Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 03/Section 04

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

The Remarkable Results of Two Missions Given by Priests of this Company

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As an example of the blessing God showered upon these priests, working under the direction and in the spirit of Monsieur Vincent, we will recall here only what occurred on two of their missions. We will leave aside the others, so as not to annoy the reader with the inevitable repetitions that would otherwise result.

Several years ago these priests gave a mission in a large market town, which for the most part housed either officers of the law or tavern keepers. They found the disorders shared by both groups. The tavern keepers were in the habit of serving drink and promoting drunkenness, even on Sundays and feasts during the hours of divine service. The abuses of the officers of justice of the law approached scandalous proportions. The judges ate and drank in the taverns with those to be tried before them. The attorneys would meet their clients only in the same setting, but still conscious of their rights of office. They employed all sorts of trickeries to prolong the legal process, so that a poor peasant often found all his funds exhausted there before his case ever came to judgment. Almost always these judgments were not given in open court, but were remanded to arbitrators to extract still more money from the plaintiffs and to use up the funds for their expenses.

The court attendants were no less a source of disorder and injustice. The officers of the courts were so venal the courts themselves were described in a common proverb of the region as a "pillar of hell."

The members of this Company, then, or rather God working through them, sought to remedy this sad state of affairs. They first preached strongly against the abuses and disorders in the taverns, especially on Sundays and feasts. Afterward, they persuaded the chief of police to issue a regulation and set fines appropriate for the case. He was to visit the tavern himself on these days, and punish by fines or other penalties the innkeepers, as well as those they met there while divine services were in progress.

Later they went to see the provost, the chief magistrate of the locality. They held several sessions with him, in which they pointed out that besides the glory of God and the dictates of his conscience, he owed it to his own reputation and to his own interest to bring an end to all these disorders and injustices, and to take strong measures to root them out. Finally they persuaded him to use his authority to impose fines or other penalties upon the attorneys, sergeants, or other officers of justice who failed in their duties. They were to be forbidden to frequent the taverns with their clients, nor were they to prolong cases through technicalities, and were to give judgment in open court whenever possible without more delays unless absolutely necessary. After this, since some of those working on this mission were related to presidents and counselors of Parlement, they saw to it that in case of appeal against the regulations or the penalties enacted, someone would be appointed to assure that these regulations would be maintained and supported by the higher courts. This person promised to see to this, and be firm and constant in the matter should it arise in the future.

The priests brought together all the attorneys of the locality, and in a conference, showed the necessity of bringing a remedy to the abuses and disorders which had been allowed to develop. They could not at all be sure of their own salvation if these things continued. Besides, the sacrament of penance could not be administered to them, either licitly or validly, if they did not take a firm and complete resolution to change their customs and obey the regulations set down in these matters. Lastly, they exhorted the lawyers to do with good will and for the love of Jesus Christ what the provost had ordained by his authority. Those present acquiesced in these demands, and with good heart promised to comply.

A similar assembly was held for the sergeants of the courts, when a long list of some twenty-five or thirty articles set forth their principal duties and the way they should be carried out. The sergeants agreed to everything, and as a sign of this drew up a formal document, which each one signed.

After these meetings, and after they had agreed on the resolutions, these members of the court came to the sacrament of penance, to the great edification of the people. Since then, it has become known that they have well observed all these points, to the extent that the provost fined his own father, an attorney, for attempting to delay a case by some tricks and useless formalities.

The second mission of which we speak in this section has to do with the one given in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of the city of Paris, in 1641, at which the priests of the Company worked with much success. This neighborhood at the time was the sewer of all Paris, even of all France, as the home of libertines, atheists, and others living in impiety and wantonness. The impossibility of remedying the situation, in the minds of many, led to all sorts of debauchery and vice, carried out with complete impunity.

A woman of great virtue, [1] moved at the sight of so many offenses against God, opened her heart to Monsieur Vincent. She was well aware of the good the missions had accomplished elsewhere, by the grace of God, and therefore proposed that a mission should be given in this neighborhood, as well. Monsieur Vincent had to explain that his Congregation was not to give missions in the episcopal cities. In addition, he saw almost insurmountable obstacles and difficulties in attempting such a project in this place where such disorder reigned and where the people were so poorly disposed towards religious matters. This lady was not put off by this, but redoubled her entreaties with such strong insistence that finally Monsieur Vincent felt it was God himself inspiring her to act. He spoke of it to the Company of priests gathered at Saint Lazare, with the proposal that they should undertake this mission.

