CHAPTER TWO: The Spiritual Exercises to Prepare for the Proper Reception of Holy Orders
SECTION ONE: The Pressing Need of Clergy Reform at the Time Monsieur Vincent Established the Ordination Retreats
In the previous chapter we have seen the abundant blessings God had poured forth on the missions of Monsieur Vincent and his Congregation. We can judge from their fruits how appropriate they were for converting souls to God, dispelling ignorance, helping them leave their sinful ways, and leading them to take up the practice of Christian living. Our Savior Jesus Christ planted faith and other virtues in all parts of the earth through the ministry of his apostles, the main and first of the missionaries, which is what the title apostle means. In the same way he also used Monsieur Vincent and all those who share his spirit to restore that same faith in many souls, and even to augment it and make it more fruitful.
Although this may be true, we must admit that for most people their weakness and inconstancy in doing good makes it difficult to preserve the fruits of the missions. They need shepherds and priests available to them, who will devote themselves to cultivating the good seed.
Thus it was that Monsieur Vincent earnestly besought God to supply a remedy to this pressing need. He said, speaking of this matter:
Conquerors build forts and supply garrisons for the places they have captured. In the same way, the missionaries, who rescue souls from the power of Satan, must see to it as well as they can, that the parishes have zealous pastors and good priests to help the people persevere in the good dispositions awakened in them by the missions. Unless this is done, the devil, driven from their souls, will retake his ground with little opposition.
Experience showed Monsieur Vincent only too well that few of the clergy were committed to this role. He saw everywhere what abuses existed among the clergy in the greater part of the places where he had worked. Had he been unaware of these things from firsthand observation, the complaints and lamentations coming from all sides, sometimes from great and respected prelates, would convince him of this.
This is the way a certain priest, of noble birth and known piety, and now a canon of a cathedral church, wrote him of the situation in 1642.
In this diocese the clergy are without discipline, the people without respect. Priests lack devotion and charity, pulpits lack preachers. Learning is not respected, vice is not punished, virtue is oppressed. The authority of the Church is either hated or defied. Personal interest is the law of the sanctuary, while the most scandalous are the most powerful. In short, flesh and blood have supplanted the Gospel and spirit of Jesus Christ. When you see the condition of our diocese, I am sure you will do what you can to help us. Quis novit utrum ad regnum idcirco veneris, ut in tali tempore parareris? [“Who knows but that it was for a time like this that you obtained the royal dignity?”]1 This alludes to the fact that at this time, Vincent began to be consulted by Louis XIII, Anne of Austria and Cardinal Richelieu regarding the appointment of bishops.[/note] The humble prayer I make to you to consider this seriously before the Lord is worthy of your charity, for it comes from one of the first of your sons.2
A worthy prelate told him one day that he and his vicars general worked as hard as they could for the welfare of the diocese, “but with little success because of the large number of ignorant and evil clergy. Neither word nor example would move them to amend their lives. I am horrified when I think that in my diocese nearly seven thousand drunken or immoral priests approach the altar daily, lacking any semblance of a true vocation.”3
Another prominent prelate wrote to him on this same subject in 1643. “The extreme desolation of the clergy in my diocese and the impossibility of remedying the situation obliges me to turn to your zeal. Everyone knows your reputation and your strong dedication to restore ecclesiastical discipline where it has been seriously weakened or entirely lost.”4
Another prelate wrote, among other things: “Except for the canon theologian of my church, I do not find among all the priests of my diocese anyone qualified for ecclesiastical office. You may judge from this how great the necessity is for us to have help. Please allow your missionary to help us prepare our candidates for ordination.”5
From these samples we may judge the state of affairs of the clergy in most of the dioceses of the kingdom, and the pressing need to bring about a reformation. This is why Monsieur Vincent recognized, as we said in Book One, that no other remedy would be effective if the root of the evil were not attacked. It was essential that those in future preparing to receive priestly orders must bring the appropriate dispositions of soul to this great sacrament. This was Monsieur Vincent’s constant goal in all that he did with such great devotion to the ordination retreats he established. In the following chapter we will follow the steps he and his priests took to bring this about, and the results they achieved.