience as well as understand the meaning of his vocation and mission.

The faith and the following of Vincent de Paul

As we have already stated, in order to understand the faith and the experience of Vincent de Paul, realities which he frequently referred to in his letters and conferences, it is necessary to look at his origins and his first steps and then one must reflect on the definitive encounter with Jesus Christ that made him the Vincent de Paul that we know and who pleasantly surprises us. Therefore we have to explore his biographies. The biography of a person is the best archive that we can utilize in order to study an individual and know said individual better.

In order for there to be true faith and authentic existence as a Christian, each person must take that decisive step in which the “old self” is transformed into a new being, in which one dies to self and lives for Christ, with Christ, and like Christ.

Before entering into the world of Vincent de Paul it would be good to pose some questions. These are not original questions because others have asked the same questions and like us, they have responded by studying and analyzing the documents that have been passed on to us. So what are these questions? We do not need to invent them because they have already been formulated … let us recall them. We have, therefore, recourse to an old study with regard to Vincent’s birth, but new for those who can only approach Vincent through the Spanish language. The author states: In the beginning Vincent did not have the pleasure of knowing God’s will. When did he acquire this insight? In order for Vincent to clothe himself in the “spirit of Jesus Christ” he needed a lengthy apprenticeship. Who were his guides? What were the first initiatives that Divine Providence placed before him and that led him to become a man of action? We have stated: the secret to Vincent’s life lies in the response to these questions, passionate questions … especially as we consider the fact that these questions uncover the only motivating force behind all of Vincent’s admirable human activity: grace [17].

Specifically the principle that motivated Vincent de Paul in his activity was grace. He allowed himself to be guided by grace, which required a conversion. Said grace supposes prayer and an encounter with the Word of God and also supposes faith. In other words, grace supposes a decisive encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Vincent lived his encounter with Christ and said encounter changed his life of faith, strengthened it and matured it. Could it have been an encounter like that of Bartimaeus in the gospel of Mark? I dare to respond to this question by stating that something similar happened to Vincent de Paul … there is a certain parallel between Bartimaeus’ encounter with Christ and Vincent’s encounter. Therefore, I am going to engage in a comparative study since I believe that it is only in this manner that we can understand Vincent’s faith and his manner of following Jesus Christ.

Infancy/blindness

We are told that Bartimaeus was blind and a beggar. As such he was socially and religiously marginalized, incapacitated with physical limitations. Like many blind people he became individualistic, focused on himself, oblivious to the needs of others because his own needs were so great. As a blind man and a beggar he felt obliged to live on the side of the road where he could earn a living by asking for alms from the pilgrims. He was a believer, a member of the Jewish community but he was unable to fully live out his faith because he was viewed as cursed and as an outcast. Because of his situation his life was precarious … there was no possibility of him becoming a rich man. Thus, Bartimaeus was aware of his limitations and his possibilities. He dreamed and desired “to be more” and to live better. His basic needs had to be satisfied by others since he lived in the midst of a consumer society, a society of “having” and not one of “being” … the realization of the human person was not a priority.

Vincent de Paul was born into a Christian farming family. His family owned land and animals and farmed the fields. The family needed one of the children to engage in a career that would elevate the status of the whole family. That responsibility fell upon Vincent, a lively and intelligent young man. The family was not aristocratic but living in the countryside they were humble people. Vincent recalled his origins and stated: I am the son of a humble tiller of the soil and I lived in the country until I was fifteen (CCD:IX:67). Even as an adolescent Vincent found himself in a difficult situation, yet in his later years he was not ashamed to speak publically about his humble social condition: Alas! Monsieur, how you embarrass the son of a poor plowman, who tended sheep and pigs and is still in ignorance and vice, by asking for his views (CCD:II:5). Vincent in the letter dated January 14, 1640, wrote the above referenced words when addressing Luis Abelly, the vicar-general of Bayonne. In later years Luis Abelly would become Vincent’s first biographer.

According to the characteristics that we previously described, Vincent, socially and as a Christian, was blind and a beggar. Blind and a beggar because by himself Vincent was unable to make much progress and was dependent on others to obtain what he needed. He lacked the economic means and the social prestige that would enable him to advance in the midst of the social, political and economic environment of that era. Much later Vincent would discover his blindness. At this time, however, Vincent lived with his blindness as though this was normal. In the first phase of his life he was unaware of his blindness because he had not had an encounter with Jesus Christ.

To state this briefly, Bartimaeus did not question his situation and neither did Vincent. Bartimaeus’ family provided for him and we could say that they exploited him. Vincent found himself in a similar situation since he was expected to sustain all the members of his family by caring for the flock and fields or by engaging in studies that would enable him to improve the economic and social situation of his family, thus enabling them to escape the fatalism of the situation in which they found themselves. Thus, through the influence of others, Vincent obtained his father’s permission and was allowed to study in the nearby town of Dax [18]. Vincent’s father and other family members made sacrifices in order that Vincent could continue his studies … they hoped that in the future they would obtain some benefit as a result of Vincent’s studies [19]. It was the only possible path for people who lived in the rural area and who wanted to change their situation. In the beginning, this was not questioned because of the sociological and involuntary blindness of society, as well as the blindness of individual persons. Such was the world in which Vincent lived and these ideas formed part of his everyday life. These ideas could be accepted or rejected but at that time there was way to combat such ideas.


Search for an honorable retirement/on the roadside

The road that goes from Jericho to Jerusalem is a road that was traveled by the pilgrims from Galilee who were journeying to the Holy City. It was on the side of this road that Bartimaeus sat every morning in order to earn a living by asking for alms from the pilgrims. The person on the side of the road is naturally not “on the road” bur rather is utilizing the road. To find oneself sitting on the side of the road is the same as finding oneself living by one’s own means, more or less accommodating oneself to the present situation. In such a situation one finds oneself relatively well off. In such circumstances people will tell themselves that they are as well as they can be and will do nothing to endanger their present situation … therefore there is no need to change anything. As a blind man and a beggar sitting on the side of the road Bartimaeus is not one of the pilgrims, not one of the travelers, but rather is seated by the roadside and perhaps we could even say that he is a “parasite”. Living as he was, Bartimaeus took advantage of the good will, the natural religious dispositions of those traveling along the road. The alms that he received enabled him to live … to simply live.

When Vincent was fifteen years old or about to turn fifteen, his family (as we have already started), brought him to the town of Dax where he would study and pursue his career. Vincent began to consider a series of possibilities that, with time, would enable him to acquire an honorable retirement, a way to flee poverty and to live with a certain comfort (CCD:I:15). With this idea before him Vincent dedicated himself to his studies, he became a tutor and entered the clerical world and traveled [20]. Vincent schemed with the world of religion: an irregular ordination [21]; his conflict with another curate who had been given a benefice by the Roman Curia … a benefice that he himself sought [22]. Vincent was not looking for ways to live out his vocation or to live according to some plan of life but rather was seeking for the means to live without having to work [23]. He was not satisfied with what he had. He wanted something better, something so rash that I dare not speak about it [24]. This probably refers to the acquisition of a benefice in the form of being named a bishop. Something that is suggested by one of his biographers: Vincent returned to his dreams and these become more and more ambitious. No longer is it a question of some country parish, however important a one; Vincent had his sights set on a bishopric [25]. The author goes on to state: This must have been the business “the rashness of which I dare not speak about” that Vincent referred to in a letter … [26].

Even though Vincent was a priest, he was not “on the road”, he was not following Jesus. Rather he will still on the side of the road. He was looking for worldly opportunities and material goods. He was captivated by the mentality of that era and was nourished by those empty desires … he looked for ways to make all of this a reality. Was some other attitude or plan a possibility? Soon this castle of cards would crumble: This second project of his crashed to the ground even more quickly than the first, because of a whirlwind of unforeseen events [27].

According to Mark’s gospel, did not the disciples of Jesus share similar plans and aspire to similar realities? The criticism that Mark levels against Jesus’ disciples in the passage that refers to Bartimaeus could be applied to Vincent de Paul as he was moving forward in his life. If, as already stated, those who accompanied Jesus were physically on the road with Jesus but were not really accompanying him, then we could also say that Vincent, the priest, was physically on the road with Jesus, but was not really accompanying Jesus. Vincent was on the roadside, far from the place where one can enter into God’s plans and God’s desires.

Captivity in Tunis/the desire “to know Jesus”

The human person, often unconsciously, engages in the building of sandcastles in the sky that are soon destroyed by the wind. People will dedicate all their energy to the accomplishment of these impossible tasks. Even though they discover that all of this is useless, they are not easily deterred from their plan. God allows these individuals to stumble and fall until they become aware that they are mistaken and that they have wasted their time. God begins to lead these individuals along new paths … guiding them gently toward maturity and conversion. Vincent was led along such a path, a path that allowed him to find himself and to encounter the authentic Jesus Christ whom he ought to serve as a priest. Vincent was first guided gently, then, he was guided more harshly, in a manner that would involve interior violence.

In the first place the path that is called a gentle path (even though it is a painful path) is also heart-rending. I apply this word to the path of Vincent’s captivity [28]. We know that any captivity is always difficult and disrupts the habitual relationships of numerous individuals involved in such an event. Life in such circumstances seems to become hell and often hell becomes very real. Vincent de Paul lived this hell-like and heart-rending experience in Tunis where he was taken captive. This experience, however, served as a reminder with regard to his faith and also provided him with a desire to give a new direction to his life. In Tunis, Vincent recalled his faith and did not allow himself to be overwhelmed with bitterness … he spoke about his religious experiences, about God and the different forms of prayer. Vincent was a slave who was sold to one master and then another: a fisherman, an alchemist, a nephew of the alchemist, a renegade. With his last master he fled to France at the first opportunity that presented itself [29]. Two letters that Vincent sent from Aviñón and Rome to Monsieur de Comet describe all these events [30].

