Saint Vincent de Paul: a man who focused his whole life on Christ

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

By: José María Lópex Maside, CM

(This article was published in La experiencia espiritual de San Vicente de Paúl (XXXV Vincentian Studies Week, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2011).


The simple statement of this theme can appear to be pretentious if taken out of context. This could appear to be even more pretentious if one thought that this presentation would be an exhaustive study of the stated theme. To avoid this danger I believe it would be good to be mindful of the following.

On the one hand, the theme that we are dealing with must be viewed from the broader perspective of the various dimensions of Vincent’s spiritual experience. This is only one focal point and during this XXXV Vincentian Week, which is dedicated to the development of the theme of Vincent de Paul’s spiritual experience, there will be fifteen different points of emphasis. From the beginning I have focused on specific aspects of this presentation, presuming that people are aware of other matters related to this aspect. At the same time and in order to avoid repetition I have left aside other themes even though they might be somewhat related to this theme.

On the other hand, as I develop this theme I will use the experiential method which will allow us to examine more closely and reflect more profoundly on Vincent’s life and personal experience. Of course we will begin with the life, the work and the spiritual doctrine of the Saint, but our attention will be focused on his personal spiritual experience. We will attempt to enter into his lived experience of faith, his motivations and his charity which determined and guided his whole life.

We do not have the same opportunity as his contemporaries who were able to know him personally, listen to his words, and witness the ways in which his spirit radiated God’s love and the fire of charity. Brother Bertand du Courneau, Vincent’s personal secretary, professed a true esteem for him and considered his teachings and counsels as true manna from heaven which people of every sex and state of life found attractive.

Bossuet admired the power of Vincent’s communication and his ability to touch the heart of his listeners and thus, lead them to God. In a letter dated August 2, 1702 and addressed to Pope Clement XI, he stated: when as interested individuals we listened to some of his conferences we felt that the words of the Apostle were being fulfilled in him, namely, ‘if someone speaks, may his words be like the words of God’. Bossuet was to a certain degree envious of the Missionaries who lived with Vincent and were able to listen to him every day: how blessed are you who everyday could see and listen to a man so filled with God’s love [1].

Francis de Sales, who had the opportunity to know Vincent during his stay in Paris (1618-1619) was able to appreciate his holiness. He said: I do not know a more worthy or more saintly priest than M. Vincent (CCD:I:55, note #4) [2]. This was confirmed by Francis’ and by Mother Chantal’s decision to choose Vincent as the director of the Visitation monastery that had been established in Parish, despite what Abelly points out: In Paris there were persons of learning and piety older than Monsieur Vincent [3].

We, however, have the opportunity to connect with Vincent’s spirit if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read and listen with faith to Vincent’s word. This same sentiment was proclaimed by a person who listened to Francis de Sales. His words revealed God’s love and were an expression of God’s compassion and as such captivated the listener. Francis used simple language and was opposed to a lofty style of preaching. One of his listeners stated: do you think people are attracted to his preaching because of his beautiful words? It is enough just to see him in the pulpit. People will listen to him offer a short prayer and that is enough. His words, enflamed with charity, touch the human heart [4]. Later Vincent would use “the little method” which Bossuet also utilized. Those who participated in the Tuesday Conferences commented on this style of preaching. In fact one of the bishops who attended one of these sessions stated: we do not know how the Holy Spirit inspires you but your words touch everyone … as you open your mouth to speak you have more effect on everyone, more then we could ever imagine to have with all the words that we preach [5].

As a consequence of Brather Ducorneau’s foresight we are also able to listen to Vincent as he speaks to us today through his writings … we are able to listen to his teachings and counsels. Brother Ducorneau was convinced that the holiness of many saints was known especially through their writings. According to him, the holiness of Vincent did not need this resource since it has already diffused its fragrance throughout the Church by his works of charity. Thus, Brother requested that Vincent’s words be preserved in writing because his words are so redolent with his devotion that … we could never imagine that Our Lord would carry Christian perfection to the point of obliging us to love our enemies, to do good to those who offend us, etc., if the Evangelists had not collected the very words he spoke (CCD:XI:xxviii).

Therefore it is necessary that we approach with faith Vincent’s spiritual experience and it is equally important to ask for the necessary insight to be able to grasp the depths of Vincent’s experience. In this sense even though we are not in the chronological proximity of his contemporaries nevertheless we are in existential proximity to him [6]. When we maintain this union in faith, there occurs what Vincent himself experienced, namely, words that are spoken with faith are always accompanied by a certain heavenly unction that diffuses itself secretly in the hearts of the listeners (CCD:XI:26)

The path of encounter with Christ

The path of Vincent’s encounter with Christ was one of progressively drawing closer to Christ as he grew in knowledge and love for Christ. It was not, as some of his biographers (who wrote as hagiographers) state, a path that followed some straight line from the time of his childhood. Nor was it the sudden conversion of a sinner.

Vincent’s encounter with Christ is best described in the gospels: And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man (Luke 2:52). As we will see Vincent would attain a mystical union with Christ who became the center of his life and activity and who inspired all his works. We have to view this, however, in stages.

Allow oneself to search for Jesus Christ

As occurs in the life of every Christian, Vincent initiated his encounter with Christ at the time of his baptism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (pages 111-115) explains the profound significance and the effects of this sacrament. Those who are immersed into the death of Christ are raised up with Christ as a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Scripture we also find baptism referred to as a bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) and as an enlightenment because those who are baptized become children of the light (Ephesians 5:8). This foundation provided Vincent with a path for growth in the new life that he had received … this growth was dependent, however, on his entering into a deeper relationship with Christ and on his commitment to Christ. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that every consecration is deeply rooted in the baptismal consecration (Perfectae Caritatis, #5).

From the time of his childhood Vincent lived his Christian commitment with simplicity and true devotion … he had great trust in God. He gave witness to this reality when he spoke to the Daughters of Charity and praised the virtue of the poor people who lived in the rural areas.

Some of the characteristics of this simple life were permanently engraved in the depths of his being: Have you ever seen people with greater confidence in God than good country folk? They sow their seed and then wait for God to bless their harvest; and if God permits that it not be good, they still have confidence in him for their food for the whole year (CCD:IX:73-74). It was in this familiar environment that Vincent’s Christian faith was nourished and developed.

As Vincent sought a position that would enable him to live a dignified life, he accommodated himself to the customs of the era without considering the consequences of his actions. As for myself, he later confessed, if I had known what it was when I had the temerity to enter it --- as I have come to know since then --- I would have preferred to till the soil than to commit myself to such a formidable state of life (CCD:V:569).

