CHAPTER SIX: His Constant Attention to the Presence of God
The grandeur and perfection Monsieur Vincent’s love for God was seen not only in his perfect submission to all that he commanded, but also in the close attention he gave to the presence of his divine majesty. It is a characteristic of love to desire and to seek out the presence of the beloved, and to take pleasure in his company, in being in his sight, and speaking with him. Monsieur Vincent’s dedication to God was such (as we learn from a most virtuous priest who knew him well, and who was well acquainted with his activities over several years) that it is easy to see that his spirit was continually attentive to the presence of God. He was never seen to be distracted by the press of business or the duties he was obliged to attend to, but he was always recollected and self-possessed. It was remarked that he ordinarily would not respond at once when asked something, especially if it were a matter of some importance. He would instead pause briefly to raise his mind to God to ask his light and grace, so as to do everything in keeping with his will and for his greater glory.
This same priest has recalled that he had sometimes seen Monsieur Vincent contemplating a crucifix held in his hands for hours on end. On other occasions when news of some disaster was brought to him, or the happier news of some unexpected event, a serene expression appeared on his face, the sole indication of his continued absorption in the presence of God. In this connection, he used to say: “one could hope for nothing more in a person than that he rejoiced to walk with God. Further, if he was not up to the mark in his service of the Lord, the fault lay in his not being united enough to God, and in not asking for his grace with perfect confidence.”
When he had to go to the city, he did so with great recollection, walking in the presence of God, praising him, and praying to him silently in his heart. In his later years when he had to use the carriage, he always took a companion with him. Not only did he remain interiorly recollected, with his eyes closed, but usually he pulled the curtains, so he could not see out or be seen, so as to be undisturbed in his recollection of God.
He had the pious custom of uncovering his head and making the sign of the cross whenever he heard the sound of the clock marking the hours and the quarter hours. He did this whether alone or in the company of others, in the house or in the city. He used to say this practice was helpful in renewing the recollection of the presence of God, and in reminding oneself of the resolutions taken during morning mental prayer. He introduced this practice into his Company, which has continued it to this day in places where they can do so.
Since he knew from his own experience the graces and benefits of interior recollection, and of this attention to the presence of God, he urged this practice upon others as much as he could. He put up, in various places in the cloister of Saint Lazare, signs written in large letters, GOD SEES ALL, so that the missionaries and others visiting might be reminded of his holy presence. He appreciated this practice so much that he used to say, “If a person could be found who truly understood this practice, and who was faithful in following it, he would soon reach a high degree of sanctity.”
He was alert to allow the things of nature to raise his mind to God. He did not stop at considering external beauty or the particular beauty of the created object. Rather, he immediately raised his mind to the consideration of the perfection of its Creator. When he saw the fields covered with grain, or trees loaded with fruit, he immediately thought of the inexhaustible riches of God, or he praised him for his goodness in supplying by his Providence the food needed by his creatures. When he saw flowers, or any other beautiful object, he took the opportunity to contemplate the perfections and beauty of God. He would say in his heart these words later found in his own handwriting: “What then compares to the beauty of God, the source of all beauty and of the perfection of his creatures? Do not the flowers, the birds, the stars, the moon, and the sun borrow their attraction and their beauty from him?”1
He once told his community that he had visited a sick woman suffering from a constant headache. She endured this with such great patience that he seemed to see on her face a certain grace which revealed that God was present in her sufferings. He was so moved by the sight he could not help exclaiming: “Oh, the happy state of those who suffer for the love of God! How agreeable this is in his sight, since his own Son crowned the heroic actions of his holy life with terrible sufferings which brought him to death.”2
He added on this occasion that just a few days before he had chanced to be in a room lined with mirrors, so much so that even a fly could not escape notice, no matter where it might go. This led him to think: “If men have found a way to see everything that happens, even to the smallest movement of a tiny insect, how much more must we believe that we are always in the sight of the divine mirror of God’s all-seeing vision, especially the good works of his faithful, such as their patience, humility, conformity to the will of God, and all the other virtues.”3
We shall finish this chapter with these remarks which he made in speaking to his community.
The thought of the presence of God helps us in the practice of fulfilling his holy will. The memory of the divine presence grows in the mind, little by little, and by his grace becomes habitual with us. We become, as it were, enlivened by this divine presence. My brothers, how many persons there are, even in the world, who almost never lose their sense of God’s presence? I, myself, a few days ago met a person who was aware of having been distracted only three times during the day. These people will be our judges. They will condemn us before the judgment seat of God’s divine majesty for our forgetfulness, since we have no other duty but to love him and to show this love by our attention and our service of him. Let us pray that our Lord will give us the grace to say, like him, Cibus meus est, ut faciam voluntatem ejus qui misit me, my food and my life is to do the will of God.4 Let us beseech him to give us always a hunger and thirst for his justice.5