The conversations with the renegade’s women, the private prayers and those that were prayed aloud, the hymn (Salve Regina), etc. … all of these reflected Vincent’s religious faith and the faith of his family. These same devout actions enkindled the flames of a hidden pious life that in turn became the spark that God utilized in order to initiate the process of redirecting a disoriented life … a life that had been blinded by ambition. Could we not find a relationship in all of this with the events that the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, experienced every day when the pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem passed by, placed some coins on his cloak and told him about Jesus? José María Román, in his biography on Vincent de Paul, provides us with some words regarding those longings and desires to recover the freedom and the expectations that had been lost. We read: Now that he was deprived of human resources, Vincent sought help from heaven and commended his cause to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. She would surely obtain for him the freedom he so earnestly desired [31].

Working in the fields of his master, Vincent’s hymns and prayers moved one of the renegade’s wives. At that time, his faith and human collaboration made it possible for this phase of life to come to a happy ending and at the same time made it possible for the hidden plan of God to begin to guide him toward the goal which God, in silence, had placed before him. The renegade had three wives. Two of them showed an affectionate interest in the captive. One was a Christian belonging to the Greek schismatic Church and the other wife was a Mohammedan. This latter used to like going to the fields where Vincent was working, and she would ask him to sing. Vincent, who remembered so well the breviary he used to recite every evening in his humble student’s lodging, and the Old Testament passages he had studied in the lecture halls of Toulouse, would intone with great emotion and a feeling of nostalgia the psalm of the Israelities in captivity, Super flumina Babylonis, and followed this with the Salve Regina and other hymns. The pure notes of the Gregorian chants soared into the silence of the sun-filled fields. The Turkish woman was moved and filled with wonder. What a sublime religion that must be if it inspired such beautiful and evocative hymns! Her husband had been very wrong to abandon it; she told him so that very night. The renegade agreed. He was more than repentant. The words of his wife, (likened by Vincent to “another Caiaphas or Balaam’s ass”) meant that the man’s secret feelings of repentance could be contained no longer. The next day he told Vincent of his plan to flee to France at the first opportunity [32].

The first opportunity was delayed in arriving … Vincent had to wait ten months, but the moment of his freedom arrived. God often allows his message to penetrate the hearts of those who need to hear it, but does this through the instrumentality of unknown persons, often persons that one would least expect to play such a role. The Muslim woman was, for Vincent de Paul, this instrument of God. As she invited Vincent to sing, she rekindled the flames of his faith and his priesthood. As she attempted to convince her husband of his errors, she became the motivating force behind their flight to freedom. Once again we find a relationship between the events of Vincent’s life and the events that led the blind man, Bartimaeus, to an encounter with Christ … and in said encounter both Vincent and Bartimaeus are going to find their liberation.

Bartimaeus had only heard about Jesus. According to Mark, Jesus had not previously traveled to Jerusalem. Therefore Jesus had not been in Jericho. This was his first time. Why then did the blind man begin to shout: Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me! Did Bartimaeus invent these words in order to move Jesus? Certainly not! Bartimaeus was blind but we find him on the side of the road where people would come and go as they traveled to Jerusalem or returned from their visit to that city. The majority of the people who traveled along that road were from Galilee. Most probably the people spoke about Jesus and the blind man had listened to their conversations. Therefore, when he realized that Jesus was about to pass by, he cried out. He recalled what others had told time about Jesus and he thought that perhaps he too might be healed … he truly desired such healing. Had not people talked about other blind persons who had recovered their sight? If Jesus gave light to the blind it was because he himself was light … and if Jesus is light, then it is worth the effort to approach the light and recover one’s sight. Even though the multitude tried to prevent him, he cried out even louder … he was strengthened in his resolve and acted with confidence. His words of confidence, like Vincent’s hymns and prayers, will receive a response.

Despite all of this Vincent was still not on the road with Jesus. Like Jesus’ disciples, he was blind and did not want to see. He continued to search for some treasure that would resolve all his problems and that would provide him with security and comfort. The blind are blind until they discover what is real and then, with all their heart and soul, they must decide that they do not want to remain blind. Vincent would become aware of his blindness through a crisis of faith that would cause him great anxiety for a number of years … this occurred between the years 1610-1616.

Having failed in still another attempt to obtain an honorable retirement in Rome, Vincent traveled to Paris [33]. He abandoned those places that he had previously frequented, those places that had given some form to his life. He distanced himself from his family and his place of origin. Yet he continued to believe that the fortune he was seeking would be bestowed upon yet. But once again fortune escaped his grasp and instead he had to confront serious problems … but he would eventually find healing.

In Paris, in the Gascon quarter, Vincent shared a room with a judge from his own part of the country. One day Vincent was sick and a young man from the nearby apothecary brought him some medicine and stole the judge’s money. When the judge returned home he discovered that his money was missing and accused Vincent [34]. Vincent, however, had a clear conscience and said: God knows the truth [35]. Vincent placed the situation in the hands of God. Six years would pass before the truth became known [36]. Vincent was able to confront this reversal with patience [37] … this occurred during the year 1609 [38].

In 1616 Vincent became the chaplain to the wife of King Henry IV, Queen Marguerite de Valois [39]. Said matrimony had been annulled and she lived in a palace on the left bank of the Seine [40]. It was at this residence that Vincent (together with other priests) exercised his role as chaplain and distributor of alms. His activity consisted of celebrating the Eucharist and distributing alms [41]. As a result of this ministry Vincent established a relationship with the Brothers of Saint John of God in the Hospital of Charity [42]. Step by step God was leading and calling Vincent de Paul to paths that would enable him to change his life, paths that would lead to conversion.

Between 1611-1616 Vincent experienced a powerful crisis of faith. This was his journey through the desert, his dark night [43]. This time of darkness, however, enabled Vincent to purify himself of worldly ambitions [44]. This crisis began as Vincent helped a companion who was experiencing temptations against the faith. Soon his companion was released from these temptations but Vincent himself now experienced these same temptations. Vincent spoke about this with the Missionaries [45]. What follows is a summary: A well known doctor, as a result of his idleness, of not preaching or catechizing, was afflicted with strong temptations against his faith. The doctor experienced violent impulses to blaspheme Jesus Christ and was also tempted to commit suicide. Fulfilling his duties as chaplain, Vincent listened to and counseled this individual and God bestowed his mercy on the unfortunate doctor who was ill and freed him from all his temptations [46].

Vincent did not see a relationship between the dark night of the theologian and his own nor did he share with others the cause of the resulting happy outcome. His biographers recognized this relationship [47]. José María Román, closely following Abelly, states: Vincent was afraid he would yield to these temptations in the end and he asked God, if it were his will, to transfer the doctor’s trials to his own soul [48]. At that moment Vincent’s dark night, Vincent’s Calvary and tribulation began. More precisely: His soul was plunged into darkness. He found it impossible to make an act of faith. He felt all his childhood beliefs and certainties crumble around him. The only thing that helped him in this time of darkness was the conviction that this trial came from God and that eventually God would have pity on him. He redoubled his prayers and penances and took the most practical measures he could devise [49].

Vincent wrote the Creed on a piece of paper and this enabled him to touch the paper which served as an external voluntary expression of his faith. At the same time Vincent committed himself with more determination to the practice of charity. Trust in God, prayer, recourse to acts of faith and the practice of charity made it possible for Vincent to overcome the crisis which he had endured for three or four years [50]. The crisis was overcome as Vincent placed himself in God’s hands and committed himself to serving the poor [51] … but we will speak about this at greater length in the next section.

Said crisis of faith which Vincent experienced was the most direct manner in which God was able to draw to himself the future disciple of charity and the poor … the most appropriate instrument to overcome and heal his blindness and thus situate him on the right path. The blind man, Bartimaeus, experienced something similar. As we have already stated, Bartimaeus was on the side of the road, that is, he was not traveling along the road. Yet, interiorly he wanted to change his situation and imagined various possibilities. As he pondered these thoughts, he heard the voices of a multitude of people who seemed to be drawing closer to him. He was surprised by their number and by the noise as these pilgrims came closer. He inquired about all of this and was told that Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem. What should he do? Could Jesus heal his blindness? Why not ask? He decided and cried out in a loud voice: Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! Then, several people chastised him for speaking in this manner … it was not politically correct to shout out in that manner or to make such a statement.

In the midst of this tension, someone approached him and said: Take courage, get up, he is calling you! Bartimaeus had encountered misunderstanding, the misunderstanding of those who accompanied Jesus … they told him to be quiet. In the world in which we live there are many people who do not understand that the blind demand to see; many do not understand that those who lack that which is indispensable want to possess something that will allow them to live with a certain dignity and thus give value to their life; many do not understand that those who are poor and in need want to change their present humiliating situation and desire this change from the very depths of their being. Bartimaeus did not hide his misery but requested mercy and salvation. He did not act according to that which was politically correct but demanded that his rights be respected: the right to live unfettered, the right to be healed of his infirmity, the right to act on his own accord, the right to make his own decisions. Jesus called him …. Jesus to whom he had cried out for mercy and compassion, this Jesus called him and invited him to come forward and meet him. Jesus’ messengers tell him: Trust and take courage! (and Bartimaeus was uttering the same words to himself). It was possible that the emptiness of his life (a life of darkness, suffering and exclusion) was about to come to an end. He experienced an inner hope for light and life and wholeness. He allowed himself to be encouraged and led by a group that was following Jesus. It is very important that Christians encourage one another and facilitate others access to Jesus.

