Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 04/Section 03

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Some Remarkable Comments of Monsieur Vincent About the Spiritual Retreats

Abelly book two.jpg

This great servant of God recognized on the one hand the great fruits these retreats could produce for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, but he realized too the burden for his community in the expense as well as the difficulty in constantly caring for so many people of all different backgrounds and dispositions. He was apprehensive lest his confreres grow weary under such a heavy burden. This is why he often recommended to his community to be faithful to this responsibility with constancy and perseverance, and to take it to heart to serve and help those souls who came seeking God. He would say, "We must fear, gentlemen, that God will take this harvest from us to give his grace to others if we fail to use it as we ought."

On one occasion when he was recommending to the prayers of his community a person on retreat, he took the opportunity to exhort them to appreciate this holy enterprise.

Oh, gentlemen, how we ought to esteem the grace God gives us, to send us so many persons to be helped in attaining salvation. We even have many soldiers coming. Recently one of them said to me, "Monsieur, before I go into some situations I foresee, I want to be well prepared. I have had remorse of conscience and reason to doubt what might happen to me, but I have come to accept whatever God shall ask of me." Right now we have a good number of persons on retreat. Oh, gentlemen, what happy results that can produce if we work at it faithfully! But what a loss if this house would some day withdraw from this service. I declare to you, gentlemen and my brothers, I fear the day when we will no longer have the zeal which up to now let us receive these many people for retreats. And then what happens? We must fear that God will withdraw his grace for this particular work, and perhaps for others also.

Just the day before yesterday I was told of the Parlement humiliating a counsellor. He was brought in to the Grand'Chambre, dressed in the red robes of his office, but the president directed the marshals to strip him of his robes and cap, as being unfit to wear them and unequal to the duties of this office. The same thing could happen to us, gentlemen, should we abuse the graces of God in neglecting our duty. God will withdraw them from us as being unworthy of our office, and unfit for the work he has called us to. My God, what unhappiness! To convince you of the great evil this would be if God deprived us of the honor of serving him in this way, think of those who come to the retreat to discern the will of God in their thought of leaving the world. I recommend one such person to your prayers who has just finished his retreat and who is leaving here to join the Capuchins. Other communities send us their applicants to make their spiritual retreat here, to test their vocation before entering. Others come from ten, twenty or even fifty leagues away, not only to find a place for recollection and to make their general confession, but also to choose their vocation in the world, and take proper steps to assure their salvation.

We also receive many pastors and clergymen who come from everywhere to renew themselves in their calling and to advance in the spiritual life. They come with little thought of what it will cost, knowing they will be well received no matter what their financial condition. In this connection, someone told me recently what a great consolation it was for those without money to know there was some place in Paris always ready to receive them out of charity when they come, with the thought of putting themselves right with God.

In former days, gentlemen, this house was a hospital for lepers. They were accepted but not a single one was ever cured. Now it is used to receive sinners, afflicted with a spiritual leprosy, but they are cured by the grace of God. We can say more. Those who were dead are brought back to life. What happiness that the house of Saint Lazare has become a house of resurrection! This saint, after three days in the tomb, came forth alive. Our Lord who raised him from the dead does the same to others here who, after living like Lazarus in the tomb, come forth with a new life. Who would not rejoice at such a blessing? Who would not be moved to love and thank the goodness of God for such a great blessing? What a source of shame, if we make ourselves unworthy of such a grace! What confusion, gentlemen, and what regrets would we not experience one day if, by our own fault, we were degraded in shame before God and man!

What a source of sorrow it would be for a poor brother of the Company, who now sees so many people come from everywhere to spend a few days with us to amend their lives, to see this great work neglected. We would see no one else coming. We could come to that, gentlemen, not at once, but later on. What would bring this about? If you say to a poor lax missionary, Father, would you please see to the spiritual direction of this retreatant, he would see this as a sort of torture from hell. He excuses himself. He does it only, as they say, with a lick and a promise. He has such difficulty in doing this, in giving up a half hour after dinner or a half hour after supper of his usual recreation, that his time becomes unbearable. Yet it is a question of the salvation of a soul and of the best possible use of time in the entire day.

