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Who is Saint Vincent de Paul?

St. Vincent de Paul

Apostle of the Poor and Homeless

 

Our cry rings out to the whole world. Take notice! We are in the times of great Saints in the making. We are in the times of unequaled sinners. Enemies of God, we put you on notice: We’ve been there before; we’ve suffered the arrows of persecution in times past and we are still here. We are not finished. For the last 2000 years, just as it appeared the end was near, the Church was about to collapse, the world was coming to an end, God raised up Super Saints, those who said Yes to God’s call to holiness. One such great Saint in the making, one soul who reached for and received the crown of glory in Heaven, was St. Vincent de Paul.

 

In the history of the Church, we find The Lord very often raising the lowly to confound the proud. The Church is in need! All of Europe is being devastated by the onslaught of Calvinism and Lutheranism. The Heresy of Albigensianism that had its beginning in Albi, the south of France, had left its scars of division, even hundreds of years after it was condemned. Now, there was the threat coming from their neighbors to the north - Germany, Switzerland and the Nordic countries. People were confused; often their priests did not live what they preached and so the faithful stopped going to church. Would He lose these precious souls? God raised up another Saint and, through his living out of the Gospel, a Defender of the Faith. France, eldest daughter of the Church, would give the world and the Church a Seventeenth Century Mother Teresa.

 

A farmer’s son sows seeds which will grow into a beautiful spiritual bouquet in the garden of the Lord.

 

In southern France, close to the Spanish border, in the small village of Pouy, the family of a future Saint was expecting the birth of their third child. This day, a little bitter from the cold and dampness, would be brightened by the cry of a baby boy, as he takes his first peek at the world outside the safety of his loving mother’s womb. The Saint, we want to tell you about, our dear St. Vincent de Paul, was that baby! Born under humble circumstances, into a family of poor farmers, St. Vincent would always have a special place in his heart and his vocation for the poor, whether physically or spiritually deprived.

 

God placed this special child in the hands of holy parents, poor in the foolish eyes of the world, but rich in their faith. Vincent’s parents did not wait to have their baby baptized! Instead, a few short days after he was born, they brought him to their local parish to be initiated into the Church, receiving the first of the seven Sacraments, the Sacrament of Baptism. These parents of a future Saint were eager to have their newborn son begin his life not only as their son, but more importantly as a son of God; and to insure this, their focus was to have the priest quickly wipe him clean of the stain of Original Sin, that he would be ready to begin his journey on earth leading to Paradise and eternal life with a Heavenly Family.

The seed of faith, which had been planted by God would now be nurtured by this holy family. Holiness was evident in Vincent Defender of the Faith

from infancy; his family said that from his earliest years, he would become elated when he was praying. As a child, he could be heard singing and praying the psalms, as he tended the cattle in the fields.

 

Jean de Paul, little Vincent’s father, had to work hard; the land was dry and parched when there was too little sun and did not yield a good crop; and when there was too much rain and not enough sun the crops were flooded and the results were always the same; too much work for too little return. Often the land did not yield enough to feed the livestock, no less the family. Out of necessity, the boy Vincent, along with his five brothers and sisters helped out the family, by working on the farm.

 

Vincent was assigned to watch over the sheep. As a young shepherd he early devised a way to tend his charges, even during the rainy season. When the land became so soaked, he could not walk without sinking up to his knees in the mud, Vincent improvised! He took some sticks of wood and made them into stilts; they raised him about three feet from the ground. His life story does not go into how many times he fell and got up again; all we do know is that he learned to balance himself and joyfully went about his appointed responsibilities. Through his new-found elevation, he not only remained dry, he was able to care for his flock, surveying the fields, guarding and counting each head, lest one should wander off and get lost. We can see God preparing Vincent for the walk he would have as pastor of a human flock.

 

Young Vincent and his love for the poor

 

What is one man’s suffering is another man’s joy; for as God, the Author of life, can turn dead seeds into sweet smelling blooms, God can turn what would appear a distasteful situation into an asset. There are times when out of necessity, if compromise is inevitable, farmers will build the barn better than the house. With the de Paul family, the barn was attached to the house, with only a split door separating the members of the barnyard family from the human family. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, the body heat of Saint Vincent de Paul

the cows and other livestock furnishing much needed warmth in the winter; and when it was too inclement for man or beast in the yard, the family was able to feed their four-legged friends through the upper opening in the split door.

 

The de Paul family took care to not only labor earnestly to provide for the needs of the flesh, but at day’s end, to provide food for the soul. After the meal was over, all gathered around the fireplace in the kitchen (where they also slept); the father told them stories of the lives of the Saints; they all prayed together, offering praise and thanksgiving for their daily bread and supplicating the Lord to continue granting them what they need. As their parents tucked them into bed, the children would ask them for their blessing. [Do we bless our families before they go to sleep? Is our blessing the last thing our families bring with them when they leave the house?]