Bartimaeus met individuals who facilitated his access to Jesus. They made it possible for him to encounter Jesus. The doctor whom Vincent spoke about and who had experienced horrible temptations against the faith found Vincent to be not only a counselor and guide but also experienced him as a Simon of Cyrene who helped him carry his cross. Vincent also had these “Simons” and providers as he approached his definitive encounter with Jesus. They appeared in the form of his prayer, his charitable activity, his skill in combating the temptations, his spiritual director … all of these facilitated his encounter with Jesus and made his healing possible. It was at that moment that there arose in Vincent’s interior a decisive commitment, a conversion and his definitive vocation.

Commitment/Request: I want to see!

The doctor whom Vincent referred to was able to pass through his “dark night” as a result of Vincent’s offer to accept and embrace said cross [52]. When Bartimaeus received the call, he threw aside his cloak and sprang up (Mark 10:50). He would no longer need his cloak to collect the alms that he begged for. He was confident that Jesus would grant him what he needed and desired. And what did Vincent do? How was he healed of his blindness and how was he able to move beyond his tribulations? He also cast his cloak aside and began to walk with Jesus, that is, he renounced his human desires and promised to spend the rest of his life in humble service of the poor. His biographers speak about this in detail: The temptations lasted three or four years. He was finally delivered from it when inspired by grace, he took the firm and irrevocable decision to devote his whole life to the service of the poor out of love for Out Lord Jesus Christ [53].

The temptations against the faith drew Vincent closer to God and God revealed to him the manner to destroy his castle of cards and smoke. This new relationship with God showed him that spending his life in service of the poor was the source of life and the guarantee of a treasure greater than that which he had been searching for and had expended such determined effort (yet he never felt satisfied with the results of his search).

This period of trial and tribulation had matured Vincent and facilitated the conversion that was necessary for him to become a man, a Christian and a priest. We come to this conclusion as a result of later testimony (CCD:XI:129-133). When Vincent spoke about this he did so from the perspective of his own experience … it had become part of his own lived experience. The useless activity that he had undertaken, his rushing about here and there, his disasters, his crosses and temptations … all of these enabled him to offer counsel, to make decisions and to do God’s will [54]. José María Román offers us the following testimony in this regard: Everything points to the fact that this was the most crucial turning point in his life. His spirit was being slowly fashioned by this painful trial and he emerged from it purified and transformed. There would be other experiences and other graces during his life but the fundamental change had already taken place. He had found God, and found himself, even though his vocation had not as yet found expression in any particular way of life or in any specific activity. So he will go on groping blindly for a few years yet. It would take many years for Vincent’s radical conversion to come to maturity and blossom into a tree bearing much fruit [55].

Step by step and little by little Vincent de Paul, led by the hand of others, approached Jesus. Like Bartimaeus he heard Jesus ask: what do you want me to do for you? [56]. Vincent responded: I want to see! Vincent opened his eyes to the new life that was offered to him, a life that he accepted and embraced. His faith and his trust had saved him. Bartimaeus and Vincent found light and life in Jesus and they found these realities because they had focused on Jesus, because they had asked for these with confidence and because first of all, they had discovered their blindness and knew how to ask. Now, thanks to Jesus, they could see. After their encounter with Jesus, Bartimaeus and Vincent had their eyes wide open and were able to see themselves and others. They now experienced a life of solidarity with others and realized that life was a gift from God and not a battle in which they had to decide who were the strongest individuals and who were the persons who ought to live a better life event if that had to be done at the expense of others. Unfortunately they had both lived selfish lives … in fact before and after their encounter with Jesus both Vincent and Bartimaeus had lived parallel lives.

The encounter with Jesus enabled Bartimaeus and Vincent de Paul to change the direction of their life. Both recovered their sight and realized that their life was not conformed to God’s desires. Both made the right decision to follow Jesus and accompany him to Jerusalem. In other words, they were willing to sacrifice their own lives on behalf of the common good, on behalf of those most in need. They became authentic followers of Jesus, disciples who were wholly committed to Jesus’ mission.

When Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, after his personal encounter with Jesus, followed [Jesus] on the way, he is showing us that Bartimaeus understood what Jesus wanted and what Jesus had demanded of his followers. Mark is showing us that Bartimaeus accepted Jesus’ plan and all that said plan involved. Bartimaeus would no longer be found sitting on the side of the road nor would he be found simply traveling on the road. Bartimaeus walked with Jesus and therefore he traveled on the road with Jesus, he followed Jesus on the way. Without having received an explicit invitation, Bartimaeus knew how to fulfill that which he had asked of Peter, namely, to follow him to Jerusalem [57]. The blind man, Bartimaeus, was not blind interiorly. Peter and the sons of Zebedee and all the disciples who accompanied Jesus could see (physically) but were blind (interiorly). They were looking for that which was superfluous, for those things that destroy the kingdom of God: the first places, honor, privileges, wealth, dominion, power over others. On the other hand, Bartimaeus only asked to recover his sight. Mark has offered us this passage so that we will know how to discern the fact that the blindness that impedes our union with Jesus is that of ambition and the correct vision is that which enables us to follow Jesus [58].

After this encounter with Jesus that resulted from his “dark night”, Vincent began to travel the road and became an authentic disciple of Jesus. When he was searching for a benefice that would provide him with an honorable retirement, he was blind and did not want to see. Yet as soon as Vincent realized that he had been involved in a meaningless search and when he, as a result of his ministry as a priest, discovered the true meaning of following Jesus, then Vincent began to see and he accompanied Jesus. Vincent communicated this concept to us when he affirmed during his “dark night” of temptations against the faith that he wanted to consecrate the remainder of his life to the service of the poor and he wanted to do this as a result of his love for Jesus Christ. From that time forward Vincent viewed the poor in the same way that Jesus viewed Jerusalem, that is, the poor became Vincent’s cross and passion, his death and resurrection. Vincent’s blindness was healed when he made this commitment to the poor [59].

As Vincent gave a new direction to his life, he was not alone. He had found good spiritual directors: Benoit de Canfield, Pierre de Bérulle, and André Duval. These individuals guided and counseled Vincent. Furthermore Bérulle would help Vincent take those first steps as he began a new life. Bérulle offered Vincent the parish of Clichy, recommended him as a chaplain for the de Gondi family and prepared a room for him at the parish of Châtillon-les-Dumbes. All of these places and events that occurred there became very helpful experiences while Vincent was being reborn as a follower of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, these experiences would give a specific form to his life and to his later ministry.

Vincent de Paul had obtained from God the gift of a new vision; he had been converted and found meaning in his vocation. Nélio Pereiro describes these events: As occurs in the life of the majority of the saints, we can verify that Vincent’s life was divided into two phases. In the first phase that we have previously described, Vincent hoped that God would help him do what he had planned. Vincent was not concerned about knowing if his own plans were what God wanted. At this point in Vincent’s life, God was not the motivating force who, as we shall see later, formed all his attitudes. Before entering into the pivotal stage of Vincent’s life we must remember that “conversion” and “vocation” are correlative. Conversion, understood as the “irruption” of divine grace that gradually transforms the heart of the human person, demands a break with the past and supposes a new manner of living and thinking. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, individuals are called to a new beginning. Therefore their interior should be animated by a desire to discover and fulfill the will of God. As the years passed, Vincent learned to listen to the call to follow Jesus, a call that he discerned in the everyday events of his life. He understood that to follow Jesus meant a willingness to submit himself to the divine will. In the second phase of his life, as Vincent moved out from the shadows of selfishness, he desired to live in accord with God’s plans or, as he stated on many occasions, he desired to live with “an attitude of trust in divine Providence” … this desire was translated into an unconditional love for the neighbor, especially for the neighbor who was most in need [60].

We have said that Nélio Pereira has understood the process that was at work in Vincent. He has reflected this understanding in a magnificent manner. First of all he has pointed out two distinct phases in Vincent’s life. The first phase was characterized by human selfishness, by a profession of faith in a God that he himself had created for his own benefit: he hoped that God would help him do what he had planned. Furthermore, in the midst of his planning Vincent had not taken into consideration the fact that his own plans might not be what God desired. Indeed, this phase of Vincent’s life was characterized by the absence of God, that is, God was not the motivating force who formed his attitudes. On the other hand, in the second phase of his life Vincent lived and acted in conformity with God’s plans … in other words, he lived and acted according to the dictates of Divine Providence.

In between both stages, Vincent changed, he was converted, he found his proper mission. The events that had frustrated his plans: the circumstances that brought him to Tunis as a prisoner and a captive, his practice of charity and his care for the infirm, his temptations against the faith, his encounter with different spiritual masters … all of these were the means that God used in order to make Vincent reflect on his life and discover that he was blind, that he was selfish and that such was not the mission of a good priest. Vincent, like Bartimaeus in the gospel, was able to hear and accept the call to go forth to an encounter with Jesus. Vincent opened the depths of his being and became convinced that God’s plans were better and provided him with greater happiness than that which resulted from his own plans. As a consequence of this encounter which involved change and conversion, Vincent became convinced of the importance of first, discovering the will of God and then doing God’s will, that is, making God’s will a reality. It is precisely this concept that Vincent referred to when he affirmed and explained that such was his belief and experience. This was the reason that motivated Vincent to recommend and demand that the Missionaries measure each one of their steps according to that which God desires or does not desire and to search for God’s will and then to make that will a reality. One should act in this manner regardless of the cost and despite the fact that one might have to wait for “God’s time”. The success of Vincent’s later ministry was grounded on the transformation that had occurred in his life, in his person and in his manner of acting. He revealed God’s plan … a quiet manner of acting that many people discover and are grateful for. Therefore Vincent’s commitment and vocation would always involve spending the rest of his life in unconditional service toward those most in need. Before his conversion, Vincent loved himself and his family. After his conversion, he loved those in need and would consume his life by serving them. Vincent was able to open himself to God’s love and as a result recognized that life meant unconditional love of all people, especially those who were poor.

