SECTION TWO: His Perfect Acceptance by an Entire Resignation and Indifference of the Will of God
The love of God and a perfect conformity to his will appears chiefly in afflictions and sufferings, whether physical or mental. At that point, the human heart accepts whatever comes from his divine goodness, not with patience alone, but with peace, joy, and love, because such is his will and pleasure.
This is first seen by a resignation, in which our will moves us to place ourselves entirely into the hands of God, rising above all natural repugnances and submitting ourselves perfectly to the good pleasure of his divine Majesty.
Monsieur Vincent did this in the face of all the crosses and sufferings by which God tried his virtue. In all these unfortunate occurrences his only response was: “God be blessed. May the name of God be blessed.” This refrain showed the disposition of his heart, which was always resigned to the will of God. He had such a high esteem for this virtue that he once remarked to one of his confreres, on the occasion of a most serious accident affecting the welfare of the Congregation: “An act of resignation and acceptance of the will of God is worth more than a hundred thousand temporal successes.”
Speaking to his confreres on this topic on another occasion, he first explained the difference between God’s putting someone into a particular state, and his merely allowing something to happen.
The first case may be considered as the will of God, while in the second case God permits the events to unfold. We may consider a loss, a sickness, a contradiction, boredom, or dryness, all of which come directly from the will of God, as an example of the first. What happens as a result of sin or disobedience to his commands comes to us with his permission. In these circumstances we must humble ourselves and do all we can, by the grace of God, to rise from the state into which we have fallen. We should also be on our guard against further relapses. The first sort of situation comes directly from God’s will. We must accept it and resign ourselves to God’s good pleasure, to suffer what he sends, as much and for as long as it pleases him. This, gentlemen and my brothers, is the great lesson we learn from the Son of God. Those who learn it well are in the most advanced class in the school of the Lord. I know of nothing more holy, or nothing more perfect than this resignation, which leads to an entire emptying of self and a complete indifference to all the states into which we may be led, sin excepted. Let us strive then, to hold to this, and pray God to give us the grace to remain always in this state of holy indifference.1
From this conference we can see the high degree to which he practiced this spirit of resignation and how he recommended it to others. This led him to a complete indifference which united his heart perfectly to the good pleasure of God, not so much by overcoming the movements of nature but rather by a simple and loving acceptance, doing all for the love of the will of God. He willed nothing but what God willed. In this sentiment he received with equal affection whatever came from the hand of God, whether it be sickness or health, loss or gain.
He spoke of these things to his community:
Indifference is a state of virtue which leads us to be so detached from creatures and so united to the will of the Creator that we are almost totally freed from any desire for one thing rather than another. I said a state of virtue, not simply a virtue which occurs within that state. This state of virtue is active, leading the heart to be detached from all that would hold it captive, because otherwise it would not be a virtue. This virtue is not only excellent, but is also of singular usefulness in helping us to advance in the spiritual life. It could even be said to be necessary for all those who wish to serve God perfectly. Could we seek the Kingdom of God and devote ourselves to the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls if we were attached to our own ease and convenience? How could we accomplish the will of God if we followed the movements of our own will? How could we renounce ourselves, according to the counsel of our Lord, if we sought the esteem and applause of others? How could we be detached from all things, if we did not have the courage to leave a trinket which binds us? You see, then, how much we need this holy indifference, and how much we must give ourselves to God to acquire it, if we wish to avoid becoming slaves to our own selves, or to say it better, slaves to a animal. He who allows himself to be led and dominated by his animal nature does not deserve to be called a man, but rather an animal.
Indifference shares in the nature of perfect love, or to say it better, it is an activity of that perfect love which leads the will to all that is best and destroys all that stands in the way. Fire not only warms, but also destroys all that it touches. In the same way, according to the thought of one of the saints, indifference is the origin of all the virtues and the death of all vices.
The soul in a state of perfect indifference is compared by the prophet to a beast of burden. This animal is just as indifferent about carrying one thing as another, by being guided by a rich man or by a poor man, to be part of a noble establishment or to be in a wretched stable. Everything is the same to it. It is ready for whatever is asked of it. It walks, it stops; it turns to the left, or to the right; it suffers; it works night and day. Gentlemen and my brothers, how detached we must become, detached from our own judgment, our own will, our own inclinations, from all that is not of God. We must be disposed to accept all the orders of his holy will. That is the way the saints acted.