Others complain of this work because it is so demanding and expensive. And so it is that the priests of the Mission who once gave life to the dead shall have but the name and appearance of what they once were. They will be but corpses, not true missionaries. They shall be the cadaver of Lazarus, not the resurrected Lazarus, and still less men who bring life to the dead. This house which is now a pool of healing in which everyone may come to bathe, will become a corrupt cistern brought about by the laziness and relaxation of those who live here. Let us pray God, gentlemen and my brothers, that this sad state of affairs never develop. Let us pray to the holy Virgin that by her intercession and by her interest in the conversion of sinners, she may prevent this happening. Let us pray to the great Saint Lazarus that he may ever remain the protector of this house, and obtain for us the grace of perseverance in the good work which has begun. [1]

On another occasion he recommended a retreatant to the prayers of his community, then added:

Please thank God for inspiring so many persons to make their retreat here. So many priests of city and country leave all to come. So many apply each day to come, and some apply much ahead of time. This surely is a good reason to praise God! Some have just said to me, "Monsieur, so many times I have sought admission, but have had to be turned down." Others say, "Monsieur, I must leave [my present position], I am in charge, my benefice calls me, I am about to take over these responsibilities. Please allow me to stay." Another says he has just finished his studies and must decide what to do next. Still others say, "Monsieur, I have such great need of a retreat. If you, Monsieur, only knew how much I need one, you would surely allow me to stay." Some older men even come to prepare themselves for death.

What a great favor for God to call so many to this house to follow these holy exercises, and to use this family of ours as an instrument for their conversion. What should we have in mind except to gain souls for God? This is so especially when they come to us, for we should have nothing else in mind than living for that alone. Alas, they have cost the Son of God so dearly, and now he sends them to us to be returned to his favor. O Savior, take good care that we not become unworthy of this choice nor take away your helping hand from us.

I would like to believe that very few do not use the retreat well, and even so, just for the ones who do not profit from them, we must not deprive others from benefiting from what gives such good fruit. Yes, even wonderful fruit. I have spoken to you of this on other occasions, so today I will give you but one example. During the last trip I made to Brittany five years ago, an excellent man came to see me. He thanked me for the graces he had received during a spiritual retreat he made in this house. He said to me, "Oh, Monsieur, I would have been lost without it. I owe my salvation, after God, to you. The retreat brought peace to my troubled conscience. It enabled me to begin a new way of life which I have preserved since, by the grace of God, with great peace and satisfaction of mind. I am so obligated to your charity, Monsieur, that I do not hesitate to tell everyone everywhere that I would have been damned except for the retreat I made at Saint Lazare. How can I sufficiently value the grace you have secured for me? Please believe that I shall be mindful of it all the days of my life."

After hearing this, gentlemen, would we not be most unfortunate if by our laziness we forced God to withdraw his graces from us? Indeed, not all who make their retreat here will profit from it like the man I just spoke of. But is not the kingdom of God on earth peopled with the good and the bad? Is it not a net that catches all sorts of fish? In the great abundance of grace that God showers upon everyone in the world, how many abuse it? And yet, though he knows who will not use it well, he does not withdraw his grace from them. How many there are who do not use the fruits of the passion and death of our Savior and who, as the apostle says, trample under foot the blood shed for their salvation. O sweet and merciful Savior! You knew well that the greater number of men would disregard your sacrifice, and yet you did not hesitate to suffer death for their salvation even considering the vast number of infidels who would mock you, and the great number of Christians who would abuse the grace you won for them.

Every pious work is profaned by someone, and nothing is so holy that some do not abuse it. This should not make us desist. We would be blameworthy before God if we relaxed in our works of charity simply because all those who participate in them do not gain all the fruit we might wish. What a loss and what unhappiness for us, if we grew weary of this favor God has given us, of choosing us among so many other communities to provide this service, and depriving his divine Majesty of the glory owed him!