Vincent de Paul’s experience of life and faith

It is not easy to summarize in a few words Vincent’s experience of life and faith. Also this is not the time to formulate some thesis about his faith experience or about his theology of faith. Nevertheless, here I am going to present a brief summary of some points that will enable us to fill out the image of Vincent as a man of faith and a man of experience. We could summarize this discussion with those phrases that refer to Vincent as a mystic in action [61] or other phrases that refer to Vincent’s philosophy as being one of leaving God for God [62]. As for being a mystic it is clear that Vincent lived in union with God and his profound relationship with God led him to engage in a very active life. Thus Vincent’s faith was revealed in his activities. As he advanced in years Vincent realized that it was quite legitimate to do good for one’s neighbor even when this involved leaving God for some moments … that is leaving one’s prayers or the celebration of the Eucharist. Vincent was very aware of the fact that one was never far from God when one was serving the poor or performing some charitable act on behalf of those who were in need (in fact, it is precisely at these times that one is most united with God) … Vincent was aware of this fact and communicated this reality to his followers.

In the previous section we had compared the process in which Vincent achieved maturity in his faith with that of Bartimaeus and in doing so we were guided by the passage found in Saint Mark’s gospel. Since, however, Vincent’s life provides us with so many rich experiences of faith and charity, we will continue in this section to deepen our understanding of Vincent’s faith and his various experiences.

From the faith of a peasant to a committed faith

As we know, Vincent was born into a family of peasants. Even though Vincent did not spend many years cultivating the land, he spent enough time there so that every aspect of his being reflected his humble origins in the countryside. In this regard someone has stated that Vincent de Paul was a man from the countryside and his rural origins would always serve as a point of reference [63]. Then he adds: Vincent, very familiar with life in the rural area, experienced himself as a member of the social class composed of poor country people, of plowmen, of those who care for herds of animals. Vincent was aware that it was among these people that one could find authentic values … Vincent, therefore, was grateful for having received those values as a result of his birth, his family and his rural origins [64].

Vincent viewed these good country people as models for the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity … models with regard to their faith, their prayer and their trust in God. According to Vincent one discovers true religion among these people. Vincent’s faith and spirituality was rooted in his peasant origins [65]. This should not surprise us since Vincent was educated in the faith of his parents and in the religious traditions of those who lived in the rural area. He became a man of simple faith, frugal, trusting … in fact, trust in God was very characteristic of those Christians who lived in the rural area [66]. It was within the context of family that Vincent learned the human and Christian values that he developed after his conversion … values that he placed before the Missionaries, the Daughters of Charity and the members of the Confraternities and that he exhorted them to cultivate [67].

This inherited and sociological faith that was so important and fundamental in Vincent’s life, had to endure and pass through a period of crisis and constant trials. Only then could Vincent come to believe in a God who had bestowed upon him a life of well-being, a life of committed faith and a life of service on behalf of the poor. During his childhood Vincent knew God in his own manner … that is, he knew something about God and about God’s existence but he did not have a true knowledge with regard to the God of Jesus Christ. That knowledge was obtained when he came to understand the significance of following Jesus Christ through faithful service of the poor. Then at that time Vincent came to possess a mature faith, a faith that was basically a biblical faith: In the prophets of the Old Testament, faith is a knowledge of God, but this knowledge implies a profession of faith in the one God and also involves the practice of justice and love. In the synoptic gospels faith is always a personal adherence to Jesus and a radical following of Jesus, that is, faith implies that one puts into practice the teachings of the Master. In Saint Paul faith is always “active love”: “For in Christ Jesus only faith working through love counts for anything (Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Ephesians 4:15). The praxis of love is essentially the same as faith and this is closely related to James’ affirmation that faith without works is death (James 2:16-17). John clearly states that true knowledge of the faith cannot exist apart from love because God is love (1 John 4:8) [68].

According to the Bible, the unequivocal sign of believers is the fact that their faith is based on knowledge and then translated into works of love on behalf of others, especially the poor. This is the type of faith that, by the grace of God, Vincent received and lived. When Vincent ceased his search for happiness for himself and for the members of his family, he gave himself completely to the practice of justice. Vincent’s love of God was revealed in his following of Jesus Christ which meant living Jesus’ teaching in a radical manner … said teachings were concretized in a faith that came to life through acts of love. It was then that Vincent realized that faith in God did not consist of dogmas or words that one might memorize but rather faith meant that one did good things for other people. In other words, faith involves an adherence to Jesus Christ that is translated into love for the poor and is based on the gospel perspective found in Luke 4:16-21 and Matthew 25:31-46 [69].

From a routine ordinary faith to a radical faith

Throughout this presentation we have seen that Vincent de Paul moved from living his faith in some ordinary, routine manner to living his faith in a radical, committed manner. This movement from one perspective to another occurred at the time of his conversion, when he decided to commit his life to serving the poor. From the “dark night” of temptations against the faith, Vincent entered a new phase of his life when he committed himself to serve Jesus in a faithful manner by serving the poor. What did this radical life plan mean for Vincent de Paul? I present here a valid response to this question: Vincent had discovered himself and had been able to give a decisive direction to his life. That radical option that was based on faith, gave meaning to his life. As a result of that option Vincent experienced what he would refer to later as the “need to put aside selfishness and provide for others”. All of this made it possible for Vincent to slowly change his manner of being, his criteria for acting, his manner of contemplating the environment and the people who surrounded him in order to view reality from the perspective of God. This crisis would make Vincent a model of faith, a faith rooted in the suffering and the pain of doubt, in the pain of experiencing God as distant and unconcerned about him … indeed it seemed that God was no longer present in his journey through life. Faith that becomes grounded as a result of such experiences provides one with deep convictions that mold one’s personality … that molded Vincent’s personality [70].

The time that Vincent spent absorbed in doubt and darkness was not time that was lost and therefore should not be viewed in some negative manner. That time enabled Vincent to find himself and to discover a new meaning for his life and for his priesthood … and yes, we must affirm once again that said meaning was found in the radical option to spend the remainder of his life in humble service of the poor. In this manner Vincent was able to move beyond his selfish interests and became concerned about others … Vincent abandoned the self-interested search for his own well-being and became concerned about the happiness of others. Vincent began to contemplate the reality of his life and the reality of those who surrounded him from the perspective of God’s will. In other words, the crisis of faith, the personal failures, the accusation of theft … all of these led to greater human and spiritual maturity. This new faith, this renewed and mature faith became Vincent’s motivating force for the remainder of his life [71].

Vincent de Paul not only discovered himself and gave a new meaning to his vocation and identity but he also discovered the Jesus of the gospels with whom he established an intimate relationship and became one of his best disciples. Therefore during the years in which his attitudes were evolving, in which he became aware of himself as an evangelizer and a servant of the poor country people … those years were transcendental. Those years enable us to understand that Vincent’s faith and his existential experiences were slowly maturing … he accepted the encounters that God placed before him and journeyed (between the light and shadows) along the path that God desired.

Who was this Christ that Vincent encountered and who transformed his life in such a radical manner? What experiences gave new form to Vincent’s life? The Christ whom Vincent encountered was the Christ of the gospels. We are all familiar with Vincent’s existential experiences: Gannes-Folleville, Châtillom-les-Dombes, Marchais-Montmirail. Said encounter and experiences enabled Vincent to mature in his faith … all of the above gave meaning and new form to Vincent’s personality, vocation and charism.

Encounter with the Christ of the gospels

Vincent de Paul was a man of faith, a man of mature and committed faith. After his encounter with Christ the remainder of his life would be characterized by this profound experience of faith. Indeed, from that moment on Vincent’s life was marked by his self-surrender and service which flowed from his prayer, his suffering and his abandonment to the will of God [72].

Conversion led Vincent to become a disciple of Christ, a disciple of the Christ of the gospels. In the gospels Vincent discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was the servant and the evangelizer of the poor [73]; the incarnate one who dwelt among us, dwelt primarily among the poor and the humble [74]; one who continually searched for the will of God, his Father [75].

As he matured Vincent de Paul became a disciple of Jesus Christ, he became a member of that great family that gathered around Jesus Christ; those who listened attentively to Jesus’ word and put that word into practice; those who understood what God desires and does not desire. This idea is reflected in the gospel: His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. [For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35; cf., Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21).

Jesus gathered unto himself a new family, a family composed of those individuals who do the will of God, the Father. Jesus made this clear with his glance: he looked around at those seated in the circle. Then he affirmed that such persons were indeed my brother and sister and mother. In other words, these individuals are members of his family because they do the will of God … they do what God desires, they do what they had searched for and they do that which had been revealed to them. Saint Matthew refers to the members of Jesus’ new family in a more expressive manner. In the corresponding text we are told that Jesus stretched out his hand toward his disciples (cf., Matthew 12:49). Whether it is with his glance or with his hand, Jesus made it clear that he had a new family … men and women who listen to his word and put that word into practice.

According to Mark, Jesus finds himself in his new house, that house on the side of lake … that place where he can rest and share his life with others. His family, including his mother, Mary, join him at that house. They remain outside because they do not want to enter and besides the house is filled with people. They pass on a message to Jesus. We should remember that to be outside or inside the house is significant. X. Picazo states: The new family of Jesus is composed of those individuals who gather around him and do the will of God (thus they move beyond the law and the genealogies of Israel). Jesus’ parents represent genealogical security; they continue to be part of the people of Israel (they obey the Law and are attentive to the scribes) and therefore they do not want to enter Jesus’ house and thus mingle with “the impure” [76].

