Abelly: Book 3/Chapter 03/Section 01

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

If, as we have just seen, the Monsieur Vincent's confidence in God was great in the pressing needs which he and his community experienced, it was no less firm in the reverses, difficulties, and other annoying and threatening things that happened to him. It was noticed that no matter what occurred, or in what difficulties he found himself, he was never beaten down or discouraged, but was always full of trust in God. He enjoyed a constant evenness of spirit and a perfect abandonment to his divine Providence. He seemed pleased to be put in such disturbing situations, to give himself the opportunity to put himself more completely and absolutely into the hands of divine Providence.

A superior of one of the main houses of the Congregation alerted him to some intrigues against the community that seemingly threatened to harm it. Even some highly placed persons supported the community's adversaries. Monsieur Vincent replied, in this manner:

"As to the intrigues against us, pray God to spare us from this spirit. If we blame others for harboring this defect, it is only reasonable for us to avoid the same fault. This is a fault against divine Providence which makes one unworthy of the care God has for all. Let us remain completely dependent upon him, in the confidence that if we do so, God will bring good from all that people may do or say against us. Yes, Monsieur, even when everyone works against us they will be able to achieve only what pleases God, in whom we have put our trust. Please adopt these sentiments and preserve them, so that you never even bother to think about these useless worries. <Ftn: CED IV:393-94.>"

One more thing showed his perfect confidence in God. This was the preservation and spread of his Congregation. Even though its welfare was dearer to him than life itself, he depended entirely on God for all that concerned its development and safety. To assure himself that this dependence was absolute and his confidence complete, he never acted in any way to obtain any benefices, houses, or establishments, nor even to attract any candidates for the Congregation. He preferred to rely on Providence alone. When offered gifts he was more inclined to accept the lesser rather than the greater. When there was a question of admitting someone to the community, he hesitated more to receive persons of some distinction or of some renown in the world than he did for accepting those of the lower class. He did not make a distinction between persons, but he was most cautious of doing anything based on mere natural impulses or from a mere human respect. He feared he might be circumventing the direction of the Providence of God.

For this same reason he was on his guard in the face of anything out of the ordinary. He was uneasy even with gifted spirits, unless he saw that these people were endowed with a true and sincere humility. He felt that those not blessed with abundant natural talents, or those who had not acquired a special competence, were more apt to place their trust in God. Thus they would be better suited to the Congregation, where they would succeed with greater blessings than the other more gifted ones who were likely to trust more in themselves and less in God. A prelate who had often remarked on this trait in Monsieur Vincent, said on one occasion: "This principle, introduced by him into the Congregation, of not favoring gifts of nature or fortune unless they were joined to virtue and subservient to grace, was one of the major means by which God inspired him to preserve his Congregation in the purity of its spirit."

Monsieur Vincent often recommended to his confreres not to solicit anything for themselves or for the Congregation, whether position, comforts, or favors, but simply to accept with humility and thanks whatever God sent them. He wanted them to put out of their minds all worry or pressures about their needs or their occupations, so that, after taking a reasonable and moderate care of these things, they would leave everything to the good pleasure of divine Providence. He wrote the following to a priest of the Congregation who was substituting for the superior of the house in Rome during his absence.

Every day you give me reason to praise God for your affection for our Congregation, and for your attention to the affairs of your house. I praise him with all my heart, and yet I am also obliged to tell you, as our Lord told Martha, that there is a bit too much worry on your part. Only one thing is necessary, and that is to give more to God and to his direction than you now do. Anticipation is good when it is accepting, but it goes to excess when we worry about avoiding something we foresee. We expect more from our own insights than we do from Providence. We think we will accomplish much by substituting our blindness for his light, and by putting our trust in human prudence rather than in his word. Our divine Savior assures us in the Gospel that not a sparrow, nor even a hair of our head, will fall to the ground without his permission. Yet you fear that our little Company will fail if we do not take this or that precaution, if we do not do one thing or another, so much so that you fear that if we fail to do these things others will build on our ruins. As soon as someone raises an objection against us, we must answer it. If someone seems ready to steal our followers, we must get ahead of him, or else all will be lost.

This is what I sense when what I read your letters, and what is worse, your lively spirit leads you to do what you say, thinking you have enough insight yourself without needing to consult others. Oh, Monsieur, how unsuited this is to a missionary! It would be better if a hundred missions were concluded by others, rather than to have prevented a single one. If our zeal is genuine we ought to be glad to see anyone prophesy, to see God sending new workers into his Church, or to see the reputation of others grow and ours decrease. Monsieur, please have greater confidence in God, let him steer our little ship. If it is useful to him he will save it from shipwreck. Neither the might nor the multitude of the other vessels will cause it to founder. On the contrary, it will sail along with them with greater assurance as long as it keeps to its course and does not interfere with the others. <Ftn: CED IV:346-47.>

At the time of the approval of the Congregation by Rome and the royal letters patent for the establishment of the community at Saint Lazare, the two approvals on which the future of the community depended but which had aroused strong opposition, Monsieur Vincent had such confidence in God that he wrote these remarkable words to one of the priests of his Congregation:

I fear only my own sins, and not the outcome of the business at Rome and Paris concerning the success of the bulls and the affairs of Saint Lazare. Sooner or later everything will work out. Qui timent Dominum sperent in eo, adjutor eorum et protector eorum est ["Let those who fear the Lord trust in him; he is their help and their shield"]. <Ftn: Based on Ps 115:11. CED I:162-65.>

We should remark that he did not speak of the future success of these matters with a presumptuous certitude. He feared only his own sins and he placed no reliance on himself. He relied only on his perfect confidence that God, who had brought his small Congregation into being, would not abandon it, but would bring it to its perfection. He was often heard to say: "Once God has begun to do good to a creature he will continue to do so to the end unless it makes itself unworthy of his help."

We should add here what he said one day to his community, in the early days of the Congregation, exhorting them to have a perfect confidence in God.

Have trust in God, gentlemen and my brothers, but have it completely and perfectly. You can be sure that having begun this work in us he will bring it to fulfillment. I ask you, who began this Congregation? Who called us to the missions, the ordination retreats, the clergy conferences, the retreats? Was it I? Not at all. Was it Monsieur Portail whom God sent to join me in the beginning? Not at all, for we never thought of these things, we never even considered them. Then who is the author of all this? It is God in his paternal Providence and his goodness. We are but wretched workmen, poor ignoramuses. Among us there are few or none of the nobility, no one powerful, learned, or capable of anything. God alone does everything, and he does it with people like ourselves, so all glory should be given to him alone.

Put all your confidence in him, then. If we place our confidence in men, or on some gift of nature or fortune, then God will withdraw from us. But, someone will say, we need friends, both for ourselves and for our community. Oh, my brothers, be on your guard against such thoughts, lest you be fooled. Seek God alone, and he will give you friends and everything else besides. Would you like to know why we will sometimes fail in what we do? It is because we rely upon ourselves. When a preacher, superior, or confessor relies too much on his own prudence, learning, or his own gifts, what happens? God withdraws, and leaves him to himself, and whatever he does produces no fruit. This makes him see his own uselessness, and he learns through his own experience that no matter how talented he may be, he can do nothing without God. <Ftn: CED XII:38-39.>