The Life of Vincent de Paul (Abelly): Book III, Chapter III, Section II

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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SECTION TWO: Continuation of the Same Topic

What made Monsieur Vincent’s trust even more excellent and perfect was that he attached himself to God alone and he wishes to depend solely on his Providence. In imitation of Saint Francis, he wanted God to be his all. Concerning this, it was remarked that no matter what talent or quality he saw in the priests of his Congregation, or whatever notable support or service they gave to the Congregation or to Saint Lazare, his usual place of residence, and despite the esteem, love, and tenderness he might have for them, he did not attach himself to any of them. On many occasions he would send those he most esteemed and cherished to the most distant places, or to those missions which were the most dangerous. Even though these particular priests might be the ones who seemed to be necessary or useful to the running of the house, he would willingly sacrifice their companionship when he saw they could render greater service to our Lord in some other place. He would deprive himself of their love as a sacrifice to God of what was most dear to him, in imitation of the holy patriarch Abraham. He based his hopes for the preservation and growth of his Congregation not on human means but solely on the Providence of God, in whom alone he put all his trust and on whom he wished to depend entirely and absolutely.

Monsieur Vincent once gave a talk on the sacrifice of the patriarch Abraham to illustrate the lesson of perfect confidence which the members of the Company should always have in God. This is what he said on that occasion:

Do you recall this great patriarch to whom God had promised he would populate the whole world through the son he had given him? This same son was to be sacrificed, so the question naturally arose, if Abraham killed his son, how could God fulfill his promise? This holy man was so committed to carrying out the will of God that he prepared himself to carry out this order without troubling himself about anything else. It was as though he said to himself, it is up to God to decide about that. My duty is to obey his command, and I know he will fulfill his promise. But how? I surely do not know, but he is all-powerful. I will offer what is dearest to me in all the world, because that is his will. Is he not my only son? No matter. In taking the life of this child, will I not take from God the possibility of fulfilling his word? That may be, but he desires this, so it must be done. God has told me, if I save my son, my heritage shall be blessed. Yes, but he has also told me to put him to death. I shall obey, come what may, and I shall hope in his promises.

Admire this trust that does not concern itself with grief about what might happen. It does not matter that he is deeply moved. His hope is that all will be for the best, since God has ordered this. Why, gentlemen, do we not have this same trust, leaving to God the care of all that concerns us, and simply do what he asks of us?

Again, in this regard, do we not admire the fidelity of the children of Jonadab, son of Rechab?1 God inspired this good man to live differently than other men of his time, not living in a house but in a tent or shelter. He left all he had, and went to the country, where he planted no vines nor drank any wine, and he remained faithful to this all his lifetime. He forbade his children to sow wheat or other grains, to plant trees, or to lay out a garden. Here he was, without bread, wheat, or fruits. What will you live on, poor Jonadab? Do you think you and your family can live on fresh air? He said to himself, we will eat what God sends us.

This is a crude example. Even the poorest religious do not carry their mortification as far as this. All the same, this man trusted so completely that he deprived himself and his family of life’s necessities in order to rely absolutely and completely on divine Providence. This family lived this way for 350 years, that is to say, he and his children and his children’s children.

This pleased God so, that, when he complained to Jeremiah of the hard hearts of the people given over to their pleasures, God said: go to these people, and tell them of a man who acts differently. Jeremiah called the Rechabites to come and manifest the great abstinence of the father and his sons. For this, he bread and wine and goblets placed upon the table. Jeremiah said that God had ordered him to tell them they should drink the wine, but the Rechabites replied they had been ordered not to drink, and for these many years they have not touched wine, for their fathers had forbidden it.

If this father trusted and was without worry that God would see to the support of his family, if his children would remain so faithful to the wishes of their parents, gentlemen, what trust should we not have that God will provide for us, in whatever state we find ourselves? What is our fidelity to our rules in comparison with these children who, though not obliged to do so, still lived in such poverty? O my God, gentlemen! O my God, brothers! Ask his infinite goodness for this trust in all that concerns us. If we are faithful to this, we will lack nothing. He will live in us, he will guide, defend, and love us. What we do and say will be pleasing to him.

Do you not see the birds of the air that neither sow nor reap? God takes care of them, providing them with both food and clothing. His Providence extends even to the plants of the fields, such as the lilies, so clothed that not even Solomon in all his glory had the like. If God so looks after the birds and plants, why do you not rely on a God who is so good and so generous? Why do you count on yourself more than on him, even though you well know he can do all and you can do nothing? Yet you rely on your own efforts rather than on his goodness, on your poverty rather than his abundance. Oh the misery of man!

I will nevertheless say here that superiors must look after the needs of everyone, and provide what is necessary. God sees to the needs of all his creatures, down to the smallest mite. In the same way, he wills also that superiors and other officers, as instruments of his Providence, should watch to see that nothing necessary is lacking, neither to the priests, clerics, or brothers, nor to the hundred, two hundred, or three hundred or more persons both great and lowly who may be with us. But you yourselves, my brothers, must rely on the loving care of his Providence. Be content with what he sends, and do not worry if the community is lacking this or that. You must first seek the kingdom of God, and his infinite wisdom will supply all the rest.

Finally, I once asked a Carthusian, the prior of his house, if he called the house council together to discuss temporal affairs. “We call the superior and the procurator, but all the rest do not concern themselves with these things. They occupy themselves only with the praise of God, and with what obedience and our rules require.” We have the same practice, thanks be to God, and we must hold to it. We are obliged to own some things to take care of the needs of all. There was a time when the Son of God sent his disciples out without money or provisions, but he later found it helpful to have something to maintain his group and to help the poor. The apostles continued this practice, and Saint Paul tells us how he worked to gather money that could then be distributed to other Christians. Superiors must look after temporal matters, but their concern must never distract them from their attention to the virtues. They must act so that the spiritual life remains in vigor in their houses, and God reigns over all. This must be the first of their concerns.2

  1. A reference to Jer 35.
  2. CED XII:130-50.

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