Ordinary Time 25, Year C
- I tell you … the time is running out (1 Cor. 7:29)
Not that Vincent de Paul was dishonest or a cheat without conscience before he became one of the children of light. But prior to his deciding finally to devote his life to the service of the poor, he apparently could not wait till he could get financial advantage out of his having been ordained a priest, in a similar manner that those exploitive sellers of grain denounced by the prophet Amos could not wait till they could rake in their profit. And Vincent was, it seems to me, as creative in times of crisis as was the steward whose time was running out as he was facing dismissal for having squandered his employer’s property.
Vincent could not wait, for he set to work on getting for himself an ecclesiastical benefice. He was hoping God would bless his work and give him soon the means to an honorable retirement (P. Coste, I, 18). Whether factual or not, his letters to a benefactor, M. de Comet, relating his pursuit of an inheritance left him by a woman from Toulouse and his subsequent captivity in Tunis, are surely an indication of the extent to which Vincent would go in order to obtain money and secure his financial well-being (Ibid., 1-17).
But that Vincent de Paul was not lacking in creativity—which along with industry and tenacity makes for success—seems obvious to me in the way he handled times of crisis. Already at the threshold of conversion, as one might so surmise, he resourcefully, tenaciously and calmly faced false accusation of theft and hypocrisy by simply assuring himself and others that God knew the truth. And wasn’t it so very courageously resourceful of Vincent to offer himself to God to take the place of a colleague in a chaplaincy who was being terribly assailed by temptations against faith? Subsequently receiving what he prayed for and himself suffering severe temptations against faith, he creatively overcame his ordeal by simply touching, at the moment of temptation, a piece of paper he carried around on which was written out, in Latin, “I believe.”
All this restless hard work, however, all this tenacity, all this creativity, all this astuteness—all this was really a prelude to his acquisition of that wisdom which enabled him to make friends for himself with the “mammon of iniquity,” that is to say, with that which he originally trusted but finally understood to be untrustworthy ultimately. For soon enough he would make friends by giving away a large amount of money he had received as a personal gift for the benefit of the sick poor in a welfare hospital that he had began visiting. No longer afraid of poverty, then, nor of the insecurity implied by it, Vincent de Paul finally started to be really a child of the light, equipped with the prudence necessary for dealing successfully with crises and challenges.
In Providence’s due time, of course, St. Vincent de Paul’s resourcefulness would even be more impressive and seemingly without a limit. His effective creativity would prompt him to assist the poor and have them assisted in every way, by himself and by others. He would be proven trustworthy too in handling both the little bit that was left of fast-dwindling resources and the equivalent of millions of dollars that passed through his hands for the poor. He would definitely serve God, not mammon; yet he would also see to it that mammon be at the service of the poor and, therefore, of God.
So impressive, indeed, was St. Vincent’s resourcefulness that it would be said of him finally, during his funeral service, that “he just about transformed the face of the Church” (cf. the introduction of Father Robert P. Maloney’s The Way of Vincent de Paul). There is no question, as far as I am concerned, that industrious and tenacious that he was, St. Vincent succeeded to live out his faith—as the second reading from the 1 Tim. seems to want every Christian to do—in creative tension within the world of economics and politics (cf. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., “Money and Spirituality” in the September 17, 2007 issue of America).
No, Vincent de Paul was not dishonest nor was he a cheat without conscience. But more than just this, he ended up unable to rest until he could be a saint in the creative manner taught by this Sunday’s gospel reading. And narrating even a bit of St. Vincent’s life demonstrates better than does any hermeneutics or exegesis, I think, the truth of such gospel teaching (cf. the very last sentence of “’The Synthesis of All Heresies’: 100 Years On,” by Charles J.T. Talar in the September 2007 issue of Theological Studies).