Saint Vincent de Paul in Clichy: the passionate living out of his priesthood
by: José Manuel Villar Suárez, CM
(This article first appeared in San Vicente de Paúl, Ayer y Hoy, XXXIII Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, [Saint Vincent de Paul, Yesterday and Today, XXXIII Vincentian Studies Week], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2008)
Let us situate ourselves. The organizers of this Vincentian Week have given very limited yet specific objective to my presentation, namely, they have requested that I focus on the time when Vincent de Paul was pastor at the parish of Clichy. Those who have studied the life of Saint Vincent know that he only spent a little more than a year in this parish. Before attempting to give answers to specific questions let me engage in a journey so that we can situate ourselves in the year 1611 … I invite you to travel with me.
At that time Vincent de Paul was thirty-one years old. He had matured and, speaking in religious terms, he had engaged in a process of profound conversion. Among other events, the accusation of theft and his encounter with Bérulle were milestones in his life (other individuals in their presentations will point out the significance of these events). We can affirm, however, that our saint had experienced pastoral progress as he established relationships with the humble and the poor. At the same time he experienced spiritual progress as a result of his friendship with Bérulle and his circle of good priests. At that time, however, his spiritual situation was by far not the best. He found himself in the midst of incredible temptations against the faith. In traditional language we could say that he was experiencing the “dark night of the spirit”: His soul was plunged into darkness. He found it impossible to make an act of faith. He felt all his childhood beliefs and certainties crumble around him. The only thing that helped him in this time of darkness was the conviction that this trial came from God and that eventually God would have pity on him. He redoubled his prayers and penances and took the most practical measures he could devise .
Thus we find our saint in a situation in which he experienced the dark night of faith. It was also at this time that he rediscovered his priestly vocation. Even though the path was by no means a straight line yet Vincent found himself called to travel along this seemingly strange path.
On the other hand, Bérulle, who was Vincent’s spiritual director, was very involved with the details of establishing the Oratorians. This fact will be very important for the theme that we are dealing with in this presentation. Why? … because one of Berulle’s first companions would be François Bourgoing who was pastor of Clichy-en-Garenne, a place near Paris. In order to engage in this new undertaking, that is, in order to become one of Bérulle’s followers, he had to resign this position and all the responsibilities that he had accepted. As a “good pastor of souls” he was looking for a new pastor for the flock and, with the assistance of Bérulle, he found one in the person of Vincent de Paul.
Don’t let the time machine move forward too fast. We are still in the year 1611 … and now it is October. On October 13, François Bourgoing submitted his resignation, thus leaving his position as pastor and renouncing all that was involved in being the pastor of Clichy. The Holy See accepted this document on November 12th of the same year. Until May 2nd, 1612 we have no formal record that Vincent de Paul was pastor. The formal decree by which Vincent took possession of this parish (the original document is in Latin) has been translated and published in the thirteenth volume of Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. It is very interesting to read this document.
On Wednesday afternoon, May 2, 1612, I, the undersigned, Thomas Gallot, cleric in Paris, civil servant now residing in Paris in the new quarter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Licentiate in Pontifical and Roman Law by apostolic authority, and sworn notary of the venerable episcopal curia and prefecture in Paris, in pursuance of the royal edict, by the force and authority of the certified signature of the apostolic letter of appointment to the parish church of Saint-Sauveur-Saint-Medard in Clichy-en-Garenne, Paris diocese, drawn up by our Most Holy Lord Pope Paul V and granted to the trustworthy man Maitre Vincent de Paul, priest of the Dax diocese, Bachelor of the sacred science of Theology, upon the resignation of Reverend Maitre François Bourgoing, lately or earlier the last and immediate uncontested Pastor of that same parish church in Clichy, or of Maitre Bourgoing, legitimately constituted figure, on the basis of the edict proclaimed as follows: "Be it done as requested. C." and dated "Given at Saint Peter's in Rome November 12, in the seventh year of the pontificate" of the same Most Holy Lord Pope Paul V and transcribed in the proper form, appointed this same Reverend Maitre Vincent de Paul, who personally appeared and requested it of me, to the corporal, real, and actual possession of the above-mentioned parish or parochial church of Saint-Sauveur-Saint-Medard in Clichy-en-Garenne, with free entry and departure in and out of the same parish church, the taking and sprinkling of holy water, the outpouring of prayers while kneeling, veneration of the image of the Crucified as well as the main, prominent altar of the church, kissing and touching the altar and the missal that is placed on the altar; touching also the sacrarium or tabernacle in which is kept and preserved the revered Body of Christ, and the baptismal font; sitting in the pew reserved for the Pastor in the choir of the church itself; ringing the bells; and other customary formalities duly observed in similar situations, together with free entrance and departure into and out of the rectory. I have likewise published and made known this taking possession effected by Reverend de Paul and the resignation of Reverend Bourgoing and have done so publicly and clearly, according to the King's edict, without opposition or contradiction from anyone.