We are aware of the fact that Vincent took a decisive step forward. He was outside Jesus’ house and was not a member of Jesus’ new family. But he took a risk and entered. As a result he became a disciple who listened attentively to the word and enthusiastically did what God desired. Once he sat beside Jesus and opened his heart to discover the will of God, Vincent identified himself with Jesus and followed Jesus … he put into practice the words that he had listened to and found himself in the midst of a new family. All of this enabled Vincent to give a new form to his life … a manner of living that has been passed on to those who today continue his ministry and live his spirituality, who continue the mission of Jesus, who continue to serve as Jesus served. This idea is summed up in the following gospel passages: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18) ….. the king will say: Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of those least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).

It was at this moment that Vincent experienced himself as one who was being sent. Thus his activity/mission consisted of giving life to those who were deprived of basic, fundamental needs: he offered a new vision to those who were blind and released from their chains those enslaved by society. In other words, Vincent entered into solidarity with those who suffered and those who were afflicted by various forms of evil. He gave his life to those individuals so that they could live with dignity and freedom.

Tireless search for the will of God

Vincent de Paul became a good disciple of Jesus Christ. He cast aside his own personal ambitions and listened to God; above all, he became obedient to God. He proposed considering things and people as they are, that is, as they are seen in the eyes of God … to contemplate them with the eyes of God [77]. There was a definite change in the life, the person and the spirit of Vincent. There is no doubt that Vincent began to live in a new way and that he viewed events with new eyes, with a distinct vitality. Now he viewed reality from Christ’s perspective. The experience of his trials and “dark night” and his other failures in life not only made Vincent a new man but also made him a new teacher.

Vincent de Paul acquired new eyes. He saw clearly what God was revealing to him in the events of his life. This is expressed most clearly by José Manuel Sánchez Mallo: In Vincentian spirituality there are some constants that define and identify it, that give it a certain structure. Here I refer to the ability to read and interpret events … events that were experienced and lived were the place where God’s will was revealed to Vincent. Events are the Vincentian “theological place” where one discovers God. God speaks in history and the great saints, inspired by the Spirit, are able to discover the voice of God in the various historical events. Just as the prophets discovered the profound significance of historical events, a significance hidden to others, so too Vincent discovered that God was calling him to give a new direction to his life as a result of certain experiences related to poverty and misery (experiences in Folleville, Châtillon, Marchais). Thus, having experienced poverty and having contemplated it from the perspective of faith, it became a hermeneutical principle of his life and experience, of what God desired of him … it guided his action. In this way a close relationship was established between faith and action. For Vincent “the event” was “evangelical” and “prophetic” [78].

As I have already stated, Vincent de Paul learned to read and understand the events of his life, positive events as well as negative events. It was an experience that Vincent acquired with the passing of time and it was an experience that enabled him to mature in his faith. From that time Vincent’s faith and experience were intimately related to one another. Vincent, with the eyes of a Christian, would read and contemplate the various events and situations and experiences in which, together with God, he would see himself as a protagonist. To reflect on his life from the perspective of God was not simply another phase in Vincent’s life. Rather it was a phase that was filled with meaning, a phase fully lived and experienced. Vincent had become a man with a prophetic vision, a Christian who lived and experienced the reality of Christ’s proclamation as revealed in the gospels, a priest dedicated to healing men and women with words of mercy and acts of love. Vincent de Paul was a man with new eyes, with profound eyes, eyes that saw clearly and sincerely, eyes transformed by God and capable of discovering God’s desires. The events of life, viewed with those new Christian eyes would become for Vincent the source of the revelations of God’s will and the origin of all his activity [79].

Do not anticipate Divine Providence

We find these principles and proposals of Vincent expressed clearly and precisely in the texts where he encouraged and reprimanded, where he proposed and demanded that his followers allow themselves to be guided by the inspirations and the voice of God. In those texts we discover the foundation that allowed Vincent to utter the words such is my belief and such is my experience (or other similar expressions). In order to affirm what I have just stated I offer here some passages from Vincent’s writings.

On April 26th, 1643, in one of his conferences to the Daughters of Charity, a conference that dealt with union within the community, Vincent stated: disunion is the cause of all evils, as experience clearly shows us (CCD:IX:85). The meaning of the word “disunion” and the proper experience of each individual enabled Vincent’s listeners to understand that disunity in the community is always evil … an evil that harms and destroys the life of the whole community. Let us read and interpret some of Vincent’s other words which must be placed in the same context as the above. I refer to the words that were addressed to the Missionaries on August 23rd, 1658. At that time Vincent was speaking about moderation in eating and drinking and, as he often did, he validated his words with his experience: Brothers, it is a mistake to think that the stomach needs wine to help it digest food. I used to think so myself at one time, wretch that I am, but M. Portail set me straight and showed me that it was an error. And I’ve found out and learned by experience that what he said was really true (CCD:XII:41).

At first sight these two passages appear to refer to physical, human experiences and seem to have no relationship to faith and/or Christian living. Are you sure? To focus on the witness and testimony of another and to experience that which had been communicated, is this not an experience rooted in faith, even though the argument might be one of human faith? Isn’t religious/spiritual experience also human experience? In this we must be very clear that when Vincent communicated an idea or some message, he always did so from the perspective of his faith and experience. The passages that I have cited above help us to understand that reality.

I continue to develop my presentation … on another occasion Vincent was explaining the Common Rules to the Missionaries. With his personal style he encouraged them to live simply and prudently … very useful and necessary attitudes in order to accomplish their mission in the world. Among the other arguments that Vincent placed before his followers, we find this statement that refers to the fact they all had a similar experience as a result of their ministry among people living in the rural areas. What was the fruit of said experience, of such an encounter? Vincent and the Missionaries agreed that the good people in the rural areas were simple and prudent in living their faith … they were truly religious people and their attitudes were intimately related to their faith. Here is Vincent’s own words: We see that verified in the difference [between] the faith of peasants and our own. What I retain from my experience of this is the discernment I’ve always made that true religion --- true religion, Messieurs, true religion --- is found among the poor. God enriches them with a lively faith; they believe, they touch, they taste the words of life. You never see them in their illnesses, troubles, and food shortages get carried away with impatience, or murmur and complain; not at all --- or rarely. They usually remain at peace during trials and tribulations. What’s the reason for that? It’s faith. And why? Because they’re simple, God gives them in abundance the graces He refuses the rich and the wise of this world (CCD:XII:142).

Vincent always communicated his experience to his followers … a lived experience that had been acquired in a twofold manner. He had had this experience while living with his family and again when giving popular missions on the de Gondi estate. The peasants had faith, simple faith, a faith that enabled them to open themselves to God and to God’s plans. These men and women accepted the events of their life in a manner that was quite distinct from those individuals who based their lives on science and intellectual theories. The Missionaries, like the peasants, ought to live with simplicity, with a lively and confident faith in God. Only then will they receive the grace and the peace that God bestows on those who live in that manner.

Did Vincent only speak about human experiences? Is not Vincent referring to those experiences that resulted from living a full human life, from living out one’s faith with a true understanding of God? It seems to me that in this text Vincent was speaking in terms of the latter question. I base this interpretation on a conference that he gave to the Ladies of Charity at the time when an urgent problem had to be resolved … probably during the year 1647. A serious problem confronted the Confraternities in Paris: would they continue their ministry with the foundlings? Vincent reviewed with them their accomplishments, the number of children that had been saved from death and exploitation and then he concluded with the following words: Well then, Ladies, compassion and charity have led you to adopt these little creatures as your own children; you have been their mothers according to grace since the time their mothers according to nature abandoned them. See now whether you, too, want to abandon them. Stop being their mothers to be their judges at present; their life and death are in your hands. I am going to take the vote; it is time to pass sentence on them and to find out whether you are no longer willing to have pity on them. If you continue to take charitable care of them, they will live; if, on the contrary, you abandon them, they will most certainly perish and die; experience does not allow you to doubt that (CCD:XIIIb:423-424).

Vincent stated that experience does not allow us to doubt. The children will experience death if they are not assisted but they will experience life if they are provided for. These children will not only continue to live but they will be able to live with dignity. No one among them was able to doubt that if the children in need were assisted and cared for, they would live, but if they were abandoned and left to fend for themselves, they would die. This experience, then, was not simply a physical, natural or human experience. Rather said experience was charged with the transcendence of faith. Why? Because those who had not allowed themselves to be touched by God’s goodness and mercy would be unable to look upon their sisters and brothers with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of a Christian. Those, who without the incentive of faith, feel that they will receive no benefit from helping another, will then forget about their sisters and brothers and will not be concerned whether they live or die. Those compassionate volunteers who were members of the Confraternities had to make a decision and they were not only influenced in this process by their human experience (their decision determined the life/death of these children), but they were also influenced by their faith. Vincent’s words made these women reflect on the demands of their Christian faith.

In the same line of thought I point out a letter that Vincent wrote to Louise de Marillac in 1630. In this letter Vincent put forth a series of arguments in order to give proper direction to the Confraternities … otherwise said group would be ruined and destroyed. He grounded his arguments on the following statement: Experience has shown that it is absolutely necessary for the women not to depend on the men in this situation, especially for money (CCD:I:70). Again we are confronted with the word “experience” and here we are dealing with a very real, tangible and observable experience. Does not the word “experience” have other hidden dimensions, other meanings? I am inclined to think that yes, the word does have other dimensions and meanings. The context in which the word is used above seems to convey a religious, transcendent dimension.

