SECTION THREE: Monsieur Vincent’s Thoughts on the Confidence We Should Have in God
In the previous section we recalled the words Monsieur Vincent used in addressing his community on the subject of the confidence we ought to have in God. It will not be inappropriate if we now recount the way he testified to this same virtue in his dealings with the various persons he met.
He wrote one day to a person who had sent him greetings on his feast day:
I thank you for your devotion to my holy patron. I pray that God will reward your faith, which my own misery and unworthiness could not obtain for you. This very morning I was so involved with business that I could hardly make my meditation, and even when I did, it was only with many distractions. Judge from this how little you can depend on my prayers on this holy day. This does not discourage me however, for I put my confidence in God, and surely not in my own preparation or my own efforts. I wish with all my heart that you would do the same, for the throne of the goodness and mercy of God is founded on our own unworthiness. If we rely on his goodness, we will never be disappointed, as he himself assures us in the holy Gospels.1
In another letter to this same person, he wrote:
Put out of your mind all that can cause you pain, for God will take care of you. You cannot continue to act this way without (so to speak) saddening the heart of God, for he will see that you do not trust in him enough. Please trust him, and you shall see the fulfillment of all your heart desires. Once again, I repeat, put aside all thought of the mistrust which occasionally creeps into your mind. Why is your soul not filled with confidence, since you are, by the mercy of our Lord, his beloved daughter.2
In another letter to this same person, he said:
What treasures are hidden in his holy Providence! And how those who follow it and not stride before it honor our Lord. Recently I heard of one of the leading persons in the realm, who learned this lesson through his own experience. He tried to do only a few things on his own initiative, and instead of being successful they turned out to his loss. Isn’t it reasonable that you would want your servant to do only what you told her, or what was in keeping with your orders? If this makes sense in one person dealing with another, how much more is it so in the dealings of a creature with her Creator?3
One day someone asked him if it were possible to offend by having too much of the hope and confidence we should have in God. He replied:
Just as we cannot have too much faith in the truths of the faith, so too we cannot trust in God too much. We might, indeed, err in hoping for things that he has not promised, or in hoping for something he conditionally promised, while not fulfilling the conditions. For example, when a sinner hopes for pardon without forgiving his brother, or when someone asks for mercy without willing to undergo conversion. To hope to be victorious over temptation, while not rejecting the suggestions of the devil, would be both false and illusory. True hope can never be excessive since it is founded on the goodness of God and on the merits of Jesus Christ.
One day he came upon some of his confreres who seemed depressed and discouraged because of their imperfections. He said to them by way of encouragement:
We have the seed of the all-powerful God within us. This should be the source of our hope, encouraging us to place all our confidence in him, despite our own poverty. No, it should not surprise us to see our own misery, for each of us has his own fair share. It is good to be aware of this, but we should not be unduly disturbed. When the thought of our imperfections tends to discourage us, we should turn it aside, and increase our confidence in God, abandoning ourselves into his paternal hands.
This holy man was so attentive to the Providence of God that in all his affairs he acted quite differently than those around him. Others seemed to bustle about, taking every possible measure to safeguard themselves from all possible accidents. They were preparing for any reverses and adversity by using letters, giving orders, making changes, and using all human resources promptly and without limit. They sought to conceal their lack of confidence and submission to divine Providence in the excuse that God acts through secondary causes. Monsieur Vincent was guided by a purer light and by a more assured principle of not having recourse to human means until the last possible moment. This allowed divine Providence to show its intention, and to bring things to the most propitious moment for action. His actions were motivated by the knowledge that God always works for the good, and that the less there is of the human in any affair, the more there will be of the divine.
When he saw the divine will clearly manifested for him to put his hand to some enterprise, he did so with complete peace and with little concern for the outcome. He left to God’s guidance whatever would come about, good or bad. He did not think back about what he might have done, or worry about what had happened. He was content with the testimony of his good conscience, that he had striven to conform himself entirely to the will of God in what he had done. This left no room for regrets, but rather only for thanks and blessing to God for his goodness.