In addition, with regard to each and every one of the above matters, I, the aforesaid and undersigned notary, have permitted and granted that the Act be enforced and serve Reverend de Paul, who petitions and requests this of me for himself, in the appropriate place and time, in accordance with the law.
All of the aforesaid has been done in the church and rectory of Clichy-en-Garenne, in the presence of Maître Gilles Beaufils, priest and Vicar of the Chartres diocese, and of the following upright men: Jean Moreau, Registrar of the church and Procureur Fiscal of the place, Clichy; Jean du Mur; Jean Soret the elder; Jean Vaillant the elder; and Laurence Bega, parishioners and residents of the church, and others living in the village of Clichy, who have been called and sought as witnesses to the aforesaid matters. T. GALLOT. (CCD:XIIIa:22-24).
Now after twelve years of priesthood Vincent de Paul accepted responsibility for the first time to be the “pastor of souls”. This responsibility continued not just for two years (as we are accustomed to think) but went on for fourteen years even though he lived in the parish for less than two years during which time this was his primary concern. When he was called to become the tutor for the de Gondi children Vincent entrusted the direct pastoral care of the parish to a vicar (as permitted according to the custom of the era). At the same time he continued to be and to exercise his functions as pastor on different occasions. We cite her some examples:
• On September 22nd, 1623 Vincent established the Confraternity of Charity in Clichy.
• On October 9th of the same year he baptized Claude Gilabert whom God subsequently called to the priesthood (Baptismal Registry in Clichy Town Hall).
• On October 9th, 1624 Vincent received in his church, with the customary ceremonial, the Archbishop of Paris, Jean François de Gondi, who had come to make a pastoral visitation. Vincent was accompanied by Gregoire le Coust, his curate and Pierre Pasquier, chaplain of Monceaux .
In addition we have the testimony of Nicolas Jean Masson (3), a doctor in theology and a professor at the University of Paris who in his report on the occasion of the beatification of Vincent de Paul stated: I have never seen the venerable servant of God, but I know that he is remembered here in Clichy. He had been pastor here from 1612 to 1624 or 1625 and I am aware of this information from the parish registry books.
Vincent de Paul did not resign his position as pastor of Clichy until 1626. He resigned because his responsibilities in Paris did not allow him to provide for the parish in the way that he desired. The parish was entrusted to Jean Souilland for the sum of four hundred livres, payable in four years at the rate of one hundred livres a year . This fact puts to rest the widespread belief that Vincent was pastor of Clichy for a brief period of time. In reality he maintained this position at the same that he carried our other responsibilities : tutor for the de Gondi children, abbot at Saint Leonard de Chaumes; 1615, parish priest at Gamaches, treasurer and canon of the Chapter of Ecouis (even though it seems that he never participated in the activities of this group); at the same time he preached in the parishes on the de Gondi estate; 1617, he was appointed pastor at Châtillon-les-Dombes .
How large was the parish of Clichy and what were Vincent’s responsibilities as pastor? As a result of the study and research of the great Vincentian scholar, Father Bernard Koch, CM, we have in our possession critical studies of the pivotal events in Vincent’s life. These studies enable us to point out some errors in perception with regard to these events, errors that are presented in the biographies of our saint and founder.