Yes, I say it again, gentlemen and my brothers, how unfortunate would he be who, by his laziness or for fear of losing his ease or by a desire for rest when he should be working, would slacken in his fervor in this holy exercise. Even should this happen by the fault of some individual, this must never happen to us as a group. We must have courage and hope that God who has given us this grace will preserve it in us, and even increase it. Let us place our confidence more and more in him with a heart strong against inconstancy, and have courage in the face of difficulties. Only this cursed spirit of laziness allows us to be put off at the least inconvenience, or fears difficulties, or which seeks to avoid trouble and work so often. It prefers its own personal satisfaction. This is an effect of self-love, which spoils and ruins everything it touches. This is why we must mortify ourselves and submit ourselves to the love of God.

Let us ask that in his mercy he would conserve in us what he had so freely given us. Yes, my brothers, this is a great gift he has given our Company. We must pray that he, in his goodness, will not allow any of us to become unworthy of his gift. O Savior, raise up in us the spirit of the great Saint Lawrence, whose feast we celebrate today, which made him triumph in the midst of the flames over all the infernal hatred against him. Raise up in us this same divine fire, this ardent fervor, which will make us, too, triumph over all the wiles of the devil, and our own corrupt nature, so opposed to the good. Grant us an ardent zeal to obtain your glory in all our work, so that in imitation of the great saint we may remain faithful to death. We ask you this through his intercession. [2]

On another occasion he spoke as follows:

We must thank God a thousand thousand times, my brothers, for choosing the house of Saint Lazare as the place to bestow his mercy, where the Holy Spirit continually inspires so many souls. If we could see this with our bodily eyes, how marvelous would it be! What happiness for us missionaries, that Saint Lazare is the throne of his divine action! That Saint Lazare should be the place where the King of Kings lives in the souls of those who come here with good intention to make their retreat! Gentlemen, we must serve them, not as mere men, but as those sent by God. We show no preference for persons. The poor are as dear to us as the rich, even more so, for they live closer to the way Jesus Christ lived when he was among us. I recommend to your prayers one of our retreatants in special need. He no doubt can do much good if he gives himself wholly to God. On the other hand, it is to be feared that if he does not, he could do much harm. [3]

On another occasion, he said:

A captain is staying with us, thinking of becoming a Carthusian. As is their custom, these good fathers have sent him here to test his vocation. I beseech you to recommend him to our Lord and also to admire his goodness in inspiring a man to a state in life so different from the one he is actually living. Let us adore this merciful Providence and appreciate that God does not regard the quality of person but chooses anyone, when in his goodness he thinks it proper to do so.

We have another retreatant here who is also a captain in the army, and whom we recommend also to your prayers. Include in your prayers, too, a man recently converted from Protestantism. He is working and writing sincerely for the defense of the truths of the faith to persuade others to follow his example. We thank God for him, and beg him to fill him more and more with his grace. [4]

On still another occasion, he said:

We recently had a priest with us who came from a long way off to make his retreat. He said to me, "Monsieur, I come to you for my retreat and if you cannot receive me, I shall be lost." When he left, he seemed so filled with the Spirit of God that I was astonished. Three others came from the limits of Champagne, mutually encouraging one another in coming to Saint Lazare for their retreat. O God, how many come from far and near by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet how strong this inspiration must be to bring men to such a crucifixion. A spiritual retreat is a sort of crucifixion of the flesh, as the holy apostle says: "I am crucified to the world and the world to me." [5]

Here then we have given some simple accounts of happenings which show the holy ardor which motivated the heart of Monsieur Vincent to bring about the reign of God in souls by the spiritual retreat. He strove to communicate this same divine fire that burned in him to his spiritual sons to enkindle in them an tireless charity and zeal for those who come to this house in search of the cure or salvation of their souls.



References

  1. CED XI:14-17.
  2. CED XI:229-32.
  3. CED XI:18.
  4. CED XI:18-19.
  5. Gal 6:14. CED XI:19-20.


This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Four/Section Three
Some Remarkable Comments of Monsieur Vincent About the Spiritual Retreats

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Four: Spiritual Retreats

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two