Yet Vincent never lost his sincere piety and the desire to live his priesthood in a worthy manner, not even during the time of his enslavement in Barbary (CCD:I:1-15). During his first visit to Rome he confessed that he became very emotional and cried.

This stage of his life, with its lights and shadows, with his sincere desire to be a good priest and with his personal and family attachments, is reflected in the letter that he wrote to his mother on February 16, 1610: As much as the prolonged sojourn which I must necessarily make in this city in order to regain my chances for advancement (which my disasters took from me) grieves me, because I cannot come to render you the services I owe you. But I have such trust in God’s grace, that he will bless my efforts and will soon give me the means of an honorable retirement so that I may spend the rest of my days near you (CCD:I:15-16).

During this first stage his life, Vincent followed the Lord closely even though it was not in a way that allowed him to know the Lord more intimately and thus respond to the Lord’s call. We could perhaps define this stage as a search for Jesus Christ. It was during this time that Vincent allowed himself to search for, to call out to and ask about Jesus Christ. Certainly during the difficult moments of his life Vincent recalled the words of the psalmist: Look upon me, have pity on me … relieve the troubles of my heart; bring me out of my distress (Psalm 25:16, 17). But Vincent imposed his own plan and timeframe.

Vincent did not yet detach himself from his own personal interests that prevented him from seeing what the Lord desired. Nevertheless he had not closed his heart nor lost his sincerity in loving God. Thus, despite his continual detours, he continued to maintain himself in the position of being one of those who was able to recognize Jesus Christ, that is, he remained simple of heart (Cf., Matthew 11:25) … one, who like Nathanael, sought the Lord (John 1:48). Despite his faults and inconsistencies, like Zacchaeus, he was able to behold the Lord (Cf., Luke 19:5) and like Peter, he was aware of Jesus’ presence (Cf., Matthew 26:75).

The foundation of Vincent’s faith was sound but it needed to be stirred up, purified and enlivened. Classical language (according to Augustinian inspiration) refers to three dimensions of growth in faith which in turn leads to other forms of belief. The three dimensions are: credere Deum, which means that one believes in the existence of God and also believes in the truths that God has revealed; credere Deo which means that an individual believes God, gives credit to God (believes the truths of faith because God has revealed these truths to humankind); credere in Deum which means that one’s faith is not only rooted in the truths of God but is fundamentally rooted in God to whom these truths refer. Faith is an experience of God and leads one to confidently surrender oneself to God. This idea is expressed in the root from which the Hebrew word for faith is derived, to be firm, to support oneself in another, to base all of one’s life on another.

These three dimensions of the act of faith cannot be separated. As we reflect on Vincent’s experience of faith, we recognize that these three dimensions are present from the very beginning. There is an experience of faith to the degree that there is a depth to faith. The faith that Vincent received at the time of his childhood was rooted in confidence in God. Yet it is also true that Vincent’s Christian vision and practices were formed according to the religious customs of that era which facilitated and/or hindered a personal encounter with God and a personal commitment to God’s call.

There is no doubt that Vincent had to continue his journey [7]. In broad strokes we could compare Vincent’s journey with that of Peter who at the time of his first confession decleared You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) and then after Jesus’ resurrection boldly proclaimed: Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:36).

Peter’s first confession occurred during an important time in Jesus’ life … people had begun to separate themselves from Jesus and now his disciples recognized him as the Messiah. Nevertheless they would have to come to understand that the goal of the resurrection could only be achieved by walking the path of the passion and the cross. Like Peter, the young Vincent experienced a certain passion for Jesus and he followed Jesus closely but now he would have to learn to trust in him in a definitive manner.

To look at Jesus Christ

Cardinal François Xavier Ngoyen Van Thuan [8] stated that in Ho Chi Minh City, when he was unexpectedly and secretly arrested and stripped of all religious symbols, he felt that God was inviting him to return to that which is essential. In shock over his new situation, yet now face to face with God, the cardinal realized that Jesus was asking him the same question he had posed to Peter: who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)

Something similar occurred and stirred Vincent’s conscience. When he experienced a certain satisfaction with having obtained a benefice that would enable him to exercise his priesthood in a familiar circle, he was faced with a true challenge that would change all his plans.

That kind of cloud that is created by our surroundings and enfolds us to the point of preventing us from moving beyond our small world, began to let in some rays of light: frequent contact with some of the spiritual masters of the era, knowledge of the poor as a result of his duty that involved the distributions of alms in the name of Queen Marguerite and collaboration with the Brothers of Saint John of God in caring for the infirm …

Finally Vincent was able to see clearly that it was Jesus Christ whom he encountered and who had communicated himself to Vincent. This encounter occurred through events (something new that was disconcerting for Vincent): the accusation of theft, the temptations against his faith and the encounter with the poor who waited to be evangelized and served. The presence of Christ caused the haze to disappear, the haze that prevented Vincent from having a clear vision (Cf., 2 Corinthians 3:13). This experience confirmed Vincent’s confidence and security in his faith because it made clear the fact that God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Again using classical language, credere Deo is coming to the forefront, that is, to believe God, to give credit to God.

Vincent beheld Jesus Christ and wanted to respond personally to the question: and you, who do you say that I am? … he wanted to respond to the invitation: come and see! Now Vincent was determined to seek the face of the Lord: Come, seek God’s face; your face Lord, do I seek! (Psalm 27:8). Suddenly Vincent is surprised again and again for he discovered Jesus Christ calumniated, despised … evangelizer of the poor, present in the poor. He is astonished as he discovered that it was in the face of the poor that Jesus Christ revealed his love of the Father … that the Father sacrificed his only Son so that we might be saved (John 3:16; John 4:9-10; Romans 8:32).

After some hesitation, Vincent, like Job, realized: I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you (Job 42:5). The light of Christ enlightened him in such a manner that he was able to see things as they exist in God, especially when dealing with difficulties and the poor. His faith was definitively rooted in God who, according to his declaration gives such faith, clarity, and evidence of faith that the person disdains everything; then he is not concerned about dying (CCD:XI:151).

This inherent trust was rooted in Jesus Christ whose doctrine and person cannot deceive (CCD:XII:99). This experience was so real to Vincent that he asked the Daughters of Charity in an almost threatening manner: Tell me, Sisters, isn’t he really and truly Our Lord? And since it cannot be otherwise, why don’t we believe him? (CCD:IX:102).

Mystical encounter with Jesus Christ

Vincent’s faith implied a radical following of Jesus Christ. It meant thinking, living and acting as Jesus did. This experience of new life in Christ (the grace that comes as a result of Christ taking possession of our being) is referred to in traditional Christian language as mysticism. The mystical aspect is inherent in every form of Christian living and is dependent on an individual’s progress in Christian living.

