Abelly: Book 1/Chapter 49
Index of Abelly: Book One
A Reflection on the Pains and Afflictions Endured by Monsieur Vincent
It is essential, as the holy apostle says, that those who wish to live virtuously in the service of Jesus Christ must endure contradictions and suffering. They must be identified with him in sharing his cross and crown of thorns to be worthy to be called his follower. Those who reign with him in eternity must have suffered with him here below.
Monsieur Vincent, who devoted himself with such fidelity to serve the King of glory and strove to imitate his Lord in all things, could not rightly be deprived of the honor of sharing in the sufferings of the cross. We do not speak here of the austerities and mortifications he imposed upon himself which shall be discussed in Book Three. <Ftn: Ch. 19.> Instead we will take up here what he had to endure at the hands of other people, or possibly because of a singular disposition of divine Providence.
Because Monsieur Vincent was such a model of prudence, caution, deference, humility, and charity in his actions, and involved, we venture to say, beyond anyone else of our time in all sorts of charitable undertakings, he caused less opposition than would normally be expected. He could not avoid all poisonous criticism and even calumny, however, because it is not always possible to please both God and man at the same time. Also, he served in the royal council as dispenser of benefices, in which office he was obliged occasionally to refuse or even oppose the unjust pretensions of some petitioners. This, of course, aroused the wrath of those who were unsuccessful and who took great offense at this. This led to complaints, murmurings, reproaches, and sometimes downright threats and injuries, even in his own house. Complaints and calumnies were spread abroad in many quarters against his reputation and his honor. All these things were not the chief cause of pain for him, since from being broken by them one of his greatest joys was to be allowed to suffer affronts and injuries for the love and service of Jesus Christ.
More than once he experienced great loss and damage, chiefly during war time, when he witnessed Saint Lazare and all the small farms depending upon it overrun by the soldiers. They drove off the farm animals, stole provisions of wheat and wine, and still he counted this as gain, for he recognized this as in the designs of divine Providence. He was happy to sacrifice all exterior things to conform his spirit more thoroughly to the holy will of God which was his main, or better, his only treasure.
These persecutions and annoyances, attacking either his goods or his honor, were painful to human nature but these did not cause him the most pain. It was rather the sight of France and nearly every other country in Christendom ravaged by war. War was the source of murders, violence, sacrilege, profanation of churches, blasphemy, and attacks against the person of Jesus Christ in the blessed sacrament of the altar. Within the Church schisms and divisions arose among Catholics because of the Jansenist heresy, and this gave great comfort to the enemies of the Church. In a word, the impieties, scandals and crimes he saw committed everywhere were as arrows which pierced his heart. Since the ills of his time seemed to be spread over the whole world we can well imagine how his soul was plunged into a sea of bitter sorrow.
Another source of sorrow for him to which he was very sensitive was the death of fellow servants of God, men committed to the spread of the kingdom. The number of such people was limited, and the Church's need so great, that he appreciated nothing so much as a valiant servant of the Gospel. The loss, therefore, of some of the best missionaries of the Congregation, either in France or elsewhere, touched him deeply. Many of these men were of an age or disposition such that they could still be expected to give great service to the Church. Five or six died in Genoa attending the stricken during an outbreak of the plague; four died in Barbary where they had gone to minister to the Christian slaves; six or seven died in Madagascar in their efforts to convert the infidels of that island; two died in Poland, where they had been sent to preach the Catholic religion. We do not mention the losses incurred during the wars when, tired out by their services to the poor in Paris and in the frontier regions, several succumbed.
The most regrettable losses to him in 1660, a little before his death, were the passing of three of his closest friends. The first of these was Monsieur Portail, a gift of God to him for almost fifty years. He was the first to be associated with him in the work of the mission, the first priest of the Congregation, later his secretary and first assistant. He was the one most involved in the government of the Congregation and the one in whom Monsieur Vincent had the greatest confidence.
Another loss was Mademoiselle le Gras, foundress and first superioress of the Daughters of Charity. God had favored her with great graces of salvation and of concern for the neighbor. She had a special regard for Monsieur Vincent and had a great confidence in him, and he in his turn appreciated her virtues and especially her insights about the poor. He used to write often to her about matters touching the Daughters of Charity, but seldom saw her, except when necessary. She was of uncertain health and almost always ill. Monsieur Vincent used to say that for her last twenty years she had survived only by a miracle. She feared dying without having had the opportunity to receive the last rites from his hands. Yet God did not allow this to happen, either to test her virtue or to increase her merits. At the time Monsieur Vincent himself was so feeble he could hardly stand. She asked him at least to send a few words to console her in her last hours, but he preferred not to do so. Instead, he sent one of the priests of the Congregation as a living letter with the words that she was going to heaven before him, and he hoped soon to see her there. She died soon after. <Ftn: March 15, 1660. Soon after, the saint presided at two conferences on her virtues; CED X:709-36.>
Though he was sorely afflicted by her passing, he had been so prepared by previous experiences of great trials that he was able to accept her death with submission to the will of God and with serenity of spirit. He had always delegated the supervision of the Daughters of Charity to Monsieur Portail, even though he himself was the founder and superior. After these two deaths the direction of that Congregation again fell to him, at a time when he could no longer go out or do much work. This caused him even more worry.
