St. Vincent de Paul teaches us to see Christ in those who are sick, poor, and suffering. Radically, he suggests that those who are struggling must become our teachers and mentors, and we—their servants. This is the heart of Vincentian spirituality. Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me” (Matthew 25). Vincentian spirituality recognizes that we are transformed as we embrace life on the margins: We honor God by serving God in the person who is sick, poor, or suffering. We are all called to serve, and to be served. Together, we become the Body of Christ.
St. Vincent articulated five virtues that directed his life. We are invited to reflect on these virtues. How do they resonate in our life? How do they challenge our daily living? How are they supported in our community? This Lent, let us prayerfully wrestle with and embrace these five virtues.
Simplicity is the virtue St. Vincent loved most. “It is my gospel,” he says. Listen to how St. Vincent describes simplicity:
Jesus, the Lord, expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. This means giving a straightforward opinion about things in the way we honestly see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without any double-dealing or manipulation, our intention being focused solely on God. Each of us, then, should take care to behave always in this spirit of simplicity, remembering that God likes to deal with the simple, and that he conceals the secrets of heaven from the wise and prudent of this world and reveals them to little ones. But while Christ recommends the simplicity of a dove he tells us to have the prudence of a serpent as well. What he means is that we should speak and behave with discretion. We ought, therefore, to keep quiet about matters which should not be made known, especially if they are unsuitable or unlawful … In actual practice this virtue is about choosing the right way to do things.
For St. Vincent, humility is the recognition that all good comes from God. It reminds us that we are not the originator of life. Humility recognizes that we all have gifts, but also limitations and faults. The Beatitudes tell us that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. St. Vincent calls us to stand before God humbly in our daily prayer, and have the attitude of a servant.
Jesus identified himself as meek and humble of heart. St. Vincent believed this. He won the hearts of those who are poor because his meekness developed as warmth, approachability, openness, deep respect for the person of others. Although he tells us that he was irritable by nature, St. Vincent asked God to change his heart: “Grant me a kindly and benign spirit…”
Jesus calls us to follow him even unto death. A radical directive for our lives today, we are called to be willing to stand in God’s grace, even while absorbing the pain and suffering of our neighbor. St. Vincent embraced this challenge and gospel imperative. Consistently, he calls us to be faithful to our duties of serving those who are poor. Even more, he challenges us to prefer them, when they conflict with other more pleasurable things.
Vincent loved, with a burning love. “Let us beg God to enkindle in our hearts a desire to serve him…” St. Vincent challenges us to persevere as servants of the sick, suffering, and poor—while remembering that although the Lord asks us to cooperate in his work, it still remains His work. We must strive to live a balanced life, so that we might have the energy that nourishes zeal.
Prayer from St. Vincent de Paul
“Lord Jesus, teach me by your example….Make me, through the vigor of my efforts and the power of your Spirit, set the world around me on fire. I want to give myself to you, body and soul, heart and mind and spirit, so that I may always do what gladdens you. In your mercy, grant me the grace to have you continue your saving work in me and through me.” Amen.