Mysticism is frequently confused with the extraordinary phenomena that accompany the mystical experience of some persons (for example, the ecstasies of Saint Teresa). In this sense, as far as we know, Vincent had a vision of Mother Chantal entering into glory while he celebrated the Eucharist on December 13, 1641 and this was the only extraordinary sign that accompanied his mysticism (CCDII:241; XIIIa:137-139).

Extraordinary phenomena result from psychosomatic or socio-cultural causes and in some cases can have fraudulent origins as was the case of the woman who created wounds with a penknife in order to simulate the stigmata. Vincent gave the following advice: Remember Madame that the true wounds of Jesus Christ have to be an imitation of his virtues [9].

Vincent saw things as they are in God. The journey had not been easy. The grace of God was needed in order to come to this understanding. Thus Vincent stated to M. Portail: Our Lord had to predispose with his love those whom he wished to have believe in him (CCD:I:276). The Second Vatican Council expressed the same idea in the following way: Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth (Dei Verbum, #5).

Vincent’s faith is rooted in what we have called credere in Deum: a personal experience of God, a mystical experience that led him to a confident self-surrender. This experience was the result of his relationship, a relationship of union-communion with Jesus Christ that became the center of his life and activity. Following in the footsteps of the apostle, Paul, Vincent had no hesitation in accepting and affirming the following words: I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). Through the light of Jesus Christ, Vincent discovered the love of the Father and the call to evangelize the poor.

Thus Vincent came to an experience of God’s sonship or in the words of Saint Thomas, an affective knowledge or an experience of the divine will and divine goodness (Summa 2-2, q.97, art.2, ad 2). This knowledge is not obtained through study and research but is the result of God’s grace that allows an individual to see and savor the things of God.

Traditionally there has been a certain resistance to placing Vincent among the mystics. We have preferred to speak about his spirituality of action … perhaps we have preferred this in order to prevent some misunderstanding of our charism to evangelize the poor. Yet it is precisely in Vincent’s closeness to the poor and in his commitment to serve and evangelize the poor that we discern the mysticism of Vincent de Paul. Only those who maintain an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ can rejoice in the vision of faith, a faith that enables them to see the poor in Christ and Christ in the poor. Vincent often stated that to serve the poor is to serve Jesus Christ and then added: and that is as true as that we are here (CCD:IX:199).

Even though great mystics were members of the contemplative life, nevertheless Christian mysticism, understood as the highest form of union with Christ, ought to characterize every Christian as they respond to the call to become fully mature in Christ. To serve the poor in the spirit of Jesus Christ requires an intimate relationship with him. Thus Vincent could discover in the Daughters of Charity a form of contemplative prayer that was on the same level of the prayer of Saint Theresa of Avila (whose work he knew and from whom he learned to center his life on the humanity of Jesus) [10].

Even today there is a tendency to view the mystics as persons disconnected from the real world, the world of the struggle for justice and the defense of the dignity of those who are poor. Yet nothing could be more contrary to reality. As a present day theologian, one most committed to the cause of the poor points out: the gospel clearly demonstrates that Jesus’ power is rooted in his intimate experience of sonship with the Father [11]. This testimony confirms the Church’s experience: Apostolic action is always to proceed from intimate union with God, and is to confirm and foster this union (Canon 675, §2).

It is therefore with great reason that Bremond speaks about Vincent de Paul and states: whoever views him as a philanthropist rather than a mystic, in fact whoever does not see him first and foremost as mystic, is as a result describing a Vincent de Paul who never existed. Mysticism has given us this great man of action [12].

The encounter with Christ: the definitive experience in the life of Vincent de Paul

The encounter with Christ was the decisive moment in Vincent’s life … decisive in orienting his life as well as unifying his spirituality. The light of faith allowed Vincent to see Jesus Christ, as proclaimed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, as true God and true man. Quite distinct from the primacy of Descartes’ “I” Vincent discovered in the mystery of the Incarnation the absolute primacy of God and at the same time discovered the true reality of the human person. The Second Vatican Council affirmed this same reality when it stated: it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of the human person truly becomes clear (Gaudium et Spes, #22). More specifically, this encounter allowed Vincent to see God and the poor through the eyes of Jesus Christ and enabled him to commit himself in a definitive way to continue the mission of Jesus Christ on earth. In this sense Vincent’s life became an offering of self to God in order to love Our Lord and to serve him corporally and spiritually in the person of the poor (CCD:IX:465).

Christ’s mediation

Between 1609 and 1621 Vincent lived a decisive experience that would transform his whole life … first, freeing him from himself and his own plans and then, focusing his life on the love of God and the love of the poor [13]. Vincent’s experience led him to a fuller life and this was the result of a process of maturing in his faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

The rhythm and content of Vincent’s experience was marked by his on-going encounter with Christ. In the first phase of his experience he became united to the Christ who was humiliated and despised. When he was accused of theft he was able to raise his eyes toward God and remain silent (Cf., CCD:XI:305) because the presence of Christ being ridiculed sustained him (Cf., CCD:XII:225-226; 231; V:149-150). This experience enabled him to speak to the Missionaries and say: Let us follow our good Father, Jesus Christ, despised, ridiculed and persecuted (CCD:XII:232).

Vincent’s lived experience of Jesus Christ enabled him to find in said experience a grace proper to the Congregation: There were various states in the brief mortal life of our Lord … the Company in the Church of God considers Our Lord in different ways … it pleased him in his infinite goodness and mercy to give us no other views or attractions but his life of suffering, calumny, and contempt (CCD:XII:231).

Vincent’s temptations against the faith reveal the efforts he made to adhere to Christ, the Savior, efforts which led him to a faith that revealed itself in acts of charity. The Christ who became present to Vincent was the humiliated Christ who came to save humankind. The difficulties that Vincent encountered in following Christ, the Savior, are described by Louis Abelly when he refers to these temptations and states that they led Vincent to the point of blasphemy. Abelly also states that Vincent was freed from these temptations at the moment that he decided to surrender himself totally to Jesus Christ and commit the remainder of his life to serve the poor (Abelly I:131-132).