Clichy in 1612 occupied a far larger stretch of territory than does the Clichy of the twentieth century. On the North, the parish extended to that of Saint Ouen; on the South, to that of Villiers; on the East, the parishes of the Madeline, Ville l’Evesque, Saint Roch and Saint Peter of Montmartre; on the West, it stretched away to the banks of the Seine. It embraced nine-tenths of what is today the seventeenth arrondissement, one-tenth of the eighteenth, half of the eighth, and a small portion of the ninth. In the direction of Paris, its limits would be determined by a line drawn from the Porte des Ternes, along the Rue des Ternes, the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, the Rue de la Boétie, the Rue de la Pépini?re, the Rue Saint Lazare, the Rue Blanche, the Rue Macardet, the Avenue Saint Ouen and the Boulevard Bessi?re. The priest who served the chapel of Monceaux was subject to the parish priest of Clichy. Diminished in 1699 by the erection of the parish of Roule, in 1790 by the extension of Paris, in 1830 and in 1867 by the erection of Batignole-Monceaus and Levallois-Perret into urban districts, it was finally confined within its present limits .
With regard to the people who were under Vincent’s care, all the scholars and studies agree and affirm that there were about six hundred people who inhabited this area. The majority of these people were peasants who had few resources but were deeply religious and lived in the simplest manner .
The activity of Vincent de Paul. The priestly passion that Vincent began to experience for the parish and the parishioners led him to engage in a pastoral ministry that had two dimensions: (a) caring for the Church building and property and (b) direct evangelization activity.
With regard to the first dimension we are told that Vincent rebuilt the Church even though it is most probable that it was not in ruins as some of his first biographers state. The biographers of Vincent, in an attempt to bolster his person, made light of some specific facts. Abelly, writing in 1664, very soon after the death of Vincent de Paul, wrote that the church itself was in poor condition and the vestments and sacred ornaments unsuitable for divine service. Collet, writing in 1748, used a more intense and descriptive adjective and stated: his church was falling to ruins; it was without ornaments. Abelly continued and said: he carried out a plan for restoration , while Collet stated: he had his church entirely rebuilt . We are not going to become involved in a literal and historical analysis of these events. We are also not concerned about the manner in which he obtained the money that was needed for this construction. What is certain is that Vincent became involved in this task and accomplished it. This was a difficult work and not completed until Holy Week, 1630. The baptismal font which is still in use in Clichy bears the date 1612. It is a shame that the very fine stained-glass windows were lost during a powerful hail storm that occurred on July 11, 1823. It is believed that the actual pulpit is the one from which Vincent used to preach, and in a side chapel there is a crucifix before which Vincent often knelt in prayer .
Allow me to be faithful to the theme of this Vincentian Week and to reflect more at length on the second dimension: the pastoral-evangelizing-spiritual activity of Vincent de Paul, the pastor of souls. In Clichy Vincent de Paul discovered that which many centuries later a Pope would write with the following words: Evangelizing is in fact the grace and the vocation proper to the Church (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14). In other words, Vincent became aware of the specific call of God, or to say this in a different way, Vincent became aware of the mission that had been entrusted to him as a result of his appointment as pastor in Clichy.
While Vincent was the pastor at Clichy he became aware of the fact that being “pastor” was more than having a title, more than some advancement on the social ladder, more than a first step in order to achieve new goals. He became aware that as pastor he had been entrusted with much more than some physical, geographical place. Indeed, his role as pastor was founded precisely on those people, those men and women, who gave credibility to the parish structure. This is an amazing reality and I want you to be able to understand that the perspective which Vincent embraced and expanded is one that, even today, after the Second Vatican Council and when many are requesting a Third Vatican Council, has not been wholly accepted. What am I talking about? … the evangelizing pastoral process that was undertaken by Vincent de Paul in the parish of Clichy. I have been surprised by this process and we must remember that we are referring to activity in the year 1612 and the following years … it is easy to confuse all of this with what the Second Vatican Council has told us about about the pastoral ministry in our present parishes.
Vincent de Paul promoted a pastoral process of direct evangelization in which he encouraged new projects that went beyond a strict sacramental approach. He created movements that today would be called apostolic groups. He engaged in a process that allowed him to come to know the situation of his parishioners and that allowed him to become present in their midst … a process today that we would refer to as incarnational. He worked with those individuals whom he found at his side and formed them so that they could give witness to their faith and communicate the faith to others, a process that we refer to today as an evangelizing presence in the midst of society.
I know you are wondering if it is really possible to apply all of this to the thinking and the activity of Vincent de Paul, the pastor of Clichy. The answer is simple: with the terminology that I am using, no. But at the same time we have to affirm that in light of the formation, the perspective and the ministry that was developed at Clichy, Vincent de Paul, with his priestly-evangelizing passion, opened paths that are very difficult to ignore in own present day ministry. We are going to attempt to reflect more deeply on all these affirmations … but once again I ask you to remain situated in the era in which Vincent engaged in this activity, that is, in the year 1612. His ministry is so “modern” that we can fall into the temptation of thinking that we are mistaken about the person and the era and even the language/vocabulary.