O great Saint Peter, you said it so well, and made it so evident, when you recognized your Master on the shore of the sea at the word of the beloved disciple, Dominus est [“It is the Lord”].2 At once you threw yourself into the water to go to him. You did not remain in the boat, nor hold on to your shirt, or even to your life, but looked only to the divine Savior, who was everything to you. And you, great apostle Saint Paul, by the special grace given you at the time of your conversion, you practiced this virtue of indifference so admirably when you said: Domine, quid me vis facere? Lord, what would you have me do?3 This statement reflects a marvelous conversion and a detachment which could be achieved only by grace. He had in a single moment separated himself from the law he had known, from his mission, from his pretensions and his own ideas, and was raised to such a perfect state that he was ready for and indifferent to all God wished from him. If these great saints appreciated and practiced this virtue of indifference, we ought to follow their example. Missionaries are no longer their own. They belong to Jesus Christ who wishes to use them as he wills, and they are prepared to suffer following his example. “Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he said to his disciples, and “as they have persecuted me, so they will persecute you.”4
After all these considerations, must we not empty our hearts of all other affections but that of Jesus Christ, and our will for everything else but obedience? It seems to me that I see you all disposed in this way, and I trust that God will give you this grace. Yes, O my God, I myself first of all hope for this. I am in great need of this grace because of my miseries and all my attachments which I seem powerless to break, and which make me say in my old age, like David, “Lord, have mercy upon me.”5 You will be edified, my brothers, if I tell you of some of our older confreres who have asked to be sent to the Indies, and among those who have asked, some are sick. Where do they get the courage? Does it not come from a free heart which desires only that God be known and adored in all places? Nothing holds them back or attracts them but his holy will. And the rest of us, brothers, though we are so numerous, if we were not held back by some unhappy attachments, each of us could say in his heart, “My God, I give myself to you to be sent to any place on the earth where my superiors judge I could best proclaim your holy name. When it is time for me to die, I shall be ready, knowing that my salvation is in obedience, and obedience is your holy will.” Those who have not yet accepted these sentiments ought to examine closely those things which restrain them. In this way, by a continuous interior and exterior mortification, they may, with the grace of God, come to the freedom of the children of God, which is found in holy indifference.6
Monsieur Vincent did not limit his exhortations to his confreres in general, but spoke personally to each one on this subject as circumstances dictated. Writing to one of them, he said:
You are aware that the Gospel says that the workers called at the later hour received the same pay as those who had worked the whole day. In the same way, you shall merit as much by awaiting in patience the will of the Master as if you were working, since you are ready to stay or to leave, all the while awaiting his will. God be praised for this holy indifference. It makes you a fit instrument for the works of God.7
He wrote to another:
I thank God greatly for the dispositions he has inspired in you to be willing to go into the foreign mission if you are sent, or not to go if you are asked to stay. Holy indifference in all things is a mark of the perfect. Yours gives me hope that God shall be glorified in you and by you, as I pray with all my heart will happen. I ask you, Monsieur, to beg God for the grace that we both might abandon ourselves entirely to his adorable direction. We must serve him as he wishes, and renounce our own wills, either about where we work or what we do. It is enough if we are totally given to God as his beloved children, being honored to bear the name of servants of the Gospel, by which our Lord wants to be known and served. What difference does it make how or where, as long as we act in this way? Assuredly this will come about if we allow him to act in us.8
He said to another confrere:
O Monsieur, what a beautiful attribute holy indifference is for a missionary. It makes him so pleasing to God, and brings the Lord to prefer him to all other workers in whom he does not find this indifference to accomplish his designs. If we finally arrive at this state of being deprived of all self-will, we would then be ready to accomplish the will of God, that holy will which the angels adore and in which human beings find all their happiness.9
This true servant of God was not satisfied to exhort others to practice this virtue, but practiced it himself most perfectly. It appeared on all occasions that his heart was so detached from all that was not of God and so firmly attached to his holy will, that everyone could recognize he had attained the highest degree of this heroic virtue. We will give here two examples, sketches which will enable the reader to judge his holy dispositions in this regard.
The first example is his indifference to all that affected him in his sicknesses, especially in the illness which led to his death. He approached his end well aware of his condition. He even stated that he knew he was slowly dying, but he was in such a state of perfect indifference that whether he lived or died, suffered or was cured, it was all the same to him. Neither in health nor in sickness was any of this apparent. He never said single word to the contrary. He was even indifferent to the medicines and remedies given him. Although he mentioned those remedies which seemed to worsen his condition, he took whatever the physicians decided would be best for him. He seemed as unperturbed by the bad effects of some of the prescribed remedies as he did of others which were more successful. He was seemingly content to accept whatever came about, provided only that God’s good pleasure be accomplished, the only object of his desires and joy.
The second example is his indifference regarding the affairs of his Congregation, especially since the preservation of this holy work was more dear to him than his own life. He regarded the accomplishment of the will of God as incomparably superior to even this, so that he looked upon the continued existence and growth of the Congregation as desirable only in so far as God willed it so. He took no step, nor did he say a single word in its favor, except in agreement with the manifestation of the divine will.