I could continue to provide you with more texts in this regard, but this is not my purpose. Nevertheless, I cannot resist offering you some words that express more clearly the relationship between faith and experience. Vincent had sent Bernard Codoing to Rome as superior of the local community there and as his representative before the Roman Curia. We possess much of the correspondence that they exchanged. In many of those letters, Vincent’s faith and his new manner of procedure appear in the background. It was from this perspective of faith that Vincent encouraged and reprimanded and held his representative accountable. Bernard Codoing was a hard-working and competent individual but occasionally he showed himself to be precipitous and very quick to come to a decision. Vincent was disturbed by this because this reality had been part of Vincent’s own experience and he was very aware of the results of his haste and ambition. Before going to Rome, Monsieur Codoing had been superior of the community at Annecy. On December 7, 1641 Vincent sent him a letter in which we find a very clear example of the relationship between Vincent’s faith and experience. I present here some of the more significant phrases found in that letter: … If you had written to tell me what you meant to do and your reasons, I might have weighed them before God … That is why I beseech you, Monsieur, never to do anything like that again without writing to me about it … Please, then, correct yourself of your hastiness in deciding and doing things … reflecting on all the principal events that have taken place in this Company, it seems to me, and this is quite evident, that, if they had taken place before they did, they would not have been successful … That is why I have a particular devotion to following the adorable Providence of God step by step (CCD:II:236-237). He concluded the letter with the following words: my only consolation is that I think Our Lord alone has carried on and is constantly carrying on the business of the Little Company. In the name of God, Monsieur, let us take refuge in this, trusting that Our Lord will bring about what He wishes to be done among us. I hope for this from His goodness and from the attention you will pay to the most humble and most affectionate request I am making of you in this regard for the love of Our Lord.... (CCD:II:237).

To follow the adorable Providence of God step by step … these words became a motto for Vincent’s life and he wanted these words to become a principle of action that guided the Missionaries. During a lengthy period of time Vincent allowed himself to rush from one thing to another and constantly found fault with God’s ways. Now, however, after his conversion, he was mindful of one failure after another and was most aware of the emptiness that resulted from that manner of living. After having put aside his ambition and then allowing himself to be led by God as he committed the remainder of his life to serve the poor in the rural area, it was possible for him to make the following affirmation, an affirmation that gave him great comfort: When things are placed in God’s hands, God will act. Relying on those words, he asked Monsieur Codoing to do the same since this was his belief and his experience.

During the month of January 1642 Vincent told Bernard Codoing that he would be going to Rome as superior of the local community there. From that time forward there was constant communication between these two Missionaries. As already pointed out much of their correspondence has been preserved. In March 1643 Vincent wrote to Monsieur Codoing and among other things he advised him: In the name of God, Monsieur, stop being concerned about things happening far away that are none of your business, and devote all your attention to domestic discipline. The rest will come in due time. Grace has its moments. Let us abandon ourselves to the Providence of God and be on our guard against anticipating it. If Our Lord is pleased to give me any consolation in our vocation, it is this: I think it seems to me that we have tried to .follow Divine Providence in all things and to put our feet only in the place it has marked out for us. Be also most cordial with everyone and spare nothing for the assistance of the sick members of the Company (CCD:II:499).

Once again Vincent referred to his faith and his experience as a valid means to move forward along the paths that God desired. Once again Vincent, tenderly and lovingly, called attention to his confrere for his haste. It seems that on this occasion Bernard Codoing wanted to move quickly in order to establish a seminary in Rome. Therefore Vincent told him to stop being concerned about things happening far away that are none of your business. Before establishing a seminary it was necessary to place this endeavor in the hands of God and not rush forward and anticipate God’s providence. Providence had always shown the way and had provided for everything that the Congregation had undertaken. Therefore it was necessary to continue to be guided by Providence. In the meantime one should pray and place the matter in the hands of god. At the same time one should analyze the situation and yet one should also have complete trust in God and therefore abandon oneself to God’s will which will be revealed in due time. Meanwhile one should minister and take care of those things that one is responsible for: devote all your attention to domestic discipline and to providing for the infirm of the community.

On the other hand, there were contacts and good prospects of being able to establish a seminary in Barcelona for the missionaries and another one for externs. But some of those contacts failed to materialize and once again Vincent, in his letter of April 14, 1644 exhorted his confrere to be calm. Here are some of Vincent’s words: Let us not be in too great a hurry for the extension of the Company nor for external appearances. The consolation Our Lord gives me is to believe that, by the grace of God, we have always tried to follow and not to anticipate Providence which knows how to conduct all things so wisely to the end Our Lord destines for them. In truth, Monsieur, I have never more clearly seen the vanity of acting contrary to this, nor the meaning of the words that God uproots the vine that He Himself has not planted [Matthew 15:13] (CCD:II:502).

Haste is never good and it is even worse to rush ahead of God’s providence. Indeed, the doctrine of God’s providence continues to be valid even when the objective or the purpose of some activity is good, honorable and useful. God knows how to take care of matters and therefore we must allow God to act. Everything that occurs apart from God’s providence is vain, lacks meaning and becomes sterile and useless.

Vincent’s personal and community experience was based on the inspirations of faith, inspirations that allowed him to act in accord with divine providence. At times Vincent would allude to the experience of others. In fact Vincent would use the experience of others in order to guide and direct the Missionaries. Once again, and this would not be the last time, Bernard Codoing had acted precipitously and had begun to spend money from a loan that had been finalized. It seems that he had moved forward with the purchase of a very beautiful and comfortable building. Or perhaps he had undertaken a new project that was not in accord with the purpose and/or objectives of the community: the establishment of a seminary for adolescents. Thus, from Paris Vincent lovingly reprimanded his confrere: But what shall we do, you say? We shall do what Our Lord wills, which is to keep ourselves always dependent on His Providence, since it pleases Him thus and He sees what is best for us. The Prior of the reformed Dominicans of this city told me the other day that the sorry state of their house came about after they had been in a situation of independence with regard to Providence, because they were well established and assured of having enough to live on. In the name of God, Monsieur, let us abandon ourselves to the direction of God's loving Providence, and we shall be safe from all sorts of inconveniences that our haste may draw down on us. We are not sufficiently virtuous to be able to carry the burden of abundance and that of apostolic virtue and I fear we may never be, and that the former may ruin the latter (CCD:II:517-518).

For Vincent the correct behavior was that which was in accord with providence. Therefore it was always necessary to be dependent on God’s providence. Acting in this manner we are able to achieve that which is best for us … and this is also what God desires. To act independently of God’s will and desire will, sooner or later, lead one to total ruin. Therefore the best and most convenient way to act is to abandon oneself to the adorable providence of God. Haste and following one’s own ideas lead to frustration … this had been Vincent’s own experience.

I therefore will conclude with the following reference and return to the correspondence that was exchanged between Vincent and Bernard Codoing. This new letter that I cite here is dated August 6, 1644 and refers to a theme similar to that of the previous letter: I see by your letter of the tenth that you have another new scheme for educating children up to the age of eighteen in the humanities and are abandoning the idea of the seminary for clerical students, as also the proposals regarding works to be done for the youth of Catalonia. To this I shall say, Monsieur, what I have said to you at other times, that I fear you are in too great a hurry about everything. This is also the opinion of the laity who observe your behavior there, and I shall not conceal from you that a nobleman himself said this to me. Now, this happens because you are incessantly occupied with ideas and ways for making progress, and you rush to carry them out. And when you undertake something that does not succeed according to your liking, you talk of changing it at the first difficulties that present themselves. In the name of God, Monsieur, reflect on this and on what I had told you about it at other times, and do not let yourself get carried away by the impetuosity of your impulsive ideas. What usually deceives us is the appearance of good according to human reason, which never or rarely attains the divine. I have told you on previous occasions. Monsieur, that the things of God come about by themselves, and that wisdom consists in following Providence step by step. And you can be sure of the truth of a maxim which seems paradoxical, namely, that he who is hasty falls back in the interests of God (CCD:II:521-521).

Vincent was very aware of the fact that he who is hasty falls back in the interests of God. How many years had he wasted as he searched for something that appeared to be good … an honorable benefice or a bishopric that would provide income for himself and for his family! Each time that he attempted this, he failed and fell, but he would attempt to do the same thing once again! Bernard Codoing reminded Vincent about the days of his youth. Monsieur Codoing was enterprising and well-prepared; he desired to be esteemed by others. On more than one occasion Vincent admonished and reprimanded his confrere. Like himself when he was younger, Bernard Codoing showed himself to be spirited, proud and even arrogant. He felt as though he could conquer the world with his activity and that everyone would fall at his feet as a result of the success of his ministry. Therefore Vincent advised and counseled Bernard: I fear you are in too great a hurry about everything … this happens because you are incessantly occupied with ideas and ways for making progress, and you rush to carry them out. And when you undertake something that does not succeed according to your liking, when obstacles arise, you talk of changing it at the first difficulties that present themselves. In the name of God, Monsieur, reflect on this and on what I had told you about it at other times. In other words, before acting it is best to let ideas come to maturity. The fact that some action may appear to be good can lead human reason into error and mistakes. Indeed, the best wisdom consists in following Providence step by step. No one should forget or have the least doubt that he who is hasty falls back in the interests of God.

