Abelly: Book 3/Chapter 03
If we say that the faith of Monsieur Vincent was great, we must also add that his hope was no less perfect. In imitation of the Father of all believers he often hoped against hope itself, by which we mean that he hoped in God when according to all human expectations he ought to have despaired. Just as his faith was simple and pure, founded on the truth of God alone, so his hope was not based on the considerations and reasonings of human nature but solely on the mercy and goodness of God.
Whenever there was a question of undertaking something for the service of God, after invoking his guidance and perceiving his will, he confidently relied on his infinite goodness. In carrying out his projects he used all the conventional human resources, yet he did not rely on these, but only on the help he anticipated from God. Once he had undertaken a project in this spirit, he expected that God would help him and his Company. Should one of his confreres, through a lack of hope and trust or because of human prudence sometimes points out the difficulty or even impossibility of achieving the purpose of the project, he would usually say, "Let us leave that to our Lord, for it is his work. It pleased him to begin it, so we must be sure that he will bring it to fruition in the way he deems best." He would sometimes encourage those who doubted: "Have courage, trust in our Lord. He is our inspiration and our help in this work we have begun and to which he has called us."
Writing one day to a superior of one of the missions of the Congregation, he said:
- "I sympathize with you that your labor is so difficult, and has become even more so because of the sickness of some of your confreres. The good God has brought this about, and doubtless he will give you added strength to bear this added burden. He is your strength, and will be your reward for the extraordinary efforts you display on this occasion. Believe me, three men are worth more than ten when our Lord takes charge. He does help when human means are taken away, especially when he asks us to do more than is humanly possible. We pray, however, that in his divine goodness he will restore your sick priests to health and fill your community with great trust in his mercy. <Ftn: CED IV:115-16.>"
To cultivate the perfect confidence in God that he recommended so often to his confreres, he urged them to have a low opinion of themselves. They should also be convinced that they could accomplish nothing by themselves, unless it were to ruin God's designs. Thus by being so thoroughly convinced of their own powerlessness, they were to develop an entire and perfect dependence on the guidance of God and on the effects of his grace. For this gift they were to have constant recourse to him in prayer. Writing to one of his priests he said:
I thank God that you have learned the art of humbling yourself by recognizing and speaking about your faults. You are right to think of yourself as unfit for many works, for on this foundation our Lord establishes his grace to accomplish his designs towards us. When you allow yourself to think of your own insufficiency, you then must also recall his adorable bounty. You truly have good reason to be wary of yourself, but you have even greater reason to trust in God. If you feel yourself drawn to evil, believe that God draws you even more to the good, and he can effect it in you and by you. Please meditate on this. During the day allow your mind to reflect on this principle so that, after reflecting on your own weakness, you may turn to his help. Think of his infinite mercy more than of your own unworthiness, of his guidance more than of your own weakness. Abandon yourself into his paternal arms in the hope that he will work through you, blessing the works you do in his name. <Ftn: CED V:164-65.>
When Monsieur Vincent sent his priests and brothers to the farthest and most difficult missions in foreign lands, his chief recommendation was that they fill their hearts with a true and perfect confidence in God. He said to them:
- "Go, gentlemen, in the name of our Lord, for it is he who sends you. You begin this voyage and this mission for his service and his glory. He will guide, help, and protect you. We hope for this from his infinite goodness. Remain always dependent upon his guidance. Have recourse to him everywhere and in every encounter. Throw yourselves into his arms, recognizing him as your loving Father, completely confident that he will help you and bless your work."
Lastly, even in all the greatest and most difficult enterprises which caused him such trouble and cost him so much, once this holy man had ascertained the will of God he plunged ahead. He was undeterred by any obstacle, believing this truth which he often repeated, "Divine Providence will never fail us in those things we undertake by its direction." He devoted himself even more to those great undertakings which he saw as being more difficult and painful.