Someone once wrote him that he could never expect his Congregation to flourish unless there was a constant supply of worthy candidates, and that this could be assured only by having the Congregation established in the larger cities. He replied in these words:
We may not take any steps to establish ourselves anywhere if we are to remain faithful to the ways of God and to the traditions of the Congregation. Up to the present, Providence has directed us to the places where we are, with no activity on our part, directly or indirectly, to choose a place for ourselves. This resignation to God which keeps us in dependence on his direction is most agreeable to him, especially because it is so contrary to mere human prudence. Under the pretext of zeal and the glory of God, those human sentiments often undertake projects God does not inspire and which he will not bless. He is aware of what is suitable for us, and will provide it in good time, if as true children we abandon ourselves to our dear Father. Certainly, if we are convinced of our own unworthiness, we will hesitate about intruding upon the harvest of others before we have been invited to do so. We should be careful not to push ourselves ahead of other workers to whom God has reserved this field of activity.10
Once a matter which promised to favor the Congregation was proposed to him, and one of his priests urged him to agree. He gave this response:
I think we should allow this matter to simmer for the time being. This will allow the inclinations of human nature to lessen, even at the expense of the possible advantages of a prompt decision. It will help us develop holy indifference, and allow our Lord to manifest his will while we offer our prayers for this intention. We can be sure that if he wishes it, it shall come about. A delay will not prevent this, and the less there is of ourselves in this, the more will he make it his own.11
He tenderly and cordially loved all the members of the Congregation, especially those who were working diligently and successfully in the vineyard of the Lord. When death came to any one of them he felt the loss deeply. Still, he practiced an admirable indifference on these occasions. He did not ask God to preserve their lives except when it was in keeping with his will and for his greater glory. This was evident on an occasion when several members of the Congregation were stricken with the plague. Among them was one who was most dear to him because of his great service to the Church, which he did even to the extent of endangering his own life. He recommended all the sick to the prayers of the community. Speaking of this particular confrere, he said:
We pray that God will deign to preserve his life, but we submit entirely to his divine will. We must believe, for it is true, that his sickness and that of the others, and all else that happens to our Company, is done under God’s direction and for the greater prosperity of our Congregation. This is why, in praying God to restore good health to our sick confreres, or to come to our help in any other way, it is always on the condition that it be in keeping with his good pleasure and for his greater glory.12
Another time, speaking of the death of a person who had greatly loved the community, he said: I have no doubt you have been much affected by the death of this person who was so dear to us. But God be praised, you have told me that God has done well to take him from us, and you would not have it otherwise, since this has evidently been his holy will.13
This almost perfect indifference shone forth most brilliantly on the occasion when the plague in Genoa, in 1654, took five or six of the best workers of the Company. This is how he announced this loss to the community. After exhorting them to confide in God, whatever the situation, he spoke of the sad news. How true it is, gentlemen, that we should have a great confidence in God and place ourselves entirely in his hands. We believe that his Providence arranges everything for our greater good no matter what should come about through his will or permission! Yes, what God gives us or what he takes from us is for our benefit, since it is according to his will, and his good pleasure is our hope and our happiness. In this spirit I must tell you of an affliction that has come to us. I must say in all honesty that it is one of the greatest tragedies that could happen. We have lost the main support of our house in Genoa. Monsieur N., [Etienne Blatiron] our superior there, and such a great servant of God, is dead. And this is not all. Good Monsieur N., [Nicolas Duport] who served the plague-stricken with such joy, who had such love for his neighbor, and such zeal and fervor for helping in the salvation of souls, has fallen victim to the plague. One of our Italian priests, [Domenico Boccone] a most virtuous and good missionary, has also died. Monsieur N., [Antoine Tratebas] a true servant of God, a good missionary and a man of all the virtues, is also dead. And Monsieur N., [Francois Vincent] whom you are well aware is the equal in all this to the others, is also dead. Monsieur N., [Jean Ennery] a wise, pious, and exemplary man, is dead. Gentlemen and my brothers, the contagious disease has taken all these men. God has called them to himself.
O Savior Jesus, what a loss and what an affliction! It is now that we must resign ourselves in everything to the will of God. Otherwise what else could we do but lament and grieve uselessly for the loss of these most zealous proponents of the glory of God. Instead, in resignation, after allowing our tears, we must raise our hearts and minds to God, praise him, and bless him for these losses, since they come as expressions of his most holy will. Can we say, gentlemen and my brothers, that we have lost those whom God has called? No, they have not been lost, and we must believe the ashes of these good missionaries will be the seed of others. We must hold it as certain that God will never take back the graces he has given them. He will give these same graces to those with the zeal to go to take their place.14
- This text does not appear in Coste, CED but may be related to the conference to the community, May 16, 1659.
- John 21:7.
- Acts 9:6.
- John 15:20; 20:21.
- Ps 51:1.
- CED XI:227-44.
- CED V:525.
- CED V:593-94.
- CED IV:1472.
- CED VI:308.
- CED V:533-34.
- CED XI:47-48. The confrere is not identified.
- CED XI:100. Person not identified.
- CED XI:428-32; Abelly’s text differs considerably from Coste’s, who gives both for comparison. In addition, the event took place in 1657, not in 1654, Abelly’s date. The total number of confreres lost was six.