The pastoral ministry of Vincent de Paul began with an action in which he sought the most effective means that would enable him to transmit in an adequate manner the gospel message to the people who had been entrusted to him. He attempted to lead people to embrace a living faith that was grounded and solid. What was the focus of his activity and ministry?
In the first place, Vincent wanted to know the individuals who were members of the flock that had been entrusted to him. How did they live their lives; what were their concerns and problems; what illnesses did they have to confront. His biographers, using the language of that era, wrote: In order to fulfill the demands of the Holy Spirit with regard to those persons entrusted to the shepherd of souls, he (Vincent de Paul) came to know his parishioners and all the illnesses that might afflict them .
Two words stand out:  To know. Vincent’s passion for the task that had been entrusted to him led him to view himself as “the soul” and the “agent of fermentation” in the parish. As “the soul” of the parish he needed to be known and recognized as the pastor. As “the agent of fermentation” of the parish he felt he had to become incarnated in the reality that surrounded him … he had to become part of the personal, social, economic and cultural situation … he had to insert himself into this reality and understand the language of the people, know their sorrows and joys and hopes. In this way the parishioners were no longer unknown individuals but beloved children. In this regard it is interesting that we had to wait until 1989 in order to find statements such as the following: At the time of engaging in pastoral ministry, attention must be given to the situation in which the people live and carry out their daily activity (factory, rural environment, youth environment, neighborhood, retirement community, separated from spouse, etc) . I said that this was interesting because this was the manner in which Vincent began to exercise his priesthood almost four centuries ago.
 All types of illnesses are intimately bound up with the concept of healing. As we become aware of the healing dimension of the gospel, we discover that the proclamation of the Good News of salvation is a liberating experience for men and women who embrace the gospel message. Bernard Häring (here we are referring to someone who wrote at the end of the twentieth century) complains about the fact that theology has forgotten about the healing impact of the proclamation of the gospel. He states: theology has put aside the theme of healing. Christology-soteriology and ecclesiology have been careless in this regard especially when referring to the proclamation of salvation . Naturally Vincent would feel very uncomfortable with this language but not with the language that he would have heard as the Lord’s command, a command that is reflected in the gospel of Saint Luke: Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Luke 10:8-9). This is the fundamental Christian-evangelization principle that Vincent de Paul practiced: he entered into the life of the world that surrounded him; he healed that which was broken and in the context of that healing activity he proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was near and was being offered to everyone. This involved a personal encounter with each and every man and woman who has been entrusted to him. This is how Vincent understood all of this as he became interested in the reality and the situation of his parishioners. This was also the way in which his parishioners understood all of this as they allowed Vincent to enter their homes and their lives.
In the second place: Christian formation. Naturally we cannot force the time machine to move and faster and therefore we should search for the proper vocabulary and means that are available to us at the beginning of the twenty-first century. There is no doubt, however, that the passionate living out of his priestly vocation led Vincent to search for ways to form his followers. This formation involved two distinct groups of people.
One the one hand we have the formation of those good people who were entrusted to him. He wanted these people to know the truths of the faith so that they could live the Christian faith and communicate this faith in a convincing manner to others. Perhaps here we find ourselves at the beginning of Vincent’s reflection on a principle which, with the passing of time, he would communicate to the Missionaries. He also used this principle to justify the need of the Missionaries to dedicate themselves to the formation of the simple people in countryside. Certainly the Missionaries should recall the magnificent conference in which Vincent said: Another reason we have to be totally committed to it is its necessity. You know, Messieurs, how great it is, you are aware of the ignorance of the poor people, which is almost unbelievable, and you know also that there is no salvation for persons who are ignorant of the necessary Christian truths, according to the opinion of Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas, and others, who hold that anyone who does not know about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, and the other Mysteries, cannot be saved. And how, indeed, can a soul who does not know God or what God has done for love of it, believe, hope and love? And how will it be saved without faith, hope, and love? Now, when God saw this need and the disasters that have occurred with the passage of time through the negligence of Pastors and the rise of heresies, causing such great losses to the Church, he willed, in His great mercy, to remedy this through missionaries, sending them to put those poor people in a fit state to save themselves (CCD:XII:72).