His confidence in God was also apparent when he saw the poverty and pressing needs of some of the houses and communities of his Congregation. Once, a superior of one of his houses wrote to tell him of the great difficulties that had arisen because of the poor crops and the resulting high cost of living. Monsieur Vincent replied to him:
- You must not be overwhelmed if there is a bad year, or even several bad ones in a row. God is abundant in riches. You have lacked nothing up to now, so why do you fear? Does he not take care of the sparrows, who neither sow nor reap? How much greater will his goodness be toward his servants? Naturally, you want to have all your supplies stored away to be assured of having everything you desire. Yet I think spiritually you would do better to find the occasion to depend on God alone, as a truly poor person, for the Lord is generous and infinitely wealthy. God wishes to have pity on his poor people who are so ready to complain at a time of scarcity, since they do not know how to use adversity well, nor do they seek first the Kingdom of God and his justice. They do not make themselves worthy of those things necessary to the present life over and above what is given to them for eternal life. <Ftn: CED VII:156-57.>
It became known that one day the treasurer of the house of Saint Lazare came to tell him that there was not a sou left in the house to cover either the ordinary or the extraordinary expenses arising during the ordination retreats about to begin. Full of confidence in God, he raised his voice: "What good news! God be blessed! Fine, now we will see if we have confidence in God." One of his priest friends spoke to him one day about the large expense these ordination retreats must entail. He thought that the house of Saint Lazare was surely put to great inconvenience and could no longer support such a responsibility. He suggested that perhaps each ordinand should be charged something for his stay at Saint Lazare. Monsieur Vincent replied, with a smile, "When we have spent all we have for our Lord and nothing remains, then we will leave the key under the door and go."
Also, some of his own community remonstrated with him on the large debts incurred because of the clergy conferences and other works of charity centered at Saint Lazare. It was pointed out to him that the community was in danger of financial ruin if he did not curtail his charities and limit the number of people who came for retreats. His reply to this was, "The treasures of God's Providence are inexhaustible, and our distrust of God does him no honor. If our Company of the Mission is destroyed, it will not be by poverty but by wealth."
He said practically the same thing to a lawyer of the Parlement of Paris who was making a retreat at Saint Lazare. He was surprised to see so many people in the dining room, besides the large number who normally lived there. His curiosity led him to ask Monsieur Vincent how he managed to feed so many. He answered, "Monsieur, the treasury of God's Providence is large. We must put our cares and concerns into his hands, for he will never fail to provide our food, as he has promised." He added these words of the psalmist he especially savored: Oculi omnium in te sperant, Domine, et tu das illis escam in tempore opportuno; Aperis tu manum tuam, et imples omne animal benedictione ["The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing"]. <Ftn: Ps 145:15-16, a prayer used as grace before meals.>
Once the house of Saint Lazare experienced a serious loss while he was absent. When Monsieur Vincent was informed of this, he wrote to the community:
- "All that God does he does for the best, so we must hope that this loss will profit us, since it comes from God. All things work for good for the just. We have been told that the one who receives adversities from the hand of God must receive them with joy and blessing. Gentlemen and my brothers, please thank God for what has happened, for this loss, and for the disposition he has inspired in us to accept this loss for the sake of his love. It is a great loss, but he knows how to turn it to our profit by means we are now unaware of, but which we will surely see one day. I hope the way everyone reacted to this unexpected accident will serve as the foundation for the grace God will give us so that in the future, we may make good use of any troubles which he may send. <Ftn: CED XII, 52-57.>"
Several of his friends suggested that he appeal the loss by having recourse to the legal remedy which they proposed. He refused, and among the reasons he gave in a letter to one of them, he included the following: We have good reason to hope that if we seek first the Kingdom of God, as Jesus Christ teaches us in the Gospel, we will want for nothing. If, on the one hand the world deprives us of something, you can be sure that, on the other, God will make it up to us. This we have already experienced with this present loss, for God has inspired a friend to make a gift to us that covers almost all we lost. <Ftn: CED VII:406.>
We should report here a remarkable letter on this same topic which Monsieur Vincent wrote to one of his priests who had taken charge of a certain farm. After giving him some general directions about its management, he concluded: "There you are, with many directions about temporal affairs. May it please God that they not distract you from spiritual affairs. May his holy Spirit, which cares for the needs of all creatures of the entire world down to the smallest insect, dwell in you. O Monsieur, we must apply ourselves well if we are to participate fully in this holy Spirit." <Ftn: CED I:475.>