Vincent’s pastoral experience … in Gannes-Folleville (Abelly I:59-60; CCD:IX:49-51; XI:2-4, 162-164; XII:6-8, 66-83) where he discovered the spiritual needs of the poor country people, as well as in Châtillon (CCD:XIIIb:11-13) where he encountered the material needs of a family left to struggle by themselves … is the experience of an encounter with Christ who presented himself as one sent to evangelize the poor (Cf., Luke 4:18) and as one who was in need (Cf., Matthew 25:40). These two pastoral events reveal a particular grace that Vincent received in his encounter with Christ … Christ who manifested the Father’s mercy in his mission of evangelizing the poor. Through his identification with men and women who are poor, Christ revealed the dignity of these individuals. This Vincentian experience is highlighted in two gospel texts. On the one hand, Vincent found himself represented in the scene where Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and unfolds the scroll of the book of Isaiah and proclaims: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1-2). On the other hand, Vincent became one with those assembled for the final judgment and heard Jesus’ words: Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). Vincent clothed himself in the same sentiments of love that allowed Jesus to have pity on the crowd (Mark 8:2) and thus took upon himself Christ’s mission of making the gospel effective (CCD:XII:75) through evangelizing and serving the poor.

Vincent’s encounter with the heretic, who at first resisted every argument but later was easily converted as a result of the activity of the Missionaries who patiently and meekly evangelized the poor country people (Abelly I:81-82; CCD:XI:28-30) … this incident made it clear to Vincent that the Church makes Jesus recognized and present. Vincent’s missionary experience on the lands of the de Gondi estate helped him to understand that the Church ought to continue the mission of Christ and that the priest, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is called to engage in this mission as an instrument of Jesus Christ.

As a result of this personal contact with Jesus Christ, a contact that was on-going as a result of various events, Vincent formed a more intimate relationship with the Lord. This relationship led Vincent to a single mindedness in which he was able to empty himself in order to clothe himself with Jesus Christ (CCD:XI:311). This then enabled Vincent to continue Jesus’ mission. The basis of this transformation was a mystical experience, an experience that led Vincent to give himself totally to God through service of the poor.

Vincent’s lived experience was formed and molded through distinct events and this was a result of the doctrinal and theological influence of the great spiritual masters. In his library could be found spiritual writings in Spanish, Italian and French.

In Dax [14] Vincent had the opportunity to immerse himself in the Franciscan doctrine, especially their doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ in the plan of creation, that is, Christ is the beginning, the middle and the end of all God’s “ad extra” activity.

It was Bérulle, however, and his doctrine of the Incarnate Word that influenced Vincent in a profound manner and this influence would prove to be decisive. From the first moment that Vincent met Bérulle, he placed himself unreservedly at his service. Under the direction of Bérulle Vincent deepened his understanding of Christocentric spirituality. Following Jesus Christ in his various stages and other such formulations of Bérulle were easily assimilated by Vincent. As a result of Vincent’s relationship with Bérulle he was introduced to the Pauline theme of Christ’s self-emptying [15]. Nevertheless as Calvet point out: All these terms which in Bérulle are the premises of speculation and contemplation in Vincent become the springboard for action [16].

A relationship of mutual friendship was established between Francis de Sales and Vincent. The incarnate Word not only revealed the love we owe to God but also manifested God’s love for us. The very person of Francis de Sales confirmed Vincent’s lived experience. On April 17, 1628 Vincent stated during the process of Francis’ canonization that he was captivated by Francis because he saw in him the man who best imitated the Son of God (CCD:XIIIa:86). Francis, like Vincent, emphasized the imitation of Christ and the need to live in conformity to God’s will … this was more important than any form of ecstasy of Dionysian origins . Francis de Sales and Vincent both embraced the doctrine of God’s love as being essentially active.

Vincent had great trust in Andre Duval, a professor at the Sorbonne … together they meditated on The Rule of Perfection, written by Benedict Canfield (this book was like a breviary among the spiritual masters). Vincent relationship with M. Duval was such that he viewed him as an exemplary missionary: Good missionaries should be holy and wise like M. Duval (CCD:XI:115-117, 140-141).

This love that Vincent experienced as a result of his relationship with Jesus Christ was so intense that later he spoke to one of his Missionaries and stated that Jesus had become his father, his mother, his all (CCD:V:537). Vincent discovered Jesus to be the authentic revelation of God and the poor. Pascal wrote: we cannot know Jesus Christ without knowing at the same time God and our own wretchedness [18].

Christ, the human face of God

Above all else Vincent discovered that Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God. Jesus’ esteem for his Father filled Vincent with admiration: Is there any greater esteem than that of the Son, who is equal to the Father, and yet who acknowledges the Father as the author and sole principle of all the good that is in him (CCD:XII:94). God is an infinite being and his excellence is above all persons and all things and our human intelligence cannot comprehend God as a sovereign, eternally glorious being, an abyss of gentleness (CCD:XII:95). This discovered filled Vincent’s heart and he exclaimed: In line with that, brothers, we have to work toward esteem of God and try to conceive a great --- a very great --- respect for him (CCD:XII:94). Therefore God should be loved absolutely and above all else: As far as possible, brothers, we should all be in this state, (Vincent was encouraging the Missionaries by using the example of M. Bourdaise), that is, ready and willing to leave everything to serve God and our neighbor --- and our neighbor, you see, and our neighbor --- for the love of God (CCD:XII:62).

God reveals his intimacy to us in the equality and the distinctions between the three persons. This becomes the source of our holiness and the model for our life (CCD:XII:210). We will enter into the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Trinity if we are inspired by the Holy Spirit (CCD:XI:34).

Our experience of God is that of one who is present everywhere and therefore is not distant (CCD:IX:91, 93; XI:359) … our experience is that of a Provident God (CCD:IX:62-63). Above all else, however, our experience of God is that of one who so loves humankind that he sent his only Son to save all people [19]. Vincent discovered Jesus Christ to be the revelation of God’s great love for humankind. Because of God’s compassion for men and women God made this love descend from heaven and appear on earth (CCD:XII:220-221). In his conference of May 30, 1659 Vincent express this attitude of Jesus when he stated: enlightenment from on high is needed to raise us up in order to show us the height and depth, the breadth and excellences of this love (CCD:XII:213). The Company itself has been chosen by God to be an instrument of his immense, paternal charity (CCD:XII:214) and the Daughters of Charity are called to represent the goodness of God to those poor people (CCD:X:268).

Jesus Christ reveals the saving love of God that led him (Jesus) to become like us in all things except sin, sharing in all our suffering and pain. The face of Jesus that reflects the saving love of the Father for humankind captivated Vincent’s heart. As Vincentians contemplate Christ they engage in an act of religion in relationship to the Father and an act of charity in relationship with Jesus’ humanity: Let us look at the Son of God; what a heart of charity he had; what a fire of love! … But who else could love in such an outstanding way? Only Our Lord who was so enamored with the love of creatures as to leave the throne of his Father to come to take a body subject to weakness (CCD:XII:216).