These works that he spoke about in his later years to the Missionaries were the fruit of Vincent’s reflection on his ministry during the time that he was pastor in Clichy. There he made great efforts to teach the people who were poor and utilized all the means that were available to him. Indeed those people were in need of a “shepherd” who without fear would guide and nourish them. Again, with the assistance of Vincent’s biographers, we are able to discover the different means that Vincent used to instruct the people in sound doctrine so that they were able to understand the implications of the Christian life. His biographers mention the ordinary means that he used in Clichy. Let us listen to the words of Collet: Sermons, catechism, assiduity in the tribunal of penance, were his ordinary occupation … Vincent’s presence among the people and his inspired ministry provided him with the most efficacious means, and that which gave the greatest weight to his discourses … his good example … his life was an on-going sermon and while his different actions might appear to be ordinary, yet there was nothing found in him that would lead people to say he was not ministering as a priest … the example of his life and the ways in which he practiced virtue became an on-going sermon .
All of this leads us to the conclusion that Vincent de Paul was aware of the fact that the good will and the generous hearts of the faithful were not enough. Formation and personal example were necessary and therefore the empowerment of the people (or as we would say today, the integral formation of people) who were entrusted to him became a primary focus of his ministry. Here we are able to see the care that Vincent manifested in regard to this facet of his priestly ministry. He used the means that were available to him: one of which was to establish a Confraternity, which at that time was a Confraternity of the Rosary. This provided Vincent with an opportunity to exhort people to pray to and honor the Blessed Mother. At the same time these confraternities provided Vincent with the opportunity to instruct the faithful in sound doctrine. Then on September 22, 1623 this Confraternity was established with the blessing of the Archbishop of Paris and became known as the Confraternity of Charity.
Another means that was utilized by zealous pastors at that time was to extend an invitation to illustrious preachers in order to instruct and form the parishioners. Motivated by his zeal, Vincent invited a member of the faculty at the University of Paris to preach in Clichy and form the good people in sound doctrine. The later testimony of this religious helps us to understand the situation with regard to the formation of the faithful which Vincent engaged in. He stated: I rejoice that at the beginning of this happy institution of the Mission, I often heard confessions in the little town of Clichy of the one chosen by God to begin that small spring which has since watered the garden of the Church. It has turned into a flood, a thousand times more fruitful than the mighty Nile in this spiritual Egypt. While he laid the foundations of such a great, holy, and sanctifying work, I offered to preach to these good people of Clichy, whose pastor he was. I found them living like angels, so much so that I felt as though I was attempting to bring a candle to the sun .
The response of the people to this ministry was very positive. We only have to recall the words that Vincent addressed to the Daughters of Charity on July 27, 1643 when he spoke about his time at Clichy: I had such good people, who were so obedient in doing what I asked of them that, when I told them they should come to confession on the first Sunday of the month, they didn't fail to do it. They came to confession, and I saw from day to day the progress these souls were making. That gave me so much consolation, and I was so pleased with it, that 1used to say to myself, 'Man Dieu! how happy you are to have such good people!' And I would add, 'I don't think the Pope himself is as happy as a Pastor in the midst of such good-hearted people.' And one day Cardinal de Retz' asked me, 'Eh bien! Monsieur, how are you?' 1 said to him, 'Your Eminence, I can't tell you how happy I am.' 'Why?' he asked. 'Because I have such good people, so obedient to all that I tell them that it seems to me that neither the Holy Father nor you, Eminence, are as happy as I am.' Yes, Sisters, when a man sees his flock advancing in the way of obedience, he's wonderfully consoled (CCD:IX:507-508)
But Vincent’s priestly zeal made him understand that he also had to instruct those who would become future pastors. Thus we now reflect on my second point which was a pivotal dimension in Vincent’s vocation and ministry.