A well-placed priest of good reputation was greatly troubled by thoughts of despair. He wrote to Monsieur Vincent from the remote place where he was working in hopes of gaining some relief and some remedy. The reply he received gives us a good opportunity to appreciate his sentiments about the confidence one must have in God:
Since writing your letter to me, I hope that God has dispersed the clouds that have caused you such pain. In this hope I will say only a word or two in passing about your difficulties. It seems that you are in some doubt whether you are among the number of the predestined. I would answer that no one knows infallibly of his own salvation without a special revelation from God. Yet, according to the testimony of Saint Paul, it is possible to know the true children of God if there are signs to show it. By the grace of God, I see these signs in you, Monsieur. In the same letter where you tell me you do not see these signs, I find many, and the long association I have had with you shows me others. Believe me, Monsieur, I know of no soul more given to God than yourself, nor a heart more separated from evil and committed to the good than your own. You will say that you don’t see it this way. I will reply that God does not always allow his own to discern their own purity of heart among the movements of their corrupt nature, so that they may live in humility. Their treasure is better preserved by being hidden.
The holy apostle had seen the beauties of heaven, but he was not justified by this, for he continued to experience darkness and struggle within himself. He had such confidence in God, though, that he felt nothing would ever be able to separate himself from the love of Jesus Christ. This example ought to suffice, Monsieur, to help you live in peace amid your darkness, with an entire and perfect confidence in the infinite goodness of God. To bring about your salvation, God invites you to abandon yourself into the arms of his Providence. Allow him to lead you in his paternal love. He does love you, and he would no more reject a good man such as yourself than he would forsake an evil person who trusted in his mercy.4
Speaking one day to his community on this same topic, of confidence in God, he said:
A true missionary ought never be concerned about material things. He should cast all his care upon the Providence of the Lord, being entirely convinced that if he is moved by charity and is steadfast in his confidence he will always be under the protection of God. No evil will come upon him, nor will he lack anything, even when it seems that all is lost. This thought does not come from me, but is contained in Holy Scripture, which says: Qui habitat in adjutorio altissimi, in protectione Dei coeli commorabitur [“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty”].5 Whoever lives this teaching on confidence in God shall always have a special protection from him. He may be sure that no evil will come upon him, because all things will work for his good. He will lack nothing, since God will give himself to him and bringing all that is necessary for both soul and body. And so it is, my brothers, you must be convinced that as long as you remain firm in this trust, not only will you be preserved from all evil, but you will be filled with all good things.6
We will finish this chapter with an extract of a conference Monsieur Vincent gave to the Daughters of Charity. He sought to inspire them with this same confidence in God in the midst of all the contradictions and dangerous situations in which they might find themselves in their service to the poor.
You will often find, my daughters, that the wrath of God comes suddenly and violently upon many sinners before they have an opportunity for repentance and conversion. You will see many innocent people die as well, but you will be saved. Yes, my daughters, God will see to your safety because you serve the poor.7
In the next part of his conference he reflected on the effects of this special protection of God manifested on two remarkable occasions.
The first of these was the time in the faubourg Saint Germain when an almost new house collapsed at the very moment a Daughter of Charity was bringing something to a poor person living there. She was caught between two floors, and by all appearances ought to have been crushed in the ruins, as were the thirty people who lived there. Everyone died except an infant who survived with only an injury. This Daughter of Charity was saved as though by a miracle. Still clutching the heavy pot in her hand, she found a corner of a room which did not fall, though all the rest tumbled about her. By a sort of second miracle, all sorts of debris fell around her, beams and heavy stone, bureaus, tables, and other furniture, but she remained unharmed. She left these ruins, safe and sound.8
The second occasion was in the house of the Daughters of Charity when suddenly a beam gave way. By the Providence of God there was no one either below or above the room where this happened, although a short while before there had been several. Mademoiselle le Gras herself, their first superior and foundress, had just left the room. This was another marvelous protection God extended to her.
At this point, Monsieur Vincent raised his voice to say:
Ah, my daughters, what reasons we have for confidence in God! We have read about a man walking in the open fields who was killed by a turtle dropped on his head by an eagle. And we saw today how a Daughter of Charity walked out of the ruins of a house, safe and sound. What do you make of this? Is this not a sign of God’s affection for you as the pupil of his eye? O my daughters, if you have this holy confidence in your hearts, God will preserve you no matter where you shall be.9