Although poor, Vincent’s parents were generous. Each Sunday, during the Sacrifice of the Mass when the time came for the Offertory, they placed what little money they had in the basket. In addition, no matter how hard the times, they always found money to give to those less fortunate than they. Vincent grew up with this holy example, always remembering Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do to the least of My brothers, that you do unto Me.”

 

From the time he was a young boy, Vincent saw Jesus in the faces of the poor. This would mold his noble heart into the life he would be called to, as advocate of the poor. One time, Vincent had saved thirty pieces of silver. He had dreamed about what he would buy for his family to make life a little easier. Then one day, Vincent encountered a poor beggar on the road; without a moment’s hesitation Vincent gave the poor soul all the silver he had. Had he seen Jesus? Was this his way of placing no one before the Lord. Whoever gives up mother and father...

 

At an early age, his mother instructed Vincent to turn to his Heavenly Mother, sharing all his joys and sorrows, his wounds and his triumphs, confident She would never let him down. As was the custom of other children of the area, Vincent built a little shrine to Mother Mary in a tree. There he would pour out his heart to her. He and his family would go on pilgrimage once or twice a year to a shrine to Notre Dame, in Buglose. On the way they would encounter other Frenchmen going to venerate their Mother; some petitioning and others responding with thanksgiving for prayers answered. Vincent remarked, later in life, that he could not remember Our Lady not answering his prayers. He taught that the more we love the Blessed Mother, the more we love Jesus, the happier we will be.

 

Vincent begins his journey to the priesthood

 

Vincent showed a thirst and aptitude for learning, which was further enhanced by a truly virtuous soul. When he was interviewed by the Bishop, to see if he qualified to receive First Holy Communion, he answered so brilliantly and authentically, the Bishop not only said he was ready, but encouraged the parents to send him to the city to further his education. His father responded by scraping together what little he had, to secure an education for this special son, with the Cordeliers or Franciscan Recollects.

 

Life at the college for Vincent was like a dream come true; he absorbed Grammar and Latin like a sponge; he excitedly looked forward to each day, like a child awaiting Christmas. What with his remarkable ability to learn and his humble and always eager desire to help, his joyful Yes to all in need, he became a friend and example to the other students at the College.

 

As you cannot hide a light under a bushel basket; he came to the attention of Mr. Commet, a nobleman of the village who asked him to tutor his children This overjoyed Vincent as what little he earned would enable him to cease being a financial burden on his parents. After four years he shared with Mr. Commet that he found himself drawn to the priesthood. Monsieur encouraged him to go answer the Lord’s call to serve Him as an “alter Christus.” Mr. Commet advised Vincent’s father of his son’s desire to become a priest, and he immediately sold two of his steers.

 

In 1596, at sixteen years of age, Vincent entered the University of Toulouse, where he studied and prepared for the priesthood. Shortly after entering, he received the tonsure. He was among the young men who that day were vested in the Franciscan habit and received into the Order of St. Francis. The Bishop cut his hair along with that of the other future priests present, and Vincent was no longer a lay man; he had taken his first step; he was now a cleric! After receiving minor orders, the Subdiaconate and then the Diaconate, on September 23, 1600, at less than twenty years old, Vincent realized his dream; he was ordained a Priest; he was no longer Vincent, but Father Vincent. He returned to the little chapel at the beginning of the woods, where he prayed as a little boy, and fervently celebrated his first Mass there.

 

St. Vincent’s walk was the living out of the Gospel. Like St. Francis, his focus in life was to be more like Jesus. But initially he sought Jesus, studying the Word of God and the Traditions of the Church. The more he did, the more he became the Gospel. Although he desired to continue his studies, the lack of funds and the debt he had incurred, when he was preparing for the priesthood, did not permit him to do so. But his holiness and generosity toward the poor came to the attention of a good woman who bequeathed her estate to him. Upon her death, he would receive 500 crowns of silver!

Now, the only problem was that this sum was owed to the departed by an unscrupulous debtor. He had fled to Marseille in order to avoid paying the woman. Vincent knew that the only way he could hope to collect his inheritance was to seek out the debtor and appeal to him to pay. In 1605, Vincent left for Marseille to retrieve his inheritance!

In Marseille, he found the scoundrel, only to have him offer far less than the debt he owed; but having wisdom, St. Vincent accepted the paltry sum and prepared to return to Toulouse. A young gentleman staying in the same inn as Vincent, suggested he book passage on the boat he was taking to Narbonne. As this fit his budget and would save him time, Vincent joyfully accepted.

 

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