In the above letter Vincent expressed his faith and his experience. He referred to these realities for the good of others, that is, so that others would not fall into the same error or have to endure the same deceptions that he had experienced. Vincent de Paul was a man of faith, a man of lively and committed faith. He achieved this mature faith after many human failures, after having struggled through “the dark night”. Saint Paul stated that only faith working love is valid (Galatians 5:6) and the apostle James had no hesitation in affirming that faith without works is useless (James 2:20). When Vincent de Paul discovered the requisites of true faith he committed himself to God. Belief was not simply the intellectual acceptance of the reality of God’s existence but rather belief implied a relationship which further implied a commitment [80]. No one who has encountered God in Jesus Christ can become a person of authentic faith without a commitment [81]. Vincent de Paul was a believer, but not a believer in just any God, but rather in the God whom he discovered as he overcame “the dark night”. This was, and is, the God of the poor [82]. Vincent, for the remainder of his life, faithfully served this God of the poor … and helped others serve God in the same manner.

Conclusion

The time has come to conclude this presentation. I will do this by recapitulating some essential ideas that have appeared throughout these pages. While I have entitled this section as a conclusion, it can also be viewed as a synthesis of this presentation.

I begin by pointing out that Vincent had two pivotal moments or phases in living out his faith and his commitment as a Christian and as a priest. Those two stages of his life were separated by a lengthy process of change and conversion. The first phase of his life was characterized by the impetuous search for a respectable benefice that would allow him to live comfortably and honorably. The second phase, however, was characterized by a commitment to serve others, to serve those most in need. Between both these phases there was a fruitful encounter with Christ. Said encounter produced a change in Vincent’s life and enabled him to initiate a profound and lasting process of conversion.

Vincent’s conversion culminated in giving new meaning to his life and to his priesthood. He was able to situate himself on the authentic path of Christian discipleship. He matured in his faith, in his commitment and in his vocation and at the same time he matured as a human being. Vincent became a firm believer and engaged in some of the most magnificent charitable and social works. Vincent’s conversion introduced him to God’s plans and he was able to discern what God desired and did not desire … Vincent became connected to life, to authentic life, to the fullness of God’s life, to life that was motivated by love, motivated by God who is love.

Vincent found authentic faith when he made the decision to open himself to God’s will. It was then that he became a man of mature and committed faith, a man of radical and gospel faith, a man of profound Christological and ecclesial faith. On the one hand, the temptations against the faith, the unjust accusation of theft, his captivity and the constant failures in his search for an honorable retirement were the means that God used in order to redirect Vincent’s heart and will toward the charitable activity that characterized the remainder of his life. On the other hand, throughout this process of change and conversion and maturing we find that Vincent was engaged in daily prayer, the celebration of the sacraments, spiritual direction and charitable works.

Vincent’s renewed faith and the various experiences that became part of his life allow us to contemplate him as a spiritual master, as a formator of consciences, as an expert guide in the Christian life and in charitable action. Therefore as we reflect on Vincent’s experience and faith we ourselves are encouraged and at the same time we can encourage one another to journey along the appropriate Christian and Vincentian path and to lovingly hold accountable those who act precipitously and/or who do not rely on God. Said fraternal correction will help others avoid those obstacles that Vincent himself was unable to avoid.

Vincent lived an extraordinary life. He was engaged in activities that are almost impossible for us to imagine. He solved problems that appeared to have no solution. He spent his days offering positive and valid responses to the many evils that his contemporaries had to confront on a daily basis. He acted as a physician for the society of that era because he knew how to open himself to God’s grace and how to allow himself to be guided by God … because he made a radical commitment to serve the poor. All of this activity and interaction was possible because Vincent was a man of faith, hope and charity. In other words, he was a man who committed himself entirely to living out his faith in Jesus Christ and who learned from his experiences. He also learned how to remain faithful to that which he had acquired with so much effort and sacrifice. Once Vincent was converted he did not stray from the path. He helped others find their own path and helped them to remain faithful as they journeyed along said path.



Footnotes:

[01] These words are taken from the guide that one of the presenters distributed to the participants in a session entitled, “Faith and experience in Saint Louise de Marillac”, Avila, February 8-12, 2010 and June 21-25, 2012. On-going Formation 2010, “Lectura actual de San Vicente de Paúl y Sant Luisa de Marillac”, (Present day reading of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac), Provincia de Madrid, Centro Vicenciano de formación, Ávila.

[02] In this regard I will make only one reference in this footnote … in the reference that follows, however, one will find a bibliography and more explicit references. See, Luis González-Carvajal, “La fe de Vicent de Paúl ante una sociedad de increencia”, in Anales, 118 (2010), p. 260-284. The English translation of this article can be found at: http://famvin.org/wiki/The_Faith_of_Vincent_de_Paul_in_the_Midst_of_an_Unbelieving_Society

[03] Cf. Andrés Román María Motto, La moral de virtudes en San Vicente de Paúl (1581-1660), CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes (Salamanca), 2010.

[04] A. Orcajo, an Vicente de Paúl: Fe y experiencia en una doctrina”, in A Orcajo and M. Pérez Flores, San Vicente de Paúl II. Espiritualidad y selección de escritos, BAC, Madrid, 1981, pp. 25-162.

[05] Ibid., p. 53. At the bottom of the page the author provides us with the following references: CCD:I:70, 112-113; II:316, 505-507; VII:31; IX:85-86; XII:41-42, 142; XIIIb:85-86. This list of references offers us various contexts: letters, conferences to the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity, and a report to the Ladies of Charity. Therefore we are dealing with a frequent, yet significant expression of Vincent de Paul.

[06] Ibid., p. 53-54.

[07] Throughout the text of this presentation I will highlight (for emphasis) certain phrases in bold letters.

[08] I am going to base my analysis on a popular catechetical work that was published by Editorial Verbo Divino. This study offers a valid exegetical analysis and is written by specialists in this area: members of the Casa de la Biblia in Spain. This work is written in a simple style and can be understood by laypeople. The bibliographic reference is as follows: Santiago Guijarro (director), El auténtico rostro de Jesús. Guía para una lectura comunitaria del Evangelio de Marcos, La casa de la Biblia, Libro de animador, Verbo Divino, Estella (Navarra), 1999, pp. 88-89. At the same time we cite some other works that offer a more profound analysis of Saint Mark’s gospel: J. Gnilka, El evangelio según san Marcos, two volumes, Sígueme, Salmanca, 1986; J.D. Kingsbury, Conflicto en Marcos, Jesús autoridades, discípulos, ERl Almendro, Córdoba, 1991; X. Pikaza, Para vivir el evangelio. Lectura de Marcos, Verbo Divino, Estella (Navarra), 1995; X. Picza, Pan, casa y palabra. La iglesia en Marcos, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1998.

[09] Guijarro (director), op.cit., p. 88.

[10] Ibid., p. 89.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., cf., Mark 8:33.

[16] Ibid.; I have highlighted certain words in bold print in order to emphasize certain points for our reflection and for our process of maturing the following of Jesus.

[17] P. Deffrennes, La vocación de San Vicente de Paúl. Estudio de psicología sobrenatural, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, p. 187.

[18] Nélio Pereira, El seguimiento de Jesús en Vicente de Paúl, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salmanca, 2004, p. 54.

[19] Cf., Ibid., Jose María Román offers us the following: What we know for certain is that young Vincent stood out among his brothers and companions for his keen, lively mind and for the quickness and inventiveness of his intelligence. His calculating peasant father saw this as an asset to be exploited. He decided to send him to study. In the closed, hierarchical society of that time, study was the only avenue to promotion open to members of the third estate, and this was especially true if study helped somebody to enter the ranks of the clergy. In the neighboring town of Dax, the Franciscans were in charge of a boarding school which was alongside a college which would be classified today as a secondary school. The boarding school fees were not excessive (seventy livres a year) but this represented a heavy financial burden for the hard- pressed farmer from the Landes. Nevertheless, he thought it worthwhile making the effort. Jean de Paul had in mind the example of a prior who had come from a similar social background and whose income from the benefice had vastly improved the financial position of his relatives. It was the year 1594, and Vincent was nearly fifteen years old. It was high time to make a decision. José María Román, CN, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, translated by Sister Joyce Howard, D.C., Melisende, London, 1999, p. 34-35; Luis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, translated by Willliam Quinn, F.S.C., New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993, volume I, p. 35-37; Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, translated by Joseph Leonard, CM, The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1952, p. 20-21; P. Deffrennes, op.cit., p. 189.

[20] Cf., Pereira, op.cit., p. 54.

[21] Ibid., pp. 55-56; Roman, op.cit., 47-51.

[22] Ibid., pp. 56-58; Roman, op.cit., 55-59.

[23] Cf., Román, op.cit., p. 51.

[24] Cf., Ibid., 51; Pereira, op.cit., pp. 58-60.

[25] Ibid., p. 58.

[26] Ibid., p. 58; CCD:I:2.

[27] Ibid., p. 58.

[28] Today the actual existence of this captivity is admitted and is no longer treated as “a story” that falls within a specific period of time that seemed to have no signs of real life. B. Koch has discovered information and documents that provide further confirmation concerning the reality of this event.

[29] Cf., Roman, op.cit., p. 67-73.

[30] Ibid., p. 65-67; Deffrennes, op.cit., pp. 197-203. The letters were definitely written by Vincent. In his old age, when he became aware that they still existed, he wanted to destroy them but he was prevented from doing this. More and more those who have researched these letters find that they do not simply recount some fantastic story. The letters reflect events that are known from other sources and also gather together personal compromising information about Vincent’s past: debts that he was committed to pay, documents that he had requested in order to obtain the desired retirement before reaching old age (the benefice that would enable him to live comfortably without having to do much work). At that time the benefice seemed to be within his grasp.

[31] Román, op.cit., p. 64.

[32] Ibid., 64-65.