2] The second dimension of Vincent’s ministry at Clichy involved formation of some young men who through the study of the sacred sciences and growth in priestly virtues would be instructed in the ways of committing their lives to God. Once again I remind you not to advance our time machine even though you might be tempted to do so because of the uniqueness of this activity. Vincent de Paul became aware of the urgent need to form young men so that they could worthily engage in ecclesiastical ministry. All his biographers affirm this fact. We could cite here Abelly or Collet but this time we are going to allow ourselves to be led by the excellent hand of Fatter José María Román who writes: He gathered around him a small group of ten or eleven young men who wanted to become priests. One of these was called Antoine Portail and he was twenty years old at this time. He is the first of Vincent’s followers that we know by name . Today that which appears to be “normal” was at the time of Vincent “an urgent need” and therefore his zeal inspired him to begin this special ministry on a parish level. Once again Vincent was ahead of his time because he understood that living together as a member of a Christian community produced fruits, which through a process of serious discernment would lead one to discover the ministry of the Church. In this context one sought to discover the will of God with regard to one’s vocation and thus vocations to the ordained ministry and to the specific service of the neighbor began to blossom.
Vincent must have been determined and very clear about the need for this first parish seminary in Clichy (if you will allow me to use those words) because he used his own house to lodge those young men. He dedicated his time to their formation and used his own resources to assist those young men who did not have sufficient means available to them . Not only did his vicar continue this work but so did his successor as pastor … these individuals were most probably persuaded and helped by Vincent.
Vincent de Paul was deeply concerned about the formation and the well-being of his parishioners. So much so that in his later years, as he was approaching death, he praised these simple people because when some individuals tried to deceive them they did not hesitate to act in the way that they had been instructed. He called upon the clerics to intensify their formation on every level so that the liturgy might be celebrated with dignity. All of this is known but I cannot resist reading to you a passage from his September 26th, 1659 conference to the Missionaries, a conference that he gave one year before his death. It is clear that Vincent desired that all people (including priests) be taught to celebrate the different liturgical actions. It seems that his own parishioners made him understand the urgency and the need for this formation so that the liturgy might be celebrated with dignity. Let us listen to Vincent’s words: Do you know, my dear confreres, that most priests --- including ourselves --- do not know how to chant because we have not made it our priority to sing the praises of God, while others have preserved blessing of following the teachings of their fathers? That is obvious in villages where they took the trouble to get good schoolmasters. Almost all the children know chant; and that has passed from father to son. The lay people and the peasants have preserved this blessing since God has restored order to His Office, willing that it be chanted in a devout manner. To my shame I have to say that, when I was a parish priest, I didn’t know how I should go about it; I would hear those peasants intoning the psalms without missing a single note and I admired them. Then I would say to myself, “You, who are their spiritual father, do not know how to do that,” and it distressed me. How shameful for priests, my dear confreres, that God has allowed the poor common people to retain the chant --- God, who has such joy and pleasure, if I dare speak in this way, when people sing His praises! (CCD:XII:275-276).
This same concern would lead Vincent to engage in another form of missionary activity. It is most probable that his experience in Clichy led him to seek something more while he was tutor of the de Gondi children. He began to preach in the parishes on the de Gondi estate, urging people to make a general confession while he himself had received permission to absolve sins that were previously reserved. All of this involved a commitment of his time and energy and still he did not abandon the parish in Clichy even though he had been able to obtain other benefices. In 1618 he began this ministry of popular missions and in each of the parishes where the mission was preached he established the Confraternity of Charity, which as we stated before, was also established in the parish at Clichy.
Vincent’s ministry as pastor at Clichy culminated with the pastoral visitation of Jean François de Gondi, the archbishop of Paris. From this event we are able to see two important elements that confirm the ministry and the priestly-evangelizing zeal of Vincent.
• In the first place the preparations that Vincent made so that the people could participate in the fruits of this event which occurred between September-October 1624. Vincent preached throughout the parish on three points: the importance of the visitation; what would occur during the visitation; and the means that would enable each individual to take advantage of this special occasion.
• In the second place we have the record of the Archbishop concerning this visitation, a report in which he notes that he found everything in order: the divine office is celebrated according to the norms, about three hundred people receive communion, and there is no complaint against the pastor or the other priests and no complaint of the pastor against his parishioners.
Now I ask you to accelerate the time machine and without losing sight of everything that has been said so far we now pose a question: what can we, who have begun to reflect on the priestly-evangelizing zeal of Vincent de Paul … what can we do?
The practical insights that arise as a result of the manner in which Vincent lived out his vocation should lead us to reflect on the significance of all of this for us today as we live together as members of the same Vincentian Family. Allow me to share with you some of these insights with regard to Vincentian ministry, insights which can be applied to our situation in the world, insights that lead me to dream.