The third person whose death that same year caused him much grief was Louis de Rochechouart de Chandenier, abbot of Tournus. He had retired to Saint Lazare several years before to be with his brother, the abbot of Moutier-Saint Jean. <Ftn: Claude-Charles de Rochechouart de Chandenier, who died May 18, 1710.> These two had been received at Saint Lazare in return for some weighty considerations, even in face of the resolution previously taken by the community not to accept boarders to live with them. The exception to this rule was for those houses where a seminary was attached. The two brothers were the worthy scions of the family of their uncle Cardinal de Rochefoucauld, whose memory is still held in such benediction in all the Church. <Ftn: Francois de la Rochefoucauld, born in 1558, became bishop of Clermont, a cardinal in 1607, and later was named bishop of Senlis. He resigned his see to work to reform monastic life. He died in 1645, attended by Saint Vincent.> These two priests were privileged by birth, but more so in their exemplary lives. The modesty of the one still alive does not allow us to speak with the same freedom as we do of his older brother. This priest served as a living example of the reformed commendatary abbots of the kingdom: mental prayer was his ordinary nourishment, humility his ornament, mortification his delight, work his repose, charity his usual occupation, and poverty his favorite companion.
He was among the clergy who came each Tuesday to Saint Lazare for the weekly conference. He had helped out in several of the missions in favor of the poor and had been in charge of the one established in Metz at the invitation of queen mother in 1658. He also was visitor general of the Carmelites in France. Several bishops spoke to him about their wish to cede their dioceses to him, with the thought that his promotion to the episcopate would be advantageous to the Church. He expressed his gratitude but felt that God was not calling him to this exalted state. He preferred and actively sought to be at the beck and call of others rather than to rule over them.
The two brothers committed a good part of their revenues to the many poor of their region. They were aware, however, that holding multiple benefices was neither in keeping with the sacred canons nor conformable to the mind of the Church. In keeping with this thought, both surrendered all except one benefice apiece to provide for the poor. They would thus give an example so rare in our day yet so worthy of imitation.
These two worthy brothers joined two priests of the Congregation of the Mission on a trip to Rome towards the end of 1659, as arranged by Monsieur Vincent. Our holy father the pope, Alexander VII, was pleased to receive them, and the entire Roman court was edified at their modesty and virtue during their three or four months in Rome.
At this moment, the abbot of Tournus, who had decided even before this trip to present himself to the Congregation of the Mission as a candidate for membership, fell sick. He urged the superior of the Mission in Rome <Ftn: Edme (or Edmonde) Jolly, 1622-1697, entered the Congregation in 1646 after experience in the French diplomatic corps. With his experience in Rome before and after his ordination, he rendered immense services to the Congregation by his negotiations with the Holy See. The general assembly of 1673 elected him as the third superior general.> to receive him into the Congregation. He feared the priest might die before having the happiness of being numbered among the missionaries. His request was not granted, however, because of his state of health. It was thought better to have Monsieur Vincent receive him in Paris, if he could manage to return there. He seemed a little better towards August of the following year, 1660. He took leave of His Holiness and, with his brother, left for Paris with the resolution of persuading Monsieur Vincent to accept him into the Congregation. God rewarded this holy and generous resolution to leave all for his service. He developed a new fever on the way and had to break his journey at Chambery in Savoy. His condition worsened, and in a few days he was in extreme danger. Finally, God called him from this world by a saintly death, to bestow upon him the crown of life.
Here is what the priest of the Mission <Ftn: Thomas Berthe.> who accompanied him wrote to Monsieur Vincent:
I had alerted you earlier to the sickness of Monsieur de Chandenier, abbot of Tournus, and the grave danger he faced. I now must tell you that it pleased God to call him to himself yesterday, the third of May, about five in the afternoon. His end was fashioned by his life, that is, saintly. I will fill in the details later when I have a little more time. I will tell you only, Monsieur, that he insisted several times that I should receive him among our number and give him the consolation of dying as a member of the Congregation of the Mission. In any case he planned on entering the Congregation once he had returned to Paris. I could not refuse him, and so I gave him the cassock of our Congregation in the presence of the abbot of Moutier-Saint Jean, his brother. <Ftn: CED VIII:288.>
Let us hear Monsieur Vincent on the same subject. He wrote to one of his priests in Barbary:
Six or seven years ago the two brother priests, the Fathers de Chandenier, retired to Saint Lazare. This was a blessing for the Congregation, for they were marvelous in their edification. A month ago it pleased God to call to himself the older of the two, the abbot of Tournus, a man more filled with the Spirit of God than anyone I know. He lived as a saint and died as one of us, a missionary. He had gone on a trip to Rome with his brother and two of our priests. On his way back to Paris he died at Chambery, but not before insisting that he be received into the Congregation. This was done. Previously he had made the same request to me several times, but as his status and virtue were above us, I did not accede to his wish. We were not worthy of the honor. Only our heavenly home is suitable to receive him as a missionary. Our houses on earth have inherited the example of his saintly life, to be both admired and imitated. I don't know what he saw in our poor Congregation that made him want to appear before God clothed in our wretched rags, bearing the name and attire of a priest of the Congregation of the Mission. But it is as such that I commend him to your prayers. <Ftn: CED VIII:302-03.>
The body of the virtuous abbot was brought to Paris through the good offices of the abbot of Moutier-Saint Jean, who cherished and honored him as a brother taking the place of a father who had been such a consolation to him. He was buried in the church of Saint Lazare, where he awaits the general resurrection. No doubt his death was a great loss for the Church, for the Congregation of the Mission and especially for Monsieur Vincent. So true was this that he wept, a thing he rarely did. Thus God crowned the merits of his servant in the last years of his life by sending him these great sorrows, or rather three great occasions to heighten his virtue, in taking from him the three persons he loved so tenderly, so religiously, beyond all others.
Index of Abelly: Book One