The poor reveal the suffering face of Christ

In the merciful and humble love of Christ Vincent discovered the profound dignity of those who were poor as well as the value of poverty. The face of Christ spoke to Vincent about the infinite goodness and the merciful love of God and the dignity of the poor [20].

Jesus Christ appeared as the great missionary sent by the Father: In this vocation, we are very much in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who seems to have made His principal aim, in coming into the world, to assist poor people and to take care of them. Misit me evangelizare pauperibus. And if we ask Our Lord, “What did you come to do on earth?” ‘To assist the poor.’ “Anything else?” --- “To assist the poor” (CCD:XI:98).

As Vincent reflected on the beneficiaries of the proclamation of the Good News he realized that the poor had to occupy a privileged position. Thus Vincent and the other Missionaries found happiness as they imitated Jesus Christ in evangelizing the poor. The first reason, he explained, that we have for thanking God for the state in which he has placed us, by his mercy, is that it is the state in which he placed his own Son, who himself has said, Pauperibus evangelizare misit me. What cause for great consolation to be in that state! See what good reason we have to thank God for it! To evangelize poor persons as Our Lord did, and in the way Our Lord did it (CCD:XII:299).

Vincent had no doubt about God’s preference for the poor. God’s love for us is in relation to our love for the poor and therefore the Missionaries find satisfaction in the fact that The Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor, the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope, that, for love of them, God will love us (CCD:XI:349).

Vincent’s understanding of the poor underwent a profound transformation. He spoke to the Missionaries and stated: Aren’t those who are poor the afflicted members of Our Lord? Aren’t they our brothers and sisters? (CCD:XII:77). This transformation occurred because in Vincent’s encounter with Jesus Christ he learned to view the poor from the perspective of their relationship with God and was able to move beyond their physical appearance. He was aware of the difficulties that one might encounter in dealing with those who are poor. There were times when he himself was repulsed by the poor, believing that he was superior to them. But Jesus Christ, who has revealed God’s goodness and mercy, has taught us to behold the great dignity of the poor. Vincent stated: I must not judge a poor peasant man or woman by their appearance or their apparent intelligence, especially since very often they scarcely have the expression or the mind of rational persons, so crude and vulgar they are. But turn the medal, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, who willed to be poor, is represented to us by these poor people (CCD:XI:26).

As a result of this perspective, Vincent’s attitude toward the poor was completely changed: they are members of Our Lord and therefore to serve them is to serve our Lord and to despise them is to despise the Lord. Vincent had such an intimate relationship with Jesus, the evangelizer of the poor, the One who is present in the poor that he was able to assure the Daughters of Charity: in serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ. How true, Sisters! You are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor. And that is as true as that we are here. A Sister will go ten times a day to visit the sick, and ten times a day she will find God there (CCD:IX:199). Therefore the Daughters ought to serve the sick poor with tenderness and love and they should view them as their lords and masters because they represent Jesus Christ who continues to proclaim: whatever you do for these least brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me (Matthew 25:40). In this way it is the prerogative of the poor to open the gates of heaven to us (CCD:X:268).

Participation in the Christ’s mission

The Jesus whom Vincent came to know not only wanted to be contemplated but also wanted his mission to be continued. Thus Vincent viewed his vocation as a continuation of the evangelizing mission of Jesus Christ. Enraptured by Jesus’ love, Vincent felt compelled to commit himself to Jesus’ saving action … Vincent experienced this as an imperative.

On October 25th, 1643 Vincent spoke to the Missionaries and said: Let us try to imagine that he is saying to us, ‘Set out, you Missionaries, set out! Quoi! You are still here, and there are poor souls waiting for you, whose salvation depends on your preaching and catechizing!’ … How happy will those be who, at the hour of death, can say these beautiful words of Our Lord, Evangelizare pauperibus misit me Dominus! You see, brothers, that the essential aim of Our Lord was to work for poor persons. When he went to others, it was only in passing. But woe to us also if we become lax in carrying out the obligations we have to help poor souls! For we have given ourselves to God for that purpose and God is counting on us (CCD:XI:121, 122).

Vincent was animated by God’s love toward the poor, a love that Jesus revealed in two ways: 1) Jesus, through his life and death, fulfilled his mission as Savior, 2) Jesus identified himself with the poor. Vincent accepted both of these dimensions and was thus able to inspire the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity to become participants in Jesus’ mission. Is there anything more beautiful or amiable, he said to the Daughters, than a person who leaves all to give herself entirely to God for the service of persons who are poor? (CCD:X:271).

In Vincent’s mind the Church’s first duty with regard to continuing Jesus’ mission was that of caring for the poor [21]. Thus Vincent set aside his well-established humility when he spoke to the Daughters about the Duchess of Ventadour’s experience of the Company: Monsieur, I see no state in life, no Company more useful to the Church of God that this one (CCD:X:16). Vincent’s experience of following Jesus Christ did not allow him to hide that reality.

According to Abelly, the turning point in Vincent’s crisis of faith occurred when he made a decision to live the gospel imperative: whatever you do for these least brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me (Matthew 25:40) and made a firm and unbreakable resolve to honor Jesus Christ and to imitate him more perfectly than ever before by committing his entire life to the service of the poor (Abelly III:115-116)

In order to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ we must clothe ourselves in the spirit of Christ. This involves a change of attitude so that we have a marvelous esteem of the divinity (CCD:XII:93), that is, a love beyond all measure for Jesus’ Father, a love, which Saint Paul reminds us, was revealed in emptying himself (Philippians 2:7). Thus Jesus provided us with the supreme example of his love: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Vincent’s whole being was in harmony with the spirit of Jesus Christ and he was zealous in continuing Jesus’ mission. It appeared to him that the very bread that he ate was often an act of theft committed against the poor. He exclaimed: We live on the patrimony of Jesus Christ, on the sweat of poor people. When we go to the refectory, we must always think, ‘Have I earned the food that I am about to eat?’ I have often had this thought that puts me to shame: ‘Wretched man, have you earned this bread you are about to eat, that bread that comes to you from the labor of the poor?’ (CCD:XI:190-191).

Jesus Christ, the center of Vincent’s life and existence

As a result of Vincent’s mystical encounter with Christ, his life and his existence always revolved around Jesus. Vincent was centered in Jesus Christ who revealed and fulfilled God’s mercy in his saving activity toward humankind and, more specifically, in his activity of evangelization and service on behalf of the poor. In light of Jesus Christ, the Savior, Vincent drew closer to God and to the poor … frequently he exclaimed and repeated the word: O Savior! His only thought was to unite himself with Christ and to act like Christ in order to continue the mission of Christ. He wrote to M. Durand: Jesus Christ must be involved in this with us --- or we with him --- so that we may act in him and he in us, that we may speak as he did and in his Spirit as he himself was in his Father, and preached the doctrine he had taught him (CCD:XI:311).

The centrality of Christ

The point of departure for the life of all Vincentians is rooted in the paschal mystery which as a result of baptism blossoms forth into incorporation in Christ. On May 1, 1635 Vincent communicated to his confrere, M. Portail, his profound experience and conviction: Remember, Monsieur, we live in Jesus Christ through the death of Jesus Christ, and we must die in Jesus Christ through the life of Jesus Christ, and our life must be hidden in Jesus Christ and filled with Jesus Christ, and in order to die as Jesus Christ, we must live as Jesus Christ (CCD:I:276).

Vincent would continue to live his life from this perspective until the time of his death. As Father José María Ibáñez Burgos stated: even a superficial reading of the more than 8,000 pages of Vincent’s writings and conferences would reveal two fundamental attitudes of his life: to identify himself with Jesus Christ, to live in him and for him in order to continue his mission of evangelizing and serving the poor.

Vincent’s spirituality was founded upon those two attitudes and his first biographer, Louis Abelly (in the 1664 edition of his biography) characterized this spirituality as an imitation of Jesus Christ … in the 1667 edition of his biography he added the phrase, in conformity with the will of God. Following the Pauline texts (Ephesians 4:24; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 3:5-12; Romans 6:3-11) Vincent pointed out the need to strip away “the old man” and thus clothe oneself anew in order to continue the mission of Jesus. To accomplish this there was nothing better than to practice the same virtues that Jesus practiced [22]. Some of them are most appropriate in order to follow Jesus Christ, evangelizer and servant of the poor: simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification and zeal for souls for the Missionaries; charity, humility and simplicity for the Daughters (Common Rules II:14; CCD:IX:467)

The encounter with Christ taught Vincent to always unite the love of God with love for the poor … union with God with loving service on behalf of the poor. In light of the various situations to which Vincent had to respond we can see that his experience was rooted in existential attitudes and behavior. This is what I have been bold to call “existential balance”. In fact Vincent’s life was an on-going movement that maintained opposite poles in balance:

• A man of deep prayer and determined action;

• A man totally committed to the poor yet continually establishing relationships with the rich and powerful;

• A man with a clearly defined vocation and mission, yet involved in all forms of religious, social and political matters;

• A man totally dependent on God’s grace, yet utilizing all the various means at his disposal.

There is reason why A. Dodin has been able to state that Vincent is distinguished by the art of being able to harmonize opposites. In all of this, that which is proper to Vincent de Paul is the grace of union, the grace of communion

The source of this balance is found in Vincent’s identification with Jesus … this is what enabled him to journey along a clear yet simple path.

Union with Jesus Christ

The image of Jesus Christ had been etched so profoundly and so completely in Vincent’s life, that he spoke and thought and acted from the single perspective of imitating Jesus Christ. Louis Abelly tells us that Vincent had placed the Divine Savior and the doctrine of Jesus’ gospel as the only rule for his life and activity (Abelly I:102-103).

The imitation of Jesus Christ supposes a union with Christ … a union in a mystical sense according to the Pauline doctrine and thus far from the “mysticism of essence”. Vincent explained that when the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, inspires a person, that individual is given the same inclinations and dispositions Jesus Christ had on earth (CCD:XII:93).

Vincent’s love led him to attempt to enter into an even more intimate relationship with the Lord. He communicated this sentiment to the Missionaries in the conference of December 13, 1658: Each individual has to strive to be conformed to Our Lord, to distance himself from the teachings of the world, and to be bound in affection and practice to the examples of the Son of God (CCD:XII:97).

Speaking about the gospel maxims during the conference of February 14, 1659, Vincent stated with complete simplicity: The Company had the desire of being united to Our Lord to do what he did by the practice of his teachings, in order to become, like him, pleasing to his eternal Father and useful to his Church (CCD:XII:109).

There is no doubt that Vincent opened his heart when speaking to the Daughters of Charity on September 9, 1653 about the spirit of the Company. He explained the need to love the Lord with an effective and affective love. He had been able to love the Lord in this manner and therefore he was very expressive as he spoke with much enthusiasm: Affective love is the tender element of love. You must love Our Lord tenderly and affectionately, like a child who cannot bear to be separated from her mother and who cries our ‘Mama’ as soon as she tries to move away. In the same way, a heart that loves Our Lord cannot endure his absence and has to hold fast to him by this affective love which produces effective love (CCD:IX:466).

Adhere to Jesus’ doctrine

To enter into the sentiments and the affective life of Jesus Christ [23] supposes that one is willing to travel along the path of the One who since he came to serve, took on the form of a servant (CCD:VII:159). In other words, we are talking about a radical change in which one sets aside the maxims which one is accustomed to follow (CCD:XII:262-263) and takes up in a decisive manner the cause of Jesus Christ (CCD:X:112-113). The first step in this process of change is self-emptying. Vincent reflected on this conviction during the September 12, 1655 repetition of prayer: Take my word for it, my dear confreres, take my word for it, it is an infallible maxim of Jesus Christ, which I have often proclaimed to you on his behalf, that as soon as a heart is empty of self, God fills it. God remains and acts in it (CCD:XI:281).

To center one’s life on Christ leads one to become grounded in his word and to lovingly and trustfully place one’s self in his hands. When Vincent wanted to strengthen the foundation of the Congregation and the missionary spirit he stated: Let each of us accept the truth of the following statement and try to make it our most fundamental principle: Christ’s teaching will never let us down, while worldly wisdom always will. Christ himself said this sort of wisdom was like a house with nothing but sand as its foundation, while his own was like a building with solid rock as its foundation (Common Rules, Chapter II, Article 1)

Vincent did not view the doctrine of Jesus Christ as something that was foreign to him, something was to be learned from outside, rather Vincent viewed this doctrine as something that had to be assimilated and lived … this was Vincent’s own experience. He began with the encounter with a person, with Christ, and this encounter molded his thinking and sentiments to those of Christ. Faith in the person of Christ enlightened everything and gave a foundation to his doctrine. On August 5, 1642 Vincent wrote to M. Codoing, the superior in Rome, and made the following confession: You will say to me perhaps: what will this court think of us and what will they say about us in Paris? Monsieur, let people think and say whatever they wish. Rest assured that the maxims of Jesus Christ and the examples of His life are not misleading; they produce their fruit in due time. Anything not in conformity with them is vain and everything turns out badly for one who acts according to the contrary maxims. Such is my belief and such is my experience. In the name of God, Monsieur, hold that as infallible and keep yourself well hidden (CCD:II:315-316).

