Saint Vincent de Paul and the Mission

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

[This article appeared in Volume I of En tiempos de San Vicente de Paúl … y hoy, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes (Salamanca) Spain, 1997, p. 11-14. The above cited work was translated from the French by Martín Abaitua, CM (Au tempts de St. Vincent-de-Paul… et aujourd ‘hui. Animation Vicentienne, 16, Grande rue Saínt-Michel, Toulouse, France … this work is not attributed to any one author but it is stated in the Introduction that the articles were written by various authors].


Presentation of the theme

Saint John tells us that Jesus revealed himself through a sign: Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee (John 2:11). It is interesting to note the fact that Vincent used similar words when describing his spiritual and missionary journey: that is the first place where the Confraternity of Charity was established (CCD:IX:193); that was the first sermon of the Mission (CCD:XI:4).

A glance at Vincent’s life

In 1617 two events occurred that shaped the future direction of Vincent: in Gannes-Folleville he met a poor man who was ignorant with regard to the fundamental truths of Christianity and in Châtillon-les-Dombes he met a poor family that was lacking material goods.

Vincent did not begin with some theory in the matter of “mission” but rather he looked at the way in which people were living their life and there he discovered God’s call: the poor are abandoned. God loves the poor, consequently, he loves those who love the poor; for, when we truly love someone, we have an affection for his friends and for his servants. Now the Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor, the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope that, for love of them, God will love us. Come then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned; let us acknowledge before God that they are our lords and masters and that we are unworthy of rendering them our little services (CCD:XI:349).

In light of the gospel

In Saint Luke 4:18, the fundamental text for Vincent de Paul, Jesus affirmed at the beginning of his public ministry the following: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.

Our mission

The poor are abandoned by the world and by the Church. Nevertheless Jesus Christ came into the world to proclaim the Good News to the poor. This scandalous contradiction made Vincent question himself and led him to define our mission as a continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ and an imitation of Christ, “the missionary”. ?

Saint Vincent and the mission

“…that was the first sermon of the Mission…” That took place in the month of January 1617, and, on the twenty-fifth, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, that lady asked me to preach a sermon in the church of Folleville to urge the people to make a general confession, which I did … there was a huge crowd, and God gave his blessing everywhere. That was the first sermon of the Mission and {that was also] the success [that] God gave it on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, and he certainly had a plan in mind on that day (CCD:XI:3-4).

“…the first place where the Confraternity of Charity was established…” I have told you many times, Sisters, that you can be very certain God is your founder, for I can tell you before him that in my whole life I never thought of it, and neither, I think, did Mile Ie Gras. I told you how it came about. However, because many of those here present were not here then, I will repeat it once more so that you may see God's guidance of your establishment. I will tell you, then, that while I was living in a small town near Lyons, where Providence had called me to be the pastor, I was vesting to celebrate Holy Mass one Sunday when I was told that in an isolated house a quarter of a league away everyone was ill. None of them was able to help the others, and they were all in indescribable need. That touched me to the heart. During the sermon, I made sure to commend them zealously to the congregation, and God, touching the hearts of those who heard me, moved them with compassion for those poor afflicted people … and that's the first place where the Confraternity of Charity was established (CCD:IX:192. 193).

“…the poor are abandoned…” God loves the poor, consequently, he loves those who love the poor; for, when we truly love someone, we have an affection for his friends and for his servants. Now the Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor, the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope that, for love of them, God will love us. Come then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned; let us acknowledge before God that they are our lords and masters and that we are unworthy of rendering them our little services (CCD:XI:349).

“…He has sent me to proclaim Good News to the poor…” In this vocation, we are very much in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who seems to have made his principal aim, in coming into the world, to assist poor people and to take care of them. Misit me evangelizare pauperibus. And if we ask Our Lord, “What did you come to do on earth?” “To assist the poor.” “Anything else?” “To assist the poor,” etc. Now, he had only poor persons in his company and he devoted himself very little to cities, almost always conversing with and instructing village people. So, are we not very fortunate to belong to the Mission for the same purpose that caused God to become man? (CCD:XI:98).

“…to preach the gospel by words and by works…” If priests devote themselves to the care of the poor, wasn’t that what Our Lord and many great saints did, and they not only recommended poor persons to others, but they themselves consoled, comforted, and healed them … Aren’t they our brothers and sisters? And if priests abandon them, whom do you think is going to help them. So then, if there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others, if we want to hear those pleasing words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, “Come, beloved of my Father; possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I want naked and you clothed me; sick and you assisted me.” To do that is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, and that is the most perfect way; it is also what Our Lord did, and what those should do who represent him on earth, officially and by nature, as priests do (CCD:XII:77-78).

"our vocation is a continuation of Jesus’ …” But, Monsieur, we aren’t the only ones who instruct poor people; do Pastors do anything else? What about preachers in towns and villages? …That is what Missioners profess to do; it is their special characteristic to be, like Jesus Christ, committed to the poor. So, our vocation is a continuation of his … to make God known to poor persons; to announce Jesus Christ to them; to tell them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and that it is for persons who are poor. Oh, what a great thing that is! But it goes beyond our understanding that we should be called to be associates and sharers in the plans of the Son of God … it is such a lofty ministry to evangelize poor persons, which is, par excellence, the work of the Son of God, and we have been included in it as instruments by which the Son of God continues to do from heaven what he did on earth. What great reason we have to praise God and to thank God continually for this grace (CCD:XII:71-72).

“…do not hinder us from imitating Jesus Christ…” I am bringing up these problems, my dear confreres, before they occur because it may happen that they will arise. I cannot go on much longer; I will be passing on soon; my age, my poor health, and the abominations of my life do not permit that God will let me remain long on earth. So then, it could happen that, after my death, trouble-makers and cowardly men may come along and say, “Why should we be weighed down with the care of these hospitals? How can we help so many people ruined by wars, and go to see them in their homes? What’s the use of taking on so many things and so many poor persons? Why guide these Sisters who nurse the sick, and why waste our time on persons who are mentally ill?” There will be some who oppose those ministries --- have no doubt about that --- and others will say that it is too much to attempt to send men to distant countries, to the Indies, or to Barbary. But, my God, but, my Lord, didn’t you send Saint Thomas to the Indies and the other Apostles throughout the world? Didn’t you make them responsible for the care and guidance of all peoples in general and many persons and families in particular? No matter; our vocation is: Evangelizare pauperibus! (CCD:XII:79).

“But,” they will say, “the Company is bogged down by such or such a ministry.” Ah! If, in its infancy, the Company sustained it and carried all the other burdens, why won’t it be able to manage this when it is stronger? Those men have to be told, “Leave us alone, leave us in the state in which Our Lord was when he was on earth; we are doing what he did; do not hinder us from imitating him.” Warn them, you see, warn them and do not listen to them (CCD:XII:81).

Questions for reflection and sharing

--- A glance at Vincent’s life: Saint Vincent discovered the poor in Gannes and in Châtillon and we know what followed. How do we encounter the poor? What questions do the poor make us ask? (think of a specific situation and analyze it in a serious manner)

---In light of the gospel: Vincent, as he reflected on the gospels, was surprised by the apparent failure of Jesus’ mission because the poor are abandoned. Today what is the situation of those who are poor (reflect on the reality of those who are poor in light of Luke 4:18).

---Our mission: The apparent failure of Jesus’ mission led Vincent to a decision, namely, to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. How are we fulfilling our role as Vincentian in the Church today?

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM