Monday, June 22, 2015

St. Vincent de Paul: An imperfect Saint

By Sr. Whitney Kimmet

A few nights ago, I was sitting in the Community Room with two of the Sisters in our house, and we started talking. We got to a lull in the conversation and I asked if they knew the two events, important in community history, which happened on June 16th. They both laughed thinking that I was trying to get them to admit that Sr. Joan and I being born on June 16 counted as important community history. I will admit to playing with them a little bit to get them to that answer, but there really were two important events in the history of the Charity charism that happened on June 16th. Any ideas?

One was that Mother Seton arrived in Baltimore. It kind of gets overshadowed by the fact that she didn't get off the boat until the next morning, so history books go back and forth between June 16 and June 17 as her arrival date. What is important is that it put her into the cradle of Catholicism in the United States and gave her the support and connections to start her community.

The second was that Vincent de Paul was canonized on that date in 1737. Eventually, both of the Sisters playing our little trivia game got the answers, but the conversation got me to thinking about why a canonization date would be important. I personally find meaning in the connection that my birthday falls on the anniversary of St. Vincent's canonization, but to most people, the date isn't as important as what the canonization itself and what that has to say today. 

St. Vincent de Paul died in 1660 and was canonized in 1737. The fact that St. Vincent was declared a saint a mere 77 years after his death, which was a relatively short amount of time, has meaning. He is known as "charity's saint" and he and his work were known and were important to a great deal of people. People in power, people following his example of service, and people who very rarely were allowed to have dignity. The Church recognized this and very quickly gave him as a model for the faithful. What I find fascinating is that his impact and the impact of those who have followed in his footsteps was so lasting that he is still held up as model in 2015. 

Knowing how thoughts turn into other thoughts, I started thinking about how a man's life in the 18th Century is still speaking to us today and what it has to say. There are the obvious answers of faith and charity. St. Vincent went around France and sent followers abroad to catechize priests and lay people alike. He created networks of care for those who otherwise fell through the cracks of society, networks which are just as relevant today as they were in his time. He seemed to have a pious childhood out in the fields during his time as a shepherd which can speak to us about the everyday presence of God in our lives. But there is more. Vincent de Paul, the man, was a normal human being. Sometimes he got it right and sometimes he fell short. He didn't start out with the greatest motives for becoming a priest; he wanted to get rich so he could live comfortably and send some money back to his family. A significant amount of his early life as a priest was spent running around Europe trying to track down some money he was owed as an inheritance. He put around a story in a letter that he was captured by pirates as a possible explanation for why he was gone so long, and later wouldn't speak of it. The letter disappeared and we really don't know if he was ever actually captured by pirates. 

God took this imperfect man and put him in the right places and the right situations to change his motives and Vincent allowed himself to be changed. He began to find a heart for the poor (or perhaps it was already there and just needed to be dusted off a little). He found very deep roots in God and in the Church and he helped others to develop these roots. He taught people how to take God's love and wrap the world in it in such a way that we are still feeling it and still wrapping it more than 350 years later. What does this have to say to us as followers of St. Vincent or as those discerning a vocation? God is willing to use whatever you bring to the table if you are willing to let Him change you.

Dear Lord, take us with all of our imperfections and help us want to be changed, just as you did with St. Vincent, into people who can share your light and warmth with the world. Amen.

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