This aroused much resistance and the Company represented to Monsieur Vincent the strong reasons that they should not attempt an enterprise which, to all human appearances, was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, Monsieur Vincent, after recommending this project to our Lord by long prayer, persisted in his own opinion. He said there was good reason to believe that God was asking this service of them, and that his grace and blessing would enable them to overcome all obstacles and draw much good from it, despite the efforts of the devil and evil men against them. Seeing that his earnestness hurt some of the opposite opinion, he dropped to his knees, and begged pardon of the entire Company, that he, so wretched and so miserable, had spoken so strongly of what he felt. He then said that he had been forced to do so by an interior light that God was asking this service of their piety and their zeal.

The great humility of this saintly man so affected them that even those once most opposed to the mission were now agreed it should be given. By a common agreement and in a spirit of submission, they resolved to undertake it. Before beginning, however, they discussed with Monsieur Vincent what exactly must be done, with the thought of being guided completely by his advice and orders. When he was asked about how to preach and teach catechism, seeing that the people of this section of the city were so different from those of the country, and that they would be subject to the criticisms of many, this great servant of God replied that the method and style they should use was the same simple direct method they used in their previous missions, which God had so blessed. The spirit of the world, which so filled the neighborhood, could not be fought and conquered with greater success than by the spirit of Jesus Christ. They should try to enter into his sentiments, and seek, like him, not their own honor and glory but solely the glory of God. They must be prepared, like him, to suffer objection and contempt, and even contradiction and persecution, should this prove to be the will of God. They must preach and speak as he did, simply and familiarly with humility and charity. In this way they could be assured that it was not themselves, but Jesus Christ speaking through them. He would use them to serve as his instruments of mercy and grace, to touch the hardest hearts, and convert the most rebellious spirits.

These gentlemen received all this advice as though it were Jesus Christ speaking to them through the mouth of his servant. They began the mission, therefore, in perfect acceptance of the will of God, and with great confidence in his goodness. It pleased him to pour out his extraordinary blessings upon it, and to shower his graces in such abundance and so effectively that almost miraculous conversions took place. Even those who worked on this mission were astonished at them, seeing the disproportion between the means used and the results attained. Besides the large crowds at their sermons and catechism instructions which they presented in the simple and familiar style suggested by Monsieur Vincent, they were filled with admiration at their results. They saw inveterate sinners, hardened usurers, fallen women, libertines who had spent their entire lives in crime, in a word, people without faith in God or anyone, throw themselves at their feet, their eyes bathed in tears, their hearts moved with sorrow for sins, begging mercy and forgiveness. It could rightly be said: digitus Dei hic est ["This is the finger of God"], [2] or Non manus nostra; sed Dominus fecit haec omnia ["Not our hand, but the Lord has done all these things"]. [3] It is certain that if we had to report in detail all the good done on this mission, the conversions, the reconciliations, the restitutions, etc., it would require a whole volume all by itself. A single incident will suffice to recall what happened toward the end of the mission.

A merchant of Paris was devout enough to attend the various activities of the mission, and seeing the great good effected by God was moved by the experience. One day he came to the house where the priests took their meals, and asked to speak to the head of the band. He announced himself as a widower, having lost his wife and children. He was now coming to offer his temporal goods, amounting to over seven or eight thousand livres annual income, and himself, too, to serve for the remainder of his life. All this, if only the priests would remain together and continue to devote themselves in other places to the same work they had done in this neighborhood. He added that he knew of no way he could render greater service to God, or obtain a greater good for the Church, or better use his personal gifts and possessions. He was thanked graciously for his gesture of good will, but those who had worked on this mission were indeed resolved to serve God throughout their lives in similar activities, yet they for many good reasons were not called to live together in the way he hoped. They assured him that God was most pleased with his good will.

The Providence of God made use of this mission not only for the immediate good done by it, but as a preparation for the blessings and graces he wished to bestow upon that area in the immediate future by the ministry of Father Olier, who shortly afterward was called to be the pastor of Saint Sulpice, where with members of his community and his seminary, he not only conserved but increased and perfected the good accomplished through this mission. [4]



References

  1. The Duchess d'Aguillon.
  2. Exod 8:19.
  3. Not a direct quotation from scripture, but reminiscent of passages such as Isa 66:2 and Acts 7:50.
  4. Olier accepted this parish in the following year, 1642. At the beginning of his ministry, he highly praised the missionaries who had preceded him, particularly Francois Perrochel, the future bishop of Boulogne, who had preached with a remarkable simplicity and effect.


This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Three/Section Four
The Remarkable Results of Two Missions Given by Priests of this Company

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Three: The Spiritual Conferences for Priests

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two