[a] To know and to heal. We have to be careful with regard to the quality of our activity so that we maintain a relationship of communion with the Church and also a relationship of communion with the different members of the Vincentian Family. In other words, let us place our ordinary daily activity in a gospel context so that charity becomes the principle and the foundation that sustains and gives meaning to our life. Experience tells us that when we want something, when we give importance to something, then we usually obtain that “something”. I have often asked myself if we truly desire to be members of the Vincentian Family … and furthermore are we willing to grow together in this vocation that we have received, a vocation that has a diversity of functions. There are times when I believe we can become so passionate about defending our differences that we forget about the realities that unite us. I think that the lack of life in our family arises from the terrible illness of mediocrity which in turn stems from pointless discussions and an attitude of defensiveness in light of perceived personal attacks. If this is true, then it would be good to take the time to purify our criteria, behavior and activity … it would be good to take the time and reflect on the ways in which we can all become part of a family that is both healed and a healing agent.
Vincent was able to cultivate this union in his parish community through the establishment of personal relationships, through going from house to house visiting families, by taking the time to know each of the parishioners. Then he reflected on the attitudes of people in order to discern which ones that should be praised and encouraged and which behaviors needed to be corrected and healed. Thus through this mutual knowledge, healing was able to take place. Is this not the time to take steps in the direction of family communion and therefore program activities together instead of inviting one another to participate in activities that have already been planned?
[b] To form. Good will and generosity are not enough to guarantee the well-being of the Church in the world. Serious formation and real empowerment are necessary so that people can give witness to their faith. We are challenged to make our life together as the Vincentian Family a channel of the Good News so that the larger society can see and experience the option that we have made on behalf of the “little ones” and the poor. No one should remain beyond the reach of our affective and effective love. In this regard our fidelity to Jesus Christ and to our vocation is determined. At the same time our credibility before the world is also determined and this is very important when referring to the need for serious Christian formation. In the sociological situation in which we find ourselves and in the midst of a secularized world which attempts to undermine the very being of many Christians, in these situations we must be careful about our proclamation of the Good News. Our presence and ministry ought to support the faith of those who have been baptized and at the same time we must seek to influence the new forms of unbelief. The Vincentian Family will have to search for a profound and serious formation of its members so that they are empowered to give witness to the gospel, able to have a significant impact on society and able to create an environment in which they communicate to the world that it is possible to live gospel values; possible to be faithful to Jesus Christ; possible to be reasonably happy in the midst of our world. In other words, we have to search for a formation that allows the Vincentian Family to oppose the currents of indifference and individualism. A serious, careful, conscientious formation will be the necessary vehicle that allows us to put aside our rebelliousness and become a family that is able to strengthen and consolidate the bonds of communion. We can sum up the objectives of this formation in the following manner:
--- To enliven our faith and our membership in the Church and in the Vincentian Family in such a way that people begin to experience the significance of being members of a community, the significance of being active members, adults, co-responsible for the mission that has been entrusted to them.
---To awaken a critical conscience in believers so that they can analyze and reflect on the unjust situations that their sisters and brothers experience in the midst of this world. In this way we can promote an attitude of risk-taking and confrontation that serves as a way of purifying our conscience. Today there are many occasions when we find ourselves relating with other groups, families, etc. These relationships ought to be a means that enable us to offer the Good News as a value that gives life to people’s faith.
---To be an agent of fermentation with regard to the gospel and the Church and to do this in the midst of marginal and marginalizing situations, in the midst of professional situations, and in the midst of all those situations where the future is decided. We are in the situation of being a family that is blessed with a vast and rich pluralism, with a natural facility of accepting the commitment of inculturating the faith. It is up to us to take advantage of this wealth.
---To be sources of true evangelizing-charitable activity. It is not enough to encourage individual solidarity but rather we have to form people who promote evangelizing-charitable activity as a community reality that arises from living out a Christian life and commitment. This demands that the Vincentian Family be able to organize itself and look for a common insertion within the general coordination of the family.