Vincent conviction and experience did not allow for the least hesitation. We have seen how he expressed this in terms of infallibility because the light of his faith was rooted in trust and love for the person of Christ. It was a love, like that of Saint Paul, which prefers death rather than separation from Christ ... it was a love that had no limits because it was rooted in Christ. In fact, Vincent stated that human prudence is deceitful while how worthy of credence and love is his divine word (CCDXII:105). Love and trust in Christ led him to dismiss that which was opposed to those virtues: We know for certain that as long as we are grounded in that sort of love and trust we will be always under the protection of God in heaven … even when everything we possess seems headed for disaster (Common Rules, Chapter II, Article 2).

This experience which Vincent shared with the Missionaries was not something improvised but a reality, a lived reality in which Vincent centered his life on the life of Jesus Christ. On January 14, 1640 Vincent spoke about this to Louis Abelly, then the vicar-general of Bayona and later bishop and first biographer of Vincent de Paul: What I am saying to you, Monsieur, may seem severe, but what can you expect? I feel so strongly about the truth Our Lord taught us by word and example that I cannot help but see how everything done according to that teaching always succeeds perfectly well, while thing done the opposite way have quite a different result (CCD:II:6).

Adherence to Christ’s doctrine profoundly penetrated and filled Vincent’s life because he was grounded on the universal response to the merciful love of God present in Jesus Christ, Savior … grounded on the infinite charity of Jesus Christ. The lived experience of Vincent comes alive in the following appeal to the Missionaries that was spoken on February 14, 1659 during a conference on the evangelical maxims: Ah, Messieurs, would that we were convinced that, since these same teachings have been proposed to us by the infinite charity of Jesus Christ, they cannot deceive us! (CCD:XII:104).

To do what Our Lord did and to do it as the Lord did

The particular perspective from which Vincent viewed Jesus Christ was that of Savior. This title summarizes the infinite love of God for humanity and Christ’s incomparable love for the Father as demonstrated in the act of offering his life for the salvation of all people, thus identifying himself with the Father’s will. The Vincentian vocation attempts to move within this same sphere of saving love. Vincent explained this to the Missionaries: Whoever says Missioner, says a man called by God to save souls; for our aim is to work at their salvation, in imitation of Our Lord, who is the only true Redeemer and who fulfilled perfectly this amiable name of Jesus, that is, Savior (CCD:XI:62).

It is clear that Jesus fulfilled his mission by saving and caring for the poor and by doing this in such a way that it could be said that Jesus came into the world in order to evangelize the poor. Jesus himself offered his ministry of evangelizing the poor as a sign that allowed him to present himself as the awaited Messiah (Cf., Matthew 16:26). Vincent concluded that the Company was called to instruct people in the rural areas and to do this in such a way that it could be said that their special characteristic is to be, like Jesus Christ, committed to the poor (CCD:XII:71). This mission is so lofty that one could truly say that it is the work of the Son of God; the missionary is an instrument by which the Son of God continues to do from heaven what he did on earth (CCD:XII:71-72). Vincent was overwhelmed with emotion as he continued: To make God known to poor persons, to announce Jesus Christ to them; to tell them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and that it is for persons who are poor. Oh, what a great thing that is! … to evangelize poor persons is par excellence the work of the Son of God and we have been included in it as instruments by which the Son of God continues to do from heaven what he did on earth (CCD:XII:71-72).

Evangelization of the poor will only be complete when the whole person is taken into consideration, when we attend to the body and the spirit. Vincent spoke to two Daughters of Charity who were being sent to Arras and said: You are going to do what the Son of God did on earth, for he came only to give life to the world, and you are going to give life to those poor persons who are not only physically ill but spiritually as well (CCD:X:182)

Vincent continually repeated that it was not enough to do good. One must imitate the way in which Jesus did good, for as we read in the gospel: He has done all things well (Mark 7:37). Therefore we, too, must conform ourselves to [Jesus] by striving to be men [and women] of virtue, not only with regard to the interior, but by acting virtuously exteriorly so that what do we and do not do is based on this principle (CCD:XII:68). The golden rule that the Missionaries and the Daughters must practice implies that they have recourse to Jesus and ask: How did Our Lord judge this? How did he act in a similar situation? What did he say about it? I have to adjust my way of acting to his teachings and examples (CCD:XII:148).

Nothing so identifies Vincent with Jesus Christ as does his charity and compassion … and nothing could be more opposed to this vocation than selfishness and insensitivity (Cf., John 3:14-15). A heart those moves in harmony with Christ communicates love because charity in itself is contagious and produces charity (CCD:XI:66). Love leads one to treat the neighbor with gestures of affection. The process of the Church’s evangelization, if it wants to be fruitful, must imitate Jesus and approach others with meekness and cordiality. Vincent exclaimed: My Savior, what success the person who has this loving, delightful approachability would have in your Church! (CCD:XII:157).

The Vincentian vocation, which attempts to continue the mission of Jesus Christ, will only be accomplished if it embraces the sentiments of Jesus, that is, Jesus’ charity and mercy. God has great plans for the Daughters of Charity because, as Vincent stated, God has called them to honor the great charity of Jesus Christ (CCD:IX:94). The spirit of compassion and mercy is even more necessary for those who wish to clothe themselves in Christ’s attitudes who, according to the letter to the Hebrews, came as a high priest who was able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16). This is so essential that a Missionary can be defined as one filled with mercy. For that purpose, warns Vincent, we have to try to stir our hearts to pity, make them sensitive to the sufferings and miseries of our neighbor, and ask God to give us the true spirit of mercy, which is the characteristic spirit of God (CCD:XI:308).


We have seen how the spiritual journey of Vincent de Paul is rooted in his incorporation into Jesus Christ through baptism and how his relationship with Jesus Christ became more secure as he drew closer to Christ, as he came to know Christ better and as he united his own life to the life of Christ. Throughout the many different events of his life Vincent never closed the door on Christ’s presence and as a result, God’s grace was always available to him. Jesus enlightened Vincent with new light and Vincent, through the eyes of faith, saw things as God saw them and so he renounced his own plans and committed himself to follow Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor, and to do this all the days of his life.

The pivotal event behind this was none other than the encounter with Christ who, according to Vincent’s own words, became his father, his mother, his brothers and sisters, his all. From that point on his ability and his efforts were multiplied as he engaged in the organization and the coordination of every type of institution on behalf of the poor: the creation of the Confraternities of Charity, the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity … even seeking support for his work from high ranking government officials. Vincent did not feel that he was hindered by seeming impossible obstacles or by his lowly status as a simple priest from the countryside because everything responds to God’s grace.

