Ordinary Time 33, Year C-2010
- Its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb (Rev. 21:22—NAB)
St. Vincent de Paul worked right through almost the end of his earthly life. He led the Congregation of the Mission and carried on, up to close to his death, “with the same everyday life as far as his health would allow him” .
The Founder’s health, however, must have deteriorated so much by then. His precarious condition prompted a priest, who was stationed at the same house, to note in a letter to another missionary that the saint had not much time to live .
Since the practice in those days required that the superior of the house read both outgoing and incoming mail, St. Vincent got to know of his confrere’s observation. Everybody else would have considered such observation downright unthinking or even imprudent, but not St. Vincent. He surmised his confrere meant well and wanted to call his attention to his condition. So when the two spoke, St. Vincent thanked the other for warning him of his imminent death. But concerned too that he might have given the impression that he was not preparing for death, St. Vincent said, with all the simplicity he could muster, that it was by God’s grace that he had forgone thinking too much of it. He added: “I am telling you this that you may not be scandalized in not seeing me make extraordinary preparations. It has been eighteen years now that I have never gone to bed without putting myself in the disposition of dying that same night.”
Clearly, to prepare for death means, in St. Vincent’s mind, to live up to one’s Providence-given mission or work. “There is no better way to assure our eternal happiness,” according to St. Vincent, “than to live and die in the service of the poor within the arms of providence and in a real renunciation of ourselves by following Jesus Christ” .
Moreover, St. Vincent did not think working for the well-being of the poor admitted of any excuses or barriers. “For myself,” he said , “notwithstanding my age, I do not feel myself in any way excused before God from my bounden duty to work for the well-being of these poor people; and who will stop me? If I can’t preach every day, then I will preach twice a week; if I am unable to occupy the important pulpits, I shall try for the unimportant ones; and if these are closed to me, who is to stop me talking plainly and familiarly to these good people, just as I am talking to you now, getting them to stand around me just as you are now?”
Being idle, in other words, is not the way to prepare for the Lord’s coming either at one’s death or at the parousia. People who are caught up in idleness become but disruptive busybodies. These, no less than those who cannot step back, say, from their being husbands or wives, mournful or happy, sellers or buyers (cf. 1 Cor. 7:29), hardly have time to be watchful and prayerful (Lk. 21:36) . They have no time to wonder whether or not those things they hold dear, are enamored with, put their stocks in and are anxious about, provide genuine security. They cannot think outside the box and pose the possibility that one day there will not be left a precious thing upon another precious thing that will not be thrown down. Living largely unexamined lives and unable to read the sign of the times and perceive the timeliness of God-designed events, they are easy pickings for deceptive rumor-mongers and fear-mongers. Much less are they disposed to await prayerfully the wisdom from above that will enable them to be Jesus’ witnesses, to participate in his suffering and death, and to be healed ultimately by the Rising Sun’s healing rays.
One prepares for the next life, yes, in the present life. As one lives, so does one die. There is no separating or isolating one from the other. Points out Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., in reference specifically to Jesus’ life and death: “There is ... a clear continuity between his way of living and his way of dying, his proclamation and his rejection. Jesus’ death on the cross flows from his option for the poor and the powerless” .
Am I ready and willing to be in communion with Jesus? To the extent that I am, I am on the right path toward the Christian and, without doubt, Vincentian preparation for death, headed toward the place where heard is a loud voice saying: “Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. ... He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
-  Cf. Jacques Delarue, The Holiness of Vincent de Paul (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1960) 46.
-  Cf. L. Abelly, I, xli, 387 (1664 edition).
-  P. Coste, III, 392.
-  Cf. Jacques Delarue, op. cit., (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1960) 44.
-  See “The Cross in Vincentian Spirituality,” He Hears the Cry of the Poor [Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 1995] 34.