 To celebrate. Vincent rejoiced when celebrations were well planned and involved wide participation. He praised the participation of the people in the liturgy and desired to hear them sing “like the angels”. At the same time he was also aware that this presented him with a great challenge: the need to promote the vocation to the ministerial priesthood within the parish context … a challenge that would obtain a quick response as he looked for the means to carry this out. Today, as members of the Vincentian Family, we are presented with the same challenge. There is no need to be afraid to promote the diversification of ministries and functions in our groups and associations. Our family needs to empower its members so that all are able to embrace the ministry which they have received as a particular vocation. At the same time our family should become the mother of vocations to ordained ministry (such as Vincentian Missionaries) and the mother of vocations in which people are able to commit their whole life to serve the poor as Daughters of Charity. If we are able to do this the Vincentian Family will walk in the mist of our world as a sign of hope for people and a source of strength for the Church.
Thus we are invited to review and renew the manner in which we provide for this dimension in our groups, in our catechesis and homilies, in the resources that we offer to the members of youth groups and vocational discernment groups … we should reflect on our own sensitivity to this issue. At the same time we have to examine the model that we use with regard to family education … the family can become a protective refuge that focuses on its own well-beiung and is insensitive to the problems of others … or on the other hand the family can become a true school of charity in which its members learn how to share and to open themselves in order to live in solidarity with their brothers and sisters.
We stated before that there was nothing in Vincent de Paul’s life that contradicted his vocation as priest … as Vincentian Missionaries, as Daughters of Charity, and as members of the Vincentian Family we have to look at our own life and our work and our relationships and ask if there are any contradictions.
Today more than ever before we have to listen fearlessly to the call to evangelize in the mist of our communities, groups, summer experiences, in our workplaces, in our schools, hospitals, and families … as members of the Vincentian Family we should not and ought not excuse ourselves from promoting vocations to the Daughter of Charity and the Congregation of the Mission.
Our time machine has engaged in a long journey. Hopefully at this present moment we know how to act like Vincent de Paul, how to be an agent of fermentation in the midst of society so that we might recuperate our vision of “being” and as a result are thus able to calmly discern how to act together as members of the Vincentian Family.
1] Fr. Jose María Román, CM, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, [translated by Sister Joyce Howard, DC] Melisende, London, 1999, p. 100.
2] Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul [Translated: Joseph Leonard, CM] The Newman Press, Westminister, Maryland, 1952, I:57-58; [Translator’s Note: I want to note here that the spelling of many names in the body of the text is different from the way they appear in the index to the three volumes … the difference is that many names of been changed into an anglicized spelling … I have retained the French spelling of names and places].
3] Kock, B., Dossier sur saint Vicent a Clicly. We are told that Nicolas took possession of the parish of Clichy in 1695 and died on April 18th, 1727. All of this information is provided to us by Lecanu in his work, Historia de Clichy-el-Vivar, p. 122.
4] Pierre Coste, CM, op.cit., I:59.
5] Cf., Bretaudeau L., Fin d’un erreur historique. Saint Vicent de Paúl treize ans curé de Clichy, de 1612 à 1625; cited by Coste I:58, footnote #31.
6] Cf., Kock B., Dossier sur saint Vicent a Clicly.
7] Pierre Coste, CM, op.cit., I:54-55.
8] ]Pierre Coste, CM, op.cit., I:55.
9] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, [Translated: William Quinn, FCS], New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993, I:54.
10] M. Collet, CM, Life of St. Vincent of Paul, founder of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Sisters of Charity [Translated: by a catholic clergyman], John Murphy and Co., Printers and Publishers, Baltimore, 1845, p. 26.
11] Pierre Coste, CM, op.cit., I:55-56.
12] The footnote in Spanish reads: Collet 1:36-37 [Translator’s Note: I believe this is a reference to the Spanish edition of this author’s life of Saint Vincent de Paul. I was unable to find this reference in the English edition of this work].
13] Paya, M., La Parroquia, comunidad evangelizadora, PPC, p. 175.
14] Häring, B., Le fe, fuente de salud, Madrid, 1986, p. 55.
15] M. Collet, CM, Life of St. Vincent of Paul, founder of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Sisters of Charity [Translated: by a catholic clergyman], John Murphy and Co., Printers and Publishers, Baltimore, 1845, p. 25.
16] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, [Translated: William Quinn, FCS], New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993, I:54.
17] Fr. Jose María Román, CM, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, [translated by Sister Joyce Howard, DC] Melisende, London, 1999, p. 104; Bernard Koch cites the Summarium de virtutibus in gradu heroic which in 1713 refers to this data in its integrity, No. #15, p. 77.
18] All of this we discover in the summarium which is cited by Koch. See the previous note.
Translated by: Charles T. Plock, CM