Borrowing from Pope Benedict’s reflection on Saint Paul we can conclude that Vincent’s internal experience reveals to us the fundamental importance of placing Jesus Christ at the center of our life and that we should do this in such a way that our identity becomes essentially characterized by this encounter/communion with Christ, the evangelizer and servant of the poor.

The celebration of the 350th anniversary of the death of our founders is a special invitation to strengthen and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ so that we might participate in Jesus’ love, a love which enabled Vincent and Louise to place their lives and their efforts at the service of the poor.

The key element of the encounter that allows us to draw closer to Jesus Christ is faith. We are justified as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, that is, we are chosen by the merciful justice of God and we enter into communion with God: We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24). This discovery, this experience, surprised Vincent and at the same time stirred up feelings of admiration: Let us look at the Son of God; what a heart of charity he had; what a fire of love! (CCD:XII:216). In those words we find many different emotions: adoration, praise, total surrender of his life.

As a result of all this, those who, in imitation of Saint Vincent, enter more fully into this experience … those individual will be able to enter into a process of self-seeking and will be able to center themselves, in a decisive manner, in the reality of living in Christ (Cf., Romans 6:3, 4, 5, 11; 8:1, 2, 39; 12:5; 16:3, 7 10; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 3 etc.) and Christ living in them (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20). This results in a mutual understanding between Christ and the individual Christian, a dimension that is in harmony with the teaching of Saint Paul. We are dealing with an element that, according to Benedict XVI, we could call mysticism because it implies identifying ourselves with Christ and Christ identifying himself with us [24].

Men and women today, characterized by skepticism and the renunciation of certainty, give truth to the words of Karl Rahner: Christians of the future will either be mystics or not Christian at all. There is a growing interest in mystics as persons who take God seriously, not only because they believe in the existence of God but also because they communicate the presence of God in their life and in the world . As followers of Saint Vincent de Paul, we are called to communicate this experience that unites us to Jesus Christ, the evangelizer of the poor … we are called to communicate this experience that enables us to discover Christ present in the poor.

The Vincentian vocation is etched into the very heart of the Church’s mission: Christ was sent by the Father to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart (Luke 4:18), to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10. Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ (Lumen Gentium, #8).


[1] Collet, Vie de Sant Vincent de Paul (Life of Saint Vincent de Paul) Book II, p. 113 ITranslator’s Note: This reference is to the Spanish edition of this work. I was unable to find the page of this reference in the English edition).

[2] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, New City Press, New York, 1985-2012, volume I, p. 55. Note #4. Hereafter, references to this work will be noted with the letters CCD, followed by the volume number, and then the page number, for example, CCD:I:55, note #4. These citations will appear in the text and not as footnotes.

[3] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, New City Press: New Rochelle, New York, 1993, Volume I, p. 91. Future references to this work will appear in the text, for example, Abelly, I:91).

[4] Hamon, Vie de Saint François de Sales (revised by Gonthier and Létourneau), Lecoffre, II, p. 224.

[5] E.J. Lajeunie, OP, San Francisco de Sales, el hombre, el pensamiento, la actions, Monasterio de la Visitación (Saint Francis de Sales, the man, his thought, his activity, the Visitation Monastery), Salamanca, 2001, p. 469.

[6] Cf., Klaus Berfer, Jesús, Sal Terrae, Santander 2009, p. 16.

[7] Bernard Jean Kock, M. Vincent Re-Reads his Life or the Interior Man as Seen by Himself, Supplement to Vincentiana,, Year 54 – No.2 – April-June 2010, p. 41.

[8] This was done in the presence of John Paul II during a retreat that was held in the Vatican (May 12-18, 2000).

[9] Pierre Coste, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul (translated by Joseph Leonard), The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1952, p. 177-232.

[10] Koch, op.cit.,p.38

[11] Cf. Alber Nolan, Jesús hoy. Una espiritualidad de libertad radical (Jesus today. A spirituality of radical freedom), Sal Terrae, Santander 2005 (5). Prologue by Timothy Radcliffe, OP.

[12] Henri Bremond, Histoire litteraire du sentiment religieux en France, vol. III, Paris, 1921, pp. 246, 257.

[13] The time frame for this experience is lengthened or shortened depending on the manner in which an author wants to focus on some decisive event or wants to provide for an overall evaluation of the Saint’s life. Cf., Dodin, op.cit., p. 152-154 (Translator’s Note: No work of Dodin has been cited up to this point and so I do not understand the reference. I have simply copied the reference as it appears in the Spanish text).

[14] Coste, op.cit., p.19-20.

[15] The second chapter of the letter to the Philippians appears to have been the source of much of Bérulle’s reflection. Cf., J. Orcibal, Le Cardinal de Bérulle. Evolution d’une spiritualité, Paris. 1965, p. 91.

[16] Jean Calvert, Saint Vincent de Paul and his world, (a book limited to private distribution) p, 334.

[17]Dionysius was a writer in the late 5th or early 6th century. Corpus dionysiacum can be found in PG, 3, 119-1064. Various translations of his work enjoyed wide distribution. Cf., Denys L’Areopagite, in “DS” 3 (1957) 244-429.

[18] Pascal, Pensée sur la religion et su quelques autres sujets, Vol. I: Texts (Introduction by Louis Lafuma), Paris, 1952, p. 233.

[19] Cf., A. Dodin, Théologie de la charité selon Saint Vincent de Paul, in “Vincentiana” 5-6 (1976, p. 279.

[20] José María Ibáñez points out that in Jesus’ humiliation Vincent was able to more fully experience God and experience the poor. José María Ibáñez, Vicente de Paúl. Realismo y Encarnación (Vincent de Paul: realism and incarnation), Salamanca, 1982, pp. 214-215.

[21] Vincent’s conversation with a Huguenot in Montmirail confirmed Vincent’s experience, an experience that was in great contrast with the ecclesial reality.

[22] José María López Maside, CM, Unión con Dios y servicio de los pobres. Experiencia y doctrine en los escritos de San Vicente de Paúl. (Union with God and service of the poor. Experience and doctrine in the writings of Saint Vincent de Paul), Roma, May 1984.

[23] Common Rules, presentation by means of a letter.

[24] Benedict XVI, Los Apóstoles y los primeros discípulos de Cristo (The Apostles and the first disciples of Christ), ESPASA, Madrid, 2009, p. 159.

[25] Albert Nolan, Jesús, hoy. Una espiritualidad de libertad radical (Jesus, today. A spirituality of radical freedom), Sal Terrae, Santander 2007 (#5), Prologue by Timothy Radcliffe, OP, p. 35.

Translated: Charltes T. Plock, CM