He Provides for the Physical and Spiritual Necessities of the Poor of Macon, with Excellent Results
Since the fire of charity burned ever more brightly in the heart of Monsieur Vincent, God provided other opportunities for the development of this virtue. Once, passing through Macon he became aware of the many poor people who suffered even more in soul than in their physical needs. 1 What is worse, they seemed to have no sense of the deplorable state of their spiritual welfare. They were unaware of the most elementary things concerning salvation and lived in a spirit of irreligion and horrifying impiety. No one seemed able to bring about any relief to this problem.
These doubly stricken people walked the streets or frequented the churchyards, begging alms, unmindful of the laws of the Church or even the commandments of God. They almost never went to mass. They did not know how to confess their sins or to receive any of the sacraments. They passed their lives in profound ignorance of God and of what concerned their salvation and descended to lives of filth and vice. Monsieur Vincent had such great sympathy for these suffering people that even though he had not planned to stop in Macon, he decided to stay. As a good Samaritan, he looked upon these poor people as travelers robbed and beaten by the enemies of their salvation. He hoped to bind up their wounds and provide some sort of help to them. He set up a system whereby the men of the town helped the poor, while the women looked after the sick. 2 Here is the account written by Father Desmoulins, then superior of the Oratory in Macon:
I did not learn of the condition of the poor through others but saw it myself with my own eyes. From the beginning of this project, all the poor who received help came to confession on the first of the month. Other confessors and I came upon older people of sixty or more years who openly told us they had never gone to confession before. When we spoke to them of God, the Blessed Trinity, the birth, passion, and death of Jesus Christ, and other mysteries of our religion, they said it was a language they had never before heard. Through this Confraternity of Charity these disorders were addressed, and the corporal and spiritual needs of the poor were quickly met. His Excellency, Louis Dinet, then bishop of Macon, approved Monsieur Vincent’s plan of action. The members of the chapters of the cathedral and of Saint Peter, all of noble birth, supported it. Monsieur Chambon, dean of the cathedral, and Monsieur de Relets, provost of Saint Peter’s, were among the directors, and Monsieur [Hugues] Fallart was lieutenant general. They carried out the directions given by Monsieur Vincent, that is, that a list be kept of all the poor of the town, who should be given alms on particular days. If found begging in the churches or going from door to door, they would be fined. In addition, the townspeople were forbidden to give them anything in these circumstances. Those passing through the city would be allowed to stay a single night, then would be sent on their way with two sous as a parting gift.
The sick poor would be helped by food or medicine, just as in other places where the Confraternity of Charity had been established. This whole enterprise began with no public funds to support it, but Monsieur Vincent was so adept at organizing things that many contributed to its success. One gave money, another gave food, each according to his or her ability. In all more than three hundred poor were housed, fed, and reasonably cared for. After giving the first contribution, Monsieur Vincent left the town. 3
But how did he leave? We can learn from what he himself wrote in 1635 to Mademoiselle le Gras. On his advice she had gone to Beauvais for a similar project but needed some encouragement. 4
I spoke well when I warned you that you would have great difficulty in Beauvais. Blessed be God, you have succeeded. When I first began the Confraternity of Charity in Macon, people made fun of me. They said I could never bring it off. Tears of joy greeted its establishment. When I was about to leave, the authorities of the town were prepared to do me such honor that I was obliged to leave secretly to avoid their congratulations. This is one of the better of these Confraternities of Charity. I hope that the trouble you have experienced at the beginning will in the end turn into consolation and that the enterprise will become more stable. 5
The fathers of the Oratory were good enough to offer him lodging for the three weeks he remained in Macon. They became aware that he removed the mattress from his bed, preferring to sleep on the straw underneath. He had begun this practice some years before, and continued it right up to the time of his death, that is, for over fifty years. Since these fathers found out about this only on his last day with them when they came early to his room to say goodbye, he passed it off lightly, with some innocuous comment.