[33] Roman, op.cit., pp. 86 -89. Contrary to what we might have expected, Vincent did not return to Toulouse, or to his native region, Dax, after he left Rome. Towards the end of 1608 he left the Eternal City for Paris […] Vincent’s reasons for going to Paris was not simply that he felt attracted to the capital. After his recent failure in Rome, Paris was the only place where he could try once more to win the benefice he so desperately wanted, and which was so necessary for the stabilization of his finances. Besides, he only expected to stay in the capital for a short time […] Vincent’s affairs had become complicated and this was to continue’ so much so that his brief stay lasted till the end of his life (p.86-87). Cf., Deffrennes, op.cit., pp.203-204; Pereira, op.cit., p. 61.

[34] Román, op.cit., 87-88; Pereira, op.cit., p. 61-62.

[35] Ibid., p.88.

[36] Ibid.

[37] CCD:XI:305; cf., Roman, op.cit., p.88.

[38] Roman, op.cit., p.89.

[39] Ibid., p. 93-94; Pereira, op.cit., pp.63-64.

[40] Ibid., p. 93.

[41] Ibid.; Pereira, op.cit., p.64.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., p. 100; cf., Deffrennes, op.cit., 208-10; Pereira, op.cit., pp. 64-67.

[44] Deffrennes, op.cit., p. 208.

[45] Cf., CCD:XI:26-27; Roman, op.cit, p. 99-101; Pereira, op.cit., p. 64-65.

[46] Pereira, op.cit., p. 64; Roman, op.cit., 100.

[47] Abelly, op.cit., vol. III, p. 115-116; Roman, op.cit., p.100-101; Pereira, op.cit., p.65.

[48] Román, op.cit., p. 100.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid., p. 100-101; Pereira, op.cit., pp. 65-66; Deffrennes, op.cit., pp. 208-210; Abelly, op.cit., vol. III, pp. 115-116.

[52] Cf., Román, op.cit., p.100; Pereira, op.cit., p. 65; Abelly, op.cit., vol. III, pp. 115-116.

[53] Román, op.cit., p.101; Abelly, op.cit., vol. III, pp. 115-116; Pereira, op.cit., pp. 65-67. José María Román takes his information from Luis Abelly and uses this as his source when speaking about Vincent’s decision. But do we only find this information in Abelly? Could we find references to this matter in Vincent’s writings? We know that we do not find direct references to this material but there are indirect references. In the case of the doctor about whom Vincent spoke during one of his conferences with the Missionaries, could this not be an indirect reference to his temptations against the faith? Or perhaps we have two different stories condensed into one? This is very probable and it is in this vein that I interpret Nélio Pereira’s notes with regard to this theme. In his book he offers us documentation that moves in this direction. Cf., A. Dodín, “La biografía de Louis Abelly sobre San Vicente de Paúl” in AA.VV., Vicente de Paúl evangelizador de los pobres, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1973, pp. 13-25; Jaime Corera, Diez estudios vicencianos, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1983, pp. 13-40; J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paul y los pobres de su tiempo, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, pp. 209-213.

[54] Cf. Pereira, op.cit., p. 66.

[55] Román, op.cit., p. 101.

[56] Mark highlights the fact that Jesus asked Bartimaeus the same question that he had posed to the sons of Zebedee. But Bartimaeus’ response was different. James and John had asked for power, the first places, honors and wealth while Bartimaeus asked for one thing: his sight. Bartimaeus realized that as a result of having cast aside both his cloak and his begging, he had no way to earn a living. The sons of Zebedee asked for that which they were not lacking, for that which was superfluous, meaningless and useless. Bartimaeus asked for that which he needed, that which was most important to him. Vincent de Paul also knew how to express his request and obtained that which he truly needed. Once and for all Vincent put aside his previous search because he realized it had no value for his life as a human being, as a Christian or as a priest.

[57] Mark 8:33. The text has a strong tone and reveals a harshness that resulted from Peter’s all too human inability to understand. This is a strong, public reprimand, one in which Peter himself is seen as Satan: Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking, not as God does but as human beings do! Peter did not want to accept the path that Jesus had chosen, a path of suffering and self-surrender rather than a path of triumph and human success.

[58] Cf., Guijarro (director), op.cit., p. 89.

[59] Cf., Pereira, op.cit., pp. 66-67.

[60] Pereira, op.cit., pp. 68-69. The author bases his statements on the research that was done by Jaime Corera and published in Vida del Señor Vicente de Paúl, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1988, p. 28.

[61] Cf., González-Carvajal, op.cit., p. 271-741. For the English translation of this work see the link in footnote #2.

[62] Cf., J. Morín, “La Foi de Saint Vincent”, Carnets Vicentiens, #3, p. 15. J. Morin states the following: the best definition of faith as it was understood by Vincent de Paul is found in the famous phrase “leave God for God” … an on-going movement between Jesus Christ and the poor. This is the fundamental experience that Vincent places before us. This text is also cited by José Manuel Sanchez Mallo, “Fe”, in Diccionario de Expiritualidad Vicenciana, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1995, p. 258.

[63] Sánchez Mallo, op.cit., p. 242.

[64] Ibid., p.243. Cf., CCD:IX:67-78; XI:189-190; XII:143-143.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid.; Cf., CCD:IX:99; XI:73-74.

[67] Cf., A. Dodín, San Vicente de Paúl y la caridad, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 15. The text is taken from José Manuel Sánchez Mallo, op..cit., p. 243. [68] Sanchez Mallo, op.cit., p. 257.

[69] Cf., Ibid., p.257. We can also come to this conclusión as a result of the documents that we find in Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. With regard to the text from Saint Luke: CCD:XI:96-97, 283-284; XII:45, 70-72, 77-78. With regard to the text from Saint Matthew: CCD:IX:26, 32-33, 195-196: XII:77-79.

[70] Ibid., p. 246.

[71] Ibid., p. 247. The author of this reference offers us some further information: From 1600, the year of his ordination, Vincent became involved in a search to provide comfort to himself and his family. At the same time and as a result of the events that occurred as Vincent engaged in this search, Vincent found himself being sought by God. Vincent was then to discover his vocation and was able to give meaning to his life. God revealed himself and Vincent matured in his faith. He understood that his person and existence, all that he was and all that he possessed, had to be viewed and contemplated from God’s perspective and not according to appearances. This meant therefore “surrendering oneself to God out of love for our Lord, Jesus Christ and serving God by providing for the corporal and spiritual needs of the poor” (CCD:IX:30-33). Thus faith became the motivating force for the remainder of Vincent’s life. Other authors confirms this idea: Roman, op.cit, p. 117; A. Dodín, “Espiritualidad de San Vicente de Paúl”, in San Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 109.

[72] Ibid., p. 243.

[73] Ibid., p. 253. Cf., CCD:XII:71-72; J.B. Rouanet, “Saceredote instrumento de Jesucristo,” Anales 86 (1978), p. 315; José María López Maside, Unión con Dios y servicio a los Pobres, Roma, 1984 (doctoral thesis, manuscript), p. 129; José María Ibáñez Burgos, “La sociedad rural en la vocación de san Vicente de Paúl”, in Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 61

[74] Cf., Ibid; CCD:IX:195-196; XII:93-95; XIIIB:3-4.

[75] CCD:IX:8-9, 23, 129, 131-132, 133-134, 152-153, 165-166, 167, 245, 250-251, 321, 324, 508-509; X:65-69, 87-88, 131-132, 212-213, 425-426, 435-436, 443-444; XI:37, 39, 282-284; XII:126-137; Common Rules II:1-18.

[76] Xabier Picaza, Pan, casa y palabra. La iglesia en Marcos, Sigueme, Salamanca, 1998, p. 98.

[77] CCD:VII:403; XII:227. Cf., José Manual Sánchez Mallo, op.cit., p. 244. In a letter dated December 6, 1658 and addressed to Philippe Le Vacher, Vincent stated: I have received no letters from Marseilles since last writing to you. I am still going to send this one to you, in the absence of M. Get, to ask you to send us some news of Algiers and Tunis, if you have any. I am more worried about them every day and, while we await the remedy for the present state of affairs, I ask Our Lord to grant us the grace of considering those matters as they are in God and not as they appear apart from Him; otherwise we might deceive ourselves and act other than He wishes (CCD:VII:402-403). On June 6, 1659, during a conference on how to benefit from calumnies, Vincent told the Missionaries: O Messieurs, if we had a lively faith, if we considered those connections with the eye of a Christian, not as vexations that come to us from others but as graces God is giving us, and if it should please His Goodness to clear our minds of the clouds of worldly maxims, which prevent faith from conveying its teachings to the depths of our souls, we’d have very different views and sentiments; and even it if were question of suffering insults and persecutions, we’d consider it a great happiness and a blessed state to be calumniated and persecuted. And isn’t it, in fact, a happiness and a blessed state (CCD:XII:227-228).

[78] Sanchez Mallo, op.cit., p. 244; cf., “La experiencia espiritual del señor Vicente y la nuestra”, Anales 85 (1977) 278; José María Ibáñez Burgos, “Le pauvre ecône de Jesús-Crist”, in Monsieur Vincent témoin de l’Evangile, Toulouse, 1990, p. 161.

[79] If we study the Vincentian writings we can compile much information in this regard. For example, Vincent de Paul felt that the Congregation of the Mission was the work of God: CCD:IV:126-129; XI:162-163; XII:5-7, 9-11. Vincent spoke similar words when referring to the establishment of the Daughters of Charity: CCD:IX:17, 47, 92-93, 165-166, 192, 247-249, 357-359, 471-472, 536-537; X;73, 89-90, 102-104.

[80] González-Carvajal, op.cit., p. 274.

[81] Cf., ibid.

[82] Cf., ibid., p. 275.


Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM