Pat Collins C.M. Web Page

Subtitle

† Vincentian Family
 

                                                                           

 St Vincent De Paul on Listening to God in Prayer

 In this talk however, I am going to focus on  par. 40 of the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission.   It says, “Christ, the Lord, remaining always in intimate union with the Father, used to seek his will in prayer. That will was the sole aim of his life, mission, and giving of himself for the salvation of the world. He likewise taught his disciples to pray always in the same spirit, and never to loose heart. We too sanctified in Christ and sent into the world, should try to seek out in prayer the sign’s of God’s will and to imitate the responsiveness of Christ, discerning everything according to his mind.” On one occasion St Vincent de Paul described prayer as follows, “Prayer is an elevation of the mind to God by which the soul detaches itself, as it were, from itself to seek God in himself. It is a  conversation of the soul with God, a mutual communication in which God interiorly tells the soul what he wishes it to do.”[2] Clearly St Vincent believed that Jesus was our model where prayer is concerned.

 

The prayer of Jesus our model

No doubt when Jesus   prayed he poured out his love, thoughts, feelings and desires to the Father. For example, on one occasion   he said with great joy, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Mt 11:25-26).  In the course of his prayer,  the Father reciprocated by pouring out his love, thoughts and will to Jesus. In this way the Father’s  presence and desires were experienced directly by him.  He testified,  “For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God” (Jn 4:34) and again, “What I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me” (Jn 12:50),  and yet again, “My word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me” (Jn 14:23). With this point in mind, Pope Benedict wrote in Jesus of Nazareth, “Jesus’ teaching is not the product of human learning, of whatever kind. It originates from immediate contact with the Father, from “face-to-face” dialogue – from the vision of the one who rests close to the Father’s heart. It is the Son’s word. Without this inner grounding, his teaching would be pure presumption.” 

 

The Father also told Jesus what to do. He testified,  “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19).   Later in the same chapter he said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (Jn 5:30).  Although the apostles acknowledged that Jesus was unusually close to the Father, e.g., when they asked him to teach them to pray,  they did not quite grasp just how intimate his union with God the Father really was. You will recall that when Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” our Lord responded, “How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?  Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (Jn 14:10-11).

 

There is an interesting and instructive example of the way in which the prayer of Jesus to his Father influenced his way of acting. It contains three distinct phases. Firstly, in Mk 1:32-38 we are told that late one evening,  Jesus arrived in a village after sunset. News of his coming spread quickly, and many sick and oppressed people were brought to him.  We are informed that, “Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons.”  Secondly, the scene quickly changed. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” We know that as a man of prayer, he often went off on his own to get in touch with God his Father. Presumably, on this particular occasion, Jesus discerned that his Father wanted him to continue to carry out his mission as the Suffering Servant by bringing the Good News to the poor (Cf. Lk 4:18).  Thirdly, the scene changed yet again. We are told that: “Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

 

Because of his magnetic personality, his authoritative teaching, and deeds of power, it is not surprising that crowds were always longing to meet Jesus. Presumably, as soon as word spread about the healings and exorcisms he had performed the previous evening, lots more  people  had gathered in the village square hoping for his therapeutic and liberating touch. Yet in spite of his unquestionable compassion, Jesus unexpectedly replied: “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mk 1:38). In other words, he seemed to be saying, “During my prayer to the Father, I was aware  that although  there are more pastoral needs, such as the ones in the village square, in the name of the priority God the Father gave me at my baptism I realize that it is his will that I decline your request in order fulfil my mission  by proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom in other villages in Israel.” Implicit in this story is the fact that, during his prayer, God the Father helped him to discriminate between pastoral needs and evangelical priorities. Not only is this episode particularly relevant for anyone who is a leader in the

 

Thanks to baptism, Christians die to sin and are intimately united to Christ. Just as he was one with his Father, so, as a result of justification by grace through faith, Christians are one with Christ. Jesus himself talked about this, e.g. in his discourse on the vine and the branches. He said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Jn 15:4). Sometime later St Paul testified in Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This intimate union has profound implications. Just as Jesus was one with the Father, the believer is one with Jesus. Just as Jesus was aware of the incomprehensible love of his Father so believers have,  “power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (cf. Eph 5:18).

 

To pray as Jesus prayed

In the Preface to Book V of Adversus Haereses, St. Irenaeus referred to the purpose of divinization when he wrote, “Jesus Christ, through His transcendent love, became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”  That point found an echo in a treatise of St John Eudes, entitled, The Life and the Kingdom of Jesus in Christian Souls. He began by quoting a familiar verse from Col 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Eudes felt that if Christians seek to continue and  complete the suffering of Christ, surely that principle could be applied to all the Saviour’s activities. He wrote,  “We ought to imitate and complete in ourselves the various states and mysteries of Christ . . . The Son of God plans to make us sharers in his mysteries, and, in a certain manner, continues them in us and in the Church by the graces which he has decided to communicate to us.”  That point is summarized in a succinct way in par. 521 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says, “Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us.”  This implies that Christ enables us to pray as he prayed. Just as he poured out his heart to the Lord, so can we.  Just as God the Father revealed his word and purposes to Jesus, he can do the same for us.

 

Speaking to a younger colleague, who had been appointed superior of a seminary in 1656 St Vincent said, "An important point, and one to which you should carefully devote yourself, is to establish a close union between yourself and the Lord in prayer. That is the reservoir in which you will receive the instructions you need to fulfil the duties on which you are now about to enter. When in doubt, have recourse to God and say to him: "O Lord, you are the Father of light, teach me what I ought to do in this circumstance. I give you this advice not only for those difficulties which will cause you anxiety, but also that you may learn from God directly what you shall have to teach, following the example of Moses who proclaimed to the people of Israel only that which God had inspired him to say."[3] On an other occasion St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “There is another way of knowing God’s will, and it’s by a divine urging; for often God enlightens our understanding and gives promptings to our heart; but we need to test such inspirations  in order not to be deceived.”  

 

Discernment of Spirits

St Vincent de Paul encapsulated his teaching on discernment of spirits in four main guidelines which he mentioned in a talk entitled “True Inspirations and Illusions” on October 17th 1659.

·         Firstly: is the prompting contrary to the commandments of God, the Church or Sate law? Is it contrary to ones solemn obligations e.g. marriage or priestly vows?

·         Secondly: is there an element of superstition present? e.g. that an action has to be performed so often in such and such a way?

·         Thirdly: is the prompting persistent and troublesome in such a way that it makes one uneasy? “The Spirit of God,” observes St Vincent, “is a Spirit of peace, a gentle light which infuses itself into the soul without doing it any violence. Its action is sweet and agreeable.” We will know an inspiration is from God “if it instills itself gently into our souls and inclines us to seek whatever concerns the greater glory of God.”

·         Fourthly: Vincent says, “we should take advice. If a person is graciously, peacefully and quietly receptive to the advice given to him e.g. by a confessor, spiritual director, or a person exercising legitimate authority, and takes account of it, that is a sign that there is no illusion whatever in what he does.” But if a person receives a prompting which he or she is unwilling to share with a anyone for discernment it is a bad sign. St Vincent says, “The Spirit of God inclines those it animates to submission. The Spirit of the gospel is a spirit of obedience.”

 

Vincent concluded his talk on discernment by saying that he had talked to experts, learned Jesuits perhaps, about the rules for the discernment of spirits. Others could be added, but he thought that these four would suffice. “All the others,” he said, “were connected with those I have mentioned.” [4] He felt that if one used a more elaborate method, one might be tempted to become overly introspective. St. Vincent practiced what he preached.  In 1653 one of his priests wrote to him to say that he wanted to leave the Vincentians in order to join the Capuchins. In a letter dated the 4th of June Vincent discerned that his desire had not been prompted by the Lord. Firstly, Vincent thought that having put his hand to the plough in the Vincentians, it was unlikely that the Lord was directing the priest to join another religious community no matter how good it was. “Another sign,” he wrote, “which makes me think that God has not called you to the Capuchins, is that the desires which have come to you about this matter, trouble and disturb you by their instance, as those suggested by the evil spirit generally do; while on the contrary the inspirations of God are gentle and peaceful, inclining us in a loving way to the good he desires of us.”

 

Conclusion

I want to conclude with a well known quotation of St Vincent’s, “Give me a man of prayer and he will be capable of everything. He may say with the apostle, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” The Congregation will last as long as it faithfully carries out the practice of prayer, which is like an impregnable rampart shielding the missionaries from all manner of attack.”[5]

 

 

 



[2] SV IX, 180.

[3] Quoted by Andre Dodin, Vincent de Paul and Charity (New York: New City Press, 1993), 82.

[4] Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul (Philadelphia: Vincentians, Eastern Province, 1963), 472.

[5] SV XI, 83.

The New Evangelisation and the Vincent de Paul Society

Pat Collins C.M.

Dear brothers and sisters of the St Vincent de Paul Society I want to begin with some significant words which were written by Bl. John Paul II. In par. 3 of Mission of the Redeemer,   he  said, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelisation” Notice that the Holy Father said that the Church should devote not some, but all of its energies to the new evangelisation. When  John Paul spoke about  new evangelisation he did not mean that the Christian message was  new,  but rather that the culture in which it  has to be proclaimed has changed in many respects. For instance, in Europe, which is so secularized, millions of nominal Christians  have little or no contact with the Church, are largely ignorant of its teachings, and live as if God does not exist. So the gospel message has to be shared with them in ways that are new in ardour,  methods and forms of expression.  

In par 3 of Mission of the Redeemer,  John Paul II went on to say, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” That means that, not only the Vincent de Paul Society, but each and every one of its members have a duty  to engage in the new evangelisation.  In this talk I want to suggest some possible ways in which the members can do this.

Only those who have been truly evangelised can evangelise effectively

There is a Latin saying, nemo dat quod non habet  which means  “you cannot give what you haven’t got.” You and I can only evangelize  effectively if we have first been truly evangelized ourselves. I know this from personal experience. I spent eight years of study in the seminary. So when I was ordained I knew a lot about the person of Jesus but I didn’t really know him in person. In retrospect I can see . that like many other cultural Catholics, I was a deist rather than a true Christian. I believed in the distant, abstract God of the philosophers but I did not have a personal relationship with  the divine Son of God. However, when I was 29 I had a powerful religious experience which enabled the truth about Jesus to fall the vital 18 inches from my head to my heart. I knew my sins were forgiven and I had the power to comprehend the length and breadth, the height and depth of the love of Christ which surpassed the limited measure of my understanding so that I was filled with a sense of his presence within me.

As Pope Paul VI rightly said, “the person who has been evangelised goes on to evangelise others.” Then he  added,  “Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelisation: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn”  (Par. 24 of Evangelisation in the Modern World). The members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul should imitate Christ’s way of evangelising the poor by means of witness and proclamation.

Evangelisation as Witness

A] Table Fellowship

In our Lord’s day the poor were given to believe that they were under a curse because they neither knew nor kept the law. This was in line with O.T. teaching. In Deut 27:26 we read,  "Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out." In Jn 7:49 the Pharisees echoed that point of view when they said of the people that Jesus  ministered  to,  “this mob that knows nothing of the law-there is a curse on them." Jesus had come to announce the coming of God’s kingdom, the cancellation of the debt of sin and the free, unmerited gift of God’s merciful love. So instead of saying they were under a curse, Jesus conveyed to disreputable people of his day, such as tax collectors and public sinners that they were blessed. He did this by dining with them which was a sign of acceptance and respect.  As theologian Albert Nolan has observed in Jesus Before Christianity, “Because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they [the outcasts and sinners] would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God’s approval of them. They were now acceptable to God. Their sinfulness, ignorance, and uncleaness had been overlooked and were no longer being held against them.”

The members of the Vincent de Paul Society convey the attitude of Christ by means of their own non-judgmental acceptance of the poor, no matter how they have behaved. The members of the Society may hate their sins but they love the sinners, and convey that love by treating them with reverence, gentleness and compassion.

B] Deeds of Mercy  

Jesus also helped the poor in practical ways, e.g. when he fed the five thousand in the wilderness. With this in mind St Vincent de Paul wrote, “Sentiments of love of God, of kindness, of good will, good as these may be, are often suspect if they do not result in good deeds . . . We should be on our guard, for it is possible to be well mannered and filled with noble sentiments and yet stop there. When the  need for action arises such people fall short. They may be consoled by their fervent imagination or content with the sweet sentiments they experience in prayer. They may speak like angels, but when it is a matter of working for God, of suffering, mortifying themselves, of teaching the poor, of seeking out the lost sheep, at rejoicing at deprivations, of comforting the sick or some other service here they draw the line. Their courage fails them.”  On another occasion he summarized his understanding of  the connection between affective and effective compassion when he said: “In so far as it is possible, the hand should be conformed to the heart.”  The members of the Vincent de Paul Society are universally admired for the way they express their compassion in practical action. They know that compassion without material assistance is sentimentality, material assistance without compassion is condescension, but compassion expressed in material assistance  is Emmanuel, God with us. Deeds of mercy are undoubtedly an integral aspect of the new evangelisation.

C} Action for justice

Jesus  engaged in action for justice, e.g. when he critiqued the exploitation of the poor in the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers and chased away the animals that were on sale.  No wonder a 1971 synod of bishops declared,  “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel,”  When Pope John Paul II addressed the General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission in 1986, he encouraged the Assembly to “search out more than ever, with boldness, humility and skill, the causes of poverty and encourage short and long term solutions; adaptable and effective concrete solutions.” “By doing so,” he continued, “you will work for the credibility of the Gospel and of the Church.” The present day members of the Vincent de Paul Society imitate Christ not only when they associate with the poor and give them material assistance, but also when they seek to identify and rectify the systemic causes of their poverty and oppression.

Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, could have been talking about members of the Society when he said in a Pentecost homily, “The Gospel has been printed millions of times on paper. It is sold in all languages. But people, nowadays do not ask for a paper Gospel. They demand a living Gospel. They hunger for Christ who is the living Good News. They are waiting to meet men and women in whom Christ becomes visible again, in whom they can recognise  and love  Christ. They demand of us that we should give Christ a living form again.” While witness of the kind already described is a vital aspect of the new evangelisation, it is not sufficient. Like Jesus, the members of the society need to look out for opportunities of proclaiming the gospel message to the poor.

The New Evangelisation as Proclamation

In Heb 11:6 we read,  “without faith it is impossible to please God” and in Rm 10:17-18, we read,  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Is it any wonder then that Pope Paul VI said on one occasion, “Even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified and made explicit by clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus” (Par. 22 Evangelisation in the Modern World). In the remainder of this talk we will focus on one way in which the members of the Vincent de Paul Society can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Person-to-person evangelisation

Although he preached to crowds of people Jesus also engaged in person-to-person evangelisation e.g. with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-5), Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-5),  Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:35-47) and the woman at the well (Jn 4:4-42). In the latter account Jesus accepted the Samaritan without a hint of judgment or condemnation and used the topic of water as a metaphor for new life in the Spirit.  In the New Testament Church the  believers also engaged in person-to-person evangelisation. There is an interesting example of this in Acts 8:26-42. It recounts how Philip evangelised  an Ethiopian official he met on a lonely desert road. 

The contemporary Church continues to advocate one-to-one evangelisation. Pope Paul VI said, “Side by side with the collective proclamation of the gospel, the other form of evangelisation, the person-to-person one, remains valid and important” (Par. 46 Evangelisation in the Modern World). It can take many forms such as a parent talking to a child about Jesus; a man sharing his or her faith with a friend, or a member of the Vincent de Paul Society talking to a needy person he or she met in the course of their charity work. 

1] Identify steppingstones to faith.

Pope Paul VI once said, “one cannot deny the existence of real steppingstones to Christianity” (Par. 55 of Evangelisation in the Modern World).   So, those who want to engage in person-to-person evangelisation need to look out for steppingstones to faith. Here are three contemporary examples.

  1. Recently a conscientious Catholic woman called Anne did a nursing exam. When it was finished,  she was talking to a colleague called Liz about how things had gone. Liz said that she had been tired because she had slept badly the previous night and was also very anxious throughout the exam.  Then Anne said that  she had slept well and was surprisingly calm. Liz asked how she had managed it. Anne explained that she had  prayed to God for help and had trusted in divine help. As someone who had drifted away from the Church Liz was not only surprised, she was also interested and asked Anne to tell her more about relying on God. 
  2. Dave, a Catholic taxi driver revealed at a retreat for men that he tried to evangelise when he was driving around the city. He explained that often a passenger would sit beside him in the front seat.  For the sake of conversation the passenger might ask Dave when he had come on duty. He would respond by saying, “I attended Mass in my local Church at 8.00 A.M. and came on duty afterwards.” Often the passenger would be curious and go on to ask questions about his beliefs.  This  would give Dave an opportunity of sharing the Good News about Jesus and what he has done for us.
  3. It should also be said that a believer can also raise meaning of life issues him or herself in a more direct way. For example, when a client who is being visited by a member of the Vincent de Paul Society  talks about someone who has died,  could be asked ask, “what exactly do you think happens after death?” That question can initiate a really good conversation about faith matters. 

In these four instances person-to-person evangelization was made possible by identifying  a stepping stone that could lead to a conversation about the Lord. When members of the Society are visiting their clients they can look out for steppingstones to faith.

2] Personal testimony  

John Paul II once observed, “People today put more trust in . . . experience than in dogma” (Par. 42 of Mission of the Redeemer).  That being so it is important to avoid preaching or talking down to people. It is better to share one’s personal faith story with others, by telling them what the Lord means to you and what he has done for you. As it says in Tob 12:6-7, “Proclaim before all with due honour the deeds of God, and do not be slack in thanking him. A king’s secret should be kept secret, but one must declare the works of God and give thanks with due honour”  (Tob 12:11-12). It is advisable that members of the Society who wish to evangelise others should write down a brief account of their own conversion story. Ideally it should be structured as follows.

A] What were you like before you developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? 

B] How did you come to relate to Jesus in a more intimate way and to experience the free gift of his saving mercy and love? 

C] How did your new found relationship with Jesus have a transforming effect on you? Whereas many of our contemporaries are resistant  to dogmatic teaching of any kind, they do respect people’s personal experience especially when it is shared in a sincere and humble way.

5] Praying for others

No matter how well or badly an encounter of any kind  has gone, evangelisers from the Vincent de Paul Society can bring it to a conclusion by asking the person they were talking to, whether he or she would like a prayer for any intention. Experience teaches that even those who are sceptical about Christianity will often reveal a need. It  might be a relative who is sick, a friend whose marriage is in difficulty,  or some personal need  such as a financial problem, a desire to get a job, to overcome an addiction etc.  The disclosure of such a need is significant because it is an acknowledgement of a certain openness to the grace and power of God.  The person who is evangelising can go on to ask, “would you mind if I said that prayer for you right now?” If they say no, then assure them that in the future you will pray for them and their intention. In my experience, however, the  person being asked this question will usually say that it is O.K.  to pray with them, in the present.

We encourage the person who is saying the prayer to use this little formula of words as a prelude to the prayer, “God is love. God loves you. Because he loves you he wants what is best for you. His love is the answer to your deepest need and the needs of the people you care about.” The prayer follows. It is better to say it in the present rather than the future tense.  For example if a woman has asked you to pray for her aunt Susan who is suffering from cancer   you could say something like this, “Lord, Susan is ailing from cancer. I thank you that you love her and desire what is best for her. Confident that this is so I thank you that you are blessing her even as I pray by giving the gift of peace to her body, mind and soul. I commend her to your care knowing that your Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life is upon her now and will continue to be at work within her. Amen.”   Great things can and do happen as a result of such prayers even to the point of healings and miracles. As Jesus promised,  “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:24).

Conclusion

These are just a few of the ways that we can do one-to-one evangelisation. What the members of the Society in order to proclaim the message of the Gospel in a person-to-person way  is conviction and courage. We have to overcome our fears, and like the first disciples have a spirit of boldness. In Acts 4:30 we read that they prayed, “Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” In Eph 6:19-20 we also read, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” This talk ends with the last words we hear at Mass, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

 (Talk given to the annual general meeting of the St Vincent de Paul Society of Scotland at Murryfield, Edinburgh, Oct. 20th 2012)

 

Vincentian Spirituality

The word spirituality is notoriously difficult to define. Bernard Mc Ginn, probably the leading writer on mysticism in English, says that without making an exhaustive search, he turned up 35 different definitions of the term. One Trinitarian   description says that spirituality is a way of living for God in Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The word spirituality can also be used in three specific and interrelated ways.


* Firstly, genuine spirituality involves religious experience. It enables a person or a group to go beyond thought and talk about God, to a have direct awareness of the One who is paradoxically the Beyond in the midst of our everyday lives.  Conscious experience of this kind is what energizes our lives giving them a sense of depth and meaning.

 

 *  Secondly, the word can refer to spiritualities which have been developed throughout the history of the church.  They may have been associated with the distinctive charisms of particular saints e.g. Benedict, Francis, Dominic, or Ignatius; or with a particular culture e.g. Celtic; or with a particular movement   e.g. the Charismatic Renewal.  

 

 * Thirdly, the word spirituality can refer to an academic  study of the subject from different points of view e.g. scriptural, historical, psychological,  phenomenological, liturgical etc. 

 

Over the years the question has been repeatedly asked, is there such a thing as Vincentian Spirituality? Surely there is. It involves a distinctive kind of religious experience which is influenced by the  charism we have inherited from   St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac and  Bl. Frederick Ozanam. I have no doubt that if any group of Vincentians, Daughters of Charity or members of the Vincent de Paul Society was asked to recount their most significant religious experiences, many of them would talk about occasions when they encountered the living Lord in and through their service of the poor. While it is true that Vincentian Spirituality may not be as well known as some others, it is a very real nevertheless. Fr. Myles Riordan, C.M., has written an article on the subject in The New SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, and David Williams, a member of the Vincent de Paul Society in Britain, has written a handbook on Vincentian spirituality entitled, The Mind and Heart of a Vincentian. Needless to say, Vincentian spirituality, like  any other form, can be studied from an academic point of view. Journals such as Colloque, Vincentian Heritage and Vincentiana  contain such studies. 

 

What are the distinctive characteristics of Vincentian spirituality? There are two ways of answering this question.

*    The first involves a literary study of such things as the writings and conferences of St. Vincent. St. Louise and Bl. Frederich, together with foundational documents such as  common rules and  post-Vatican II constitutions.

 

*        The second approach is more experiential. Believing that Vincentian spirituality animates the lives of the members of the Vincentian Family,  prayerful processes of theological reflection can be devised which enable members to recall religious experiences when they felt they were authentically Vincentian. When the replies are carefully studied, a consensus can emerge, one that articulates the main characteristics of the spirituality that enlivens the followers of Sts. Vincent and Louise. Such a process can not only edify those who participate in it, it can also enable them to talk and write about Vincentian spirituality, as it is lived, with greater clarity and conviction.

 

If asked to nominate the three main characteristics of their lived spirituality, many members of the Vincentian family would probably say that they were compassion, friendship and prayer.

 

1.       Affective and effective compassion is the key Vincentian characteristic. Affective compassion is an ability to empathize emotionally with people who suffer as a result of material and/or spiritual poverty. Effective compassion is an ability to respond appropriately to those sufferings by means of such things as intercessory prayer, deeds of mercy and action for justice. As St. Vincent once said, where compassion is concerned, “let the hand be conformed to the heart.”

 

2.  Vincentian spirituality values non-possessive friendships which are characterized by mutual respect and cordial affection. Talking to Daughters of Charity in 1658 St Vincent said:  “St Paul says that whoever abides in charity has fulfilled the law...It is a means of establishing a holy friendship among you and of living in perfect union, and in this way enabling you to make a paradise in this world.” Fr. Pat Collins, C.M., argued in an article in Vincentiana (Aug. 1998) that Vincent believed that Vincentian evangelization would only be effective to the extent that it was rooted in the experience of God’s friendship love as mediated by the members of the Christian community.

 

3.      Finally, through their encounter with the Christ of gentleness and compassion in prayer, and the Christian community, Vincentians are prepared to  encounter and assist the same Christ in the poor. Having done so they reflect on that experience and its implications, e.g. how to cope with their own inner poverty (Cf. 2 Cor 1:3-5). While Scripture plays a pivotal role in all Christian prayer, Vincentian spirituality maintains that the contemplation of Christ, in the ways described already, provides an experiential key that helps to unlock the true, and normative meaning of the Biblical texts. This process of transformation (Cf. 2 Cor 3:18) prepares members of the Vincentian Family to return to renewed service of their “lords the poor,” to use St Vincent’s graphic phrase.

 

      This article will continue to be available at
http://www.famvin.org/wiki/Vincentian_Spirituality_-_Pat_Collins%2C_C.M.

 

 

 

The Influence of St Vincent Ferrer on St Vincent de Paul

Pat Collins C.M.

Even before his birth in Valentia, it seemed that Vincent Ferrer[1] was predestined by God to accomplish great things. A Dominican said prophetically to his father, “I congratulate you William. In a few days you will have a son who will become a prodigy of learning and sanctity. . . The world will resound with the fame of his wondrous deeds; he will fill heaven with joy and hell with terror. He will put on the habit which I wear, and will be received in the Church with universal joy as one of its first apostles.” Vincent did join the Dominicans at the age of twenty two, became a doctor of theology, and began to teach and preach. During this time he wrote a Treatise on the Spiritual Life (hereafter TSL).[2] Written with the members of the Dominican Order in mind, it is a succinct, practical, and demanding summary of how to live a life of Christian perfection.  It comes as a surprise to find that on  one occasion he was accused of heresy  because he taught that Judas may have gone to purgatory rather than hell. The charge was dismissed by his mentor, the antipope Benedict XIII, who burned the Inquisition's dossier and made Vincent his confessor.

Angel of Judgment

During a time of serious illness in 1399, Vincent had a vision of Christ standing between Sts Dominic and Francis, who told him to go forth and preach repentance and the immanence of the end times. That religious experience kick-started one of the most extraordinary missionary outreaches in the history of the church. For the next twenty years, Vincent travelled tirelessly the length and breadth of Europe preaching in places such as Marseilles, Geneva, Lausanne, Bologna and Freiburg. Although some books say that he visited Britain and Ireland, there is no evidence that he did so. Popularly known as “The angel of judgement” Vincent was a crisis preacher who urged the people to turn back to the Lord before it was too late. He also preached extensively on the coming of the Antichrist.  It is a curious aspect of his preaching. Nearly  600 years later, the Judgment he preached has not come or perhaps it was averted as a result of his effective evangelisation. 

Each day, Vincent celebrated Mass, and preached at length to thousands of people. We know how he spoke because as many as 400 of his sermons are still extant. A selection of them have been published in English.[3] He was evangelical in style. He knew all the scriptures by heart and often quoted them. He never referred to secular authors.  As he explained, nowhere did Jesus say “preach Ovid, Virgil or Homer.” Clearly, Vincent’s ministry was blessed by God. Everywhere he went, he was accompanied by up to fifty priests and sometimes thousands of people. Although he had no means of amplification  even those on the edge of vast crowds of 50,000 people or more, said that they could hear him clearly. Finally, not only was he instrumental in the conversion of countless thousands of nominally Christian people, he also won over tens of thousands of Jews and Moslems to the faith. Vincent also got involved in political matters. Few men of prayer have ever been so deeply involved in public affairs.  He had the special gift of reconciling enemies and was often called upon to act as  judge and peacemaker.  He settled the disputes of families and of those in high governmental positions, as well as counselling princes.

Vincent had great admiration for his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas, and often referred to his writings.  Thomas believed that the gifts of the Spirit which are listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10 were given in order to evangelise effectively. There are charisms of revelation, proclamation and demonstration.[4] Vincent Ferrer was an outstanding example of what Thomas had in mind. He seemed to exercise all the gifts mentioned by Paul. He regularly received revelation of a prophetic kind. Not only could he read hearts, he often foretold future events. For instance, in 1375, he said to starving crowds in Barcelona, “Have courage, and be glad, for this very night two vessels will arrive in this port laden with wheat.” People were sceptical about this prediction because a storm was raging at sea. But everything happened as Vincent had foretold. He proclaimed the Gospel with the aid of supernatural help. For example, in the course of his canonisation process it was reported that although he always spoke in his own native dialect, people of other languages understood every word Vincent spoke without interpretation. As his canonization process also attested, he demonstrated the truth of the merciful love he proclaimed by means of deeds of power. It is estimated that over a period of  twenty years he performed  more than 50,000 healings, exorcism and miracles,  among them more than thirty raisings from the dead.

Because St. Vincent’s heart was moved to compassion by the economic plight of the people, he built hospitals, asylums, refuges and even bridges. The divisions and heresies in the church caused him great anguish of spirit. He believed that a revival of faith and morals depended upon the restoration of church unity and effective evangelisation. Although he supported the Avignon Popes, he came to see that his mentor Benedict XIII, was not the true successor of Peter. Eventually his prayers were answered when the Council of Constance (1414-17) reunited the church under Pope Martin V. Two years afterwards, worn out by his gargantuan efforts, Vincent died at Vannes in Brittany. As he had prophesised more than once during his lifetime, he was canonized by  Pope Calixtus III in 1455. 

When I was reading about the life and works of Vincent Ferrer, I was surprised to find that some of his biographers mentioned that he had a significant influence on St. Vincent de Paul.  In his book, St Vincent Ferrer: The Angel of the Judgment, Andrew Pradel, O.P. said that the Spanish saint influenced “blessed Nicholas Factor, a Franciscan and the great St. Vincent de Paul . . . St. Vincent acknowledged St. Vincent Ferrer as his own special patron. He made his life a daily study and had constantly in his hands the Treatise on the Spiritual Life, in order that he might conform thereto not only his own heart and actions, but also those of the priests of his institute.”[5] In another book, entitled, St. Vincent Ferrer, His Life, Spiritual Teaching, and Practical Devotion, Pradel, reiterated what he had already in his other book and added, “St. Vincent de Paul gloried in St. Vincent Ferrer as his patron; and we can well conceive that the examples of charity in the model would be without their influence on the holy priest who essayed to walk in his footsteps.”[6] Pradel says that a biographer named Teoli, who apparently wrote a major biography of Vincent Ferrer in the eighteenth century, had mentioned that the Spanish saint had influenced St. Vincent de Paul.

 Vincent Ferrer’s Influence on Vincent de Paul

When I read these claims I wondered if any of the reputable biographies of St. Vincent de Paul endorsed this point of view. Bishop Louis Abelly, who knew the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, says, “He honoured Saint Vincent Ferrer, and it was noticed that on many of his retreats he read from the book written by this saint. He was so strongly influenced by what he had read about this saint’s life and teachings that he often quoted them in the talks he gave to his community. He imitated this saint, particularly in his great zeal for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of souls.”[7] In the twentieth century, Pierre Coste said of St Vincent de Paul, “His devotion extended to . . . St. Vincent Ferrier, author of a Treatise on the Spiritual Life, which he loved to read.”[8] These quotations raise two questions. Firstly, to what extent was Vincent de Paul influenced by the life and teachings of Vincent Ferrer? Secondly, did Vincent de Paul refer to Vincent Ferrer in his talks and writings?

In a certain sense there were some parallels between  the lives of the two men in so far as both of them lived at  times when severe problems were evident in secular society and in the church. Vincent Ferrer lived in the late middle ages when the continent of Europe was in deep trouble.  Firstly, the black death (1347-51), had ravaged every country, including Spain, and resulted in the loss of a third of the population. Secondly, the hundred years war (1337-1453) between England and France not only led to the martyrdom of St Joan of Arc, it had a widespread destructive and destabilizing effect. Thirdly, because so many people had died as a result of bubonic plague and violence, the economy declined and poverty increased. Fourthly, the Church was convulsed by the great schism which lasted from 1378 to 1417, and it was undermined by the heresies of people like John Wycliffe (1330-84) and John Huss (1372-1415). These scandalous situations, compromised ecclesiastic authority, divided the faithful, and weakened spirituality.

Vincent de Paul lived at the beginning of the age of reason, when civil society and the church were once again in trouble. During his youth, France was deeply affected by the French Wars of Religion (1562–98) which were fought between Catholics and Huguenots. It is estimated that during this period between 2 and 4  million people died as a result of a combination of famine, disease and combat. Sometime later France was convulsed by a civil war known as the Fronde (1648–1653). As we know from the writings of St. Vincent  it led to the dislocation of large numbers of people and to acute material needs. From a religious point of view, the Protestant Reformation had divided Christian Europe, including  France. Although the Council of Trent had initiated a counter Reformation, by issuing many decrees which advocated reform and renewal, very few of them had been implemented in seventeenth century France. As a result, there were obvious signs of religious decline in clerical and lay life. There was also the problem of Jansenism, a Catholic version of Calvinist puritanism which stressed predestination. It was considered to be heretical by the church and duly condemned.

So it is not surprising that Vincent de Paul would have seen the  response of Vincent Ferrer to the problems of   his day, by means of evangelisation and renewal, as a template which would have been  relevant in the France of his time. Indeed, on one occasion Canon Richard Dognon of Verdun wrote to St. Vincent de Paul and said, “For the good of our century, God has passed on to you by a metempsychosis,[9] which he alone can bring about, the spirit, affections, and design, together with the name of the great Patron of missionaries, Saint Vincent Ferrer. The apostolic missions he instituted in his time are manifestly more necessary than they ever were before.”[10]

It is probable that Vincent had read one or more biographies of Vincent Ferrer. Shortly after his death, the bishop of Lucera, Peter Ranzano wrote the first official account of Ferrer’s remarkable life (1455). It was followed by other biographies, such as one by Francis Castiglione (1470), and another written in French by Dominican Bernard Guyard (1634).  It is quite possible that Vincent de Paul read this   book. That said, it is unlikely that he had  read any of Vincent Ferrer’s sermons.[11] However, we are sure that he did read and re-read the TSL. While we know that people such as Pierre Berulle, Francis de Sales and Benet of Canfield influenced Vincent’s spirituality, there is good reason to believe that  Vincent Ferrer did so also.  Vincent de Paul used to refer to his namesake and quote his words, both in his letters and in his talks to the Daughters of Charity and to the members of the Congregation of the Mission. There are no less than nine or ten such quotations referred to in the general index of the French edition of the Correspondence, Conferences and Documents, edited by Pierre Coste.[12] For example, Vincent de Paul wrote to Bernard Codoing about a business transaction which would require a knowledge of languages. He said, “God will give you the grace, if he wishes, to make yourself understood by foreigners, just as he gave it to Vincent Ferrer.”[13] In a conference Vincent gave to the priests of the Mission in May 1658,[14] Vincent de Paul spoke about the importance of deferring to the opinions of others in all things that are not sinful while referring to the following words in the STL, “it is more advantageous to rule oneself by the will of another, provided it be good, although our own judgment may appear better and more perfect.”[15] In the light of these references it is surprising to find that  recent biographies, such as those of Jose Maria Roman[16] and Bernard Pujo,[17] seem to make no mention of St. Vincent Ferrer.

There is no doubt that St. Vincent Ferrer was a remarkably effective evangelical preacher. He described his understanding of this ministry in a chapter entitled, “On Preaching” in the STL. It advised,  “Use simple and familiar words in preaching and exhortation. To explain in detail what you mean; and so far as possible, illustrate what you say with some examples, in order that the sinner, finding his conscience guilty of the same sins which you reprehend, may feel as if you were speaking only to him.  Do this, however in such a way, that your words, so to speak, may appear to come from the heart, without being mixed with any movement of indignation or pride, and to spring from the bowels of compassion, from the tender love of a father, who is grieved at the faults of his children.”[18] When one reads the sermons of Vincent Ferrer it is clear that he put these principles into practice. Furthermore, a number of points will probably strike anyone who reads the STL. Firstly, it contains virtually no quotations, neither scriptural, patristic or secular. Secondly, the style is very simple and clear, and tends to speak briefly about the nature of the topic under discussion, e.g. Christian perfection, while containing many motives and means of practicing it.

The Two Vincents on Preaching

Authors such as Abbe Arnaud d’Angel[19]  Jacques Delarue[20] and Jose Maria Roman[21] include   interesting  sections on Vincent de Paul’s views on preaching. They show how implicit in the various things Vincent de Paul said about preaching over the years, was the “little method,”  which he said was the method of Jesus Christ himself. “ Hurrah for simplicity,” exclaimed, “and for the ‘little method’ which is in fact , the most excellent method and one that brings more glory because it moves hearts more than all this speechifying which only irritates the listener.”[22] The method consists of three interrelated aspects which need to be varied depending of the subject under consideration such as a virtue, the life of a saint, a parable etc. Firstly, it deals with the nature of the subject under discussion, e.g. salvation. Secondly, the preacher suggests motives for acting, e.g., why a person should desire to experience the saving mercy of God such as, sorrow for offending the Lord and the fear of the losing heaven. Thirdly, the preacher  deals with the  means of doing something practical and specific, e.g. trusting in the free, unmerited gift of God’s mercy, and making a good general confession.

Anyone who reads Vincent Ferrer’s TSL will notice that this model of preaching was implicit in the way he wrote.  Furthermore, many things Vincent de Paul said about preaching seem to echo points that Vincent Ferrer had already made. We can look at a few examples. As has already been noted, Vincent Ferrer did not quote any secular authors. For his part, Vincent de Paul  condemned preachers who tried “to cause wonderment by filling their sermons with a great variety of things such as extracts from philosophy, mathematics, medicine, jurisprudence, quotations from Jewish Rabbis, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Chaldaic words . . . in a vain display of knowledge.”[23] On one occasion, Vincent de Paul said, “Do not use quotations from the profane authors, unless you use them as steppingstones to the Holy Scripture.”[24] Vincent Ferrer said that preaching aimed to help sinners to become aware of their sins in a way that would lead to repentance. Vincent de Paul said, “Let us never desire to satisfy ourselves, but to satisfy God, to win souls, and to lead people to repentance, because all else is nothing but vanity and pride.”[25]  Vincent Ferrer stressed the importance of preaching the truth in  a spirit of  compassion like a loving father or mother. Vincent de Paul  referred to his patron when he said, “St. Vincent Ferrer says that there is no means of profiting by preaching if one does not preach from the depths of compassion.”[26] On another occasion he said something similar, “We should use compassionate language to make our neighbours aware that we truly have their interests and sufferings at heart.”[27]  Vincent Ferrer recommended that preachers would illustrate what they meant by giving down to earth examples. Vincent de Paul said something similar, “Notice how Jesus spoke in an understandable language, using the simple comparisons of a farmer, a field, a vine, a grain of mustard seed. This is how you must speak if you want to be understood by the people to whom you announce the word of God.”[28]  

Conclusion

While the two Vincents were remarkable evangelists,  there were obvious differences between them. Vincent Ferrer was an eschatological prophet, who focused on the presence of  the antichrist, the immanence of the second coming and the general judgment. Vincent de Paul did not focus on any of these topics. Vincent Ferrer was a remarkable wonder worker, whereas, there is very little evidence that Vincent de Paul healed the sick or delivered them from evil spirits. Indeed there is an interesting discussion of the significance of deeds of power in the canonisation of saints in Bishop Prospero Lambertini’s four volume, On The Beatification and Canonization of the Servants of God. The author, who later became Pope Benedict XIV, mentioned the charismatic activities of Vincent Ferrer such as the fact that, when he spoke in his Spanish dialect he was understood by everyone. He also handled the canonization process of Vincent de Paul. Speaking about the latter he said, “Matthaeucci also says, that beside heroic virtues, the promoters of the faith are accustomed to require, for the sake of greater precaution, some grace gratis data. I confess that when I was promoter of the faith, I did not omit to make that observation. I did  so in the cause of St. Vincent de Paul and the prudent postulators replied, that graces gratis datae were not necessary in order to form a safe judgment on his virtues, some however, of them were not wanting in the servant of God. These are their words: “Although graces gratis datae are not necessary to prove herocity of virtues, and therefore it is not necessary that St. Vincent de Paul should have been endowed with them in order to perceive that he had attained to heroicity; but, however, we will bring forward many matters of moment, from which it may be inferred that the servant of God was possessed of those gifts which are now the subject of discussion”.”[29] One could guess that he thought that Vincent de Paul had the gifts of the utterance of wisdom and knowledge, as well as the gift of the discernment of spirits.

 

It is my belief that taken together the example of the evangelisation of the two Vincent’s teaches us at least three relevant lessons at this time when both the church and nation states are floundering in Europe.  Firstly, our problems, which are often the result of sinful forgetfulness of God, are a providential call to seek the Lord while he may still be found (cf. Is 55:6). Secondly, while Christians are right to stress the primacy of the loving mercy of God, they also need to refer, not only to the divine justice which will be exercised on the last day, but also to the possibility of eternal separation from God.  Thirdly, when we share the Gospel by various means, we can expect God to manifest his saving power and presence by means of charitable deeds, action for justice and charismatic deeds of power.  In this way we will help to usher in the new springtime spoken about by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

[1] On his father’s side. his family was originally from Britain and his name is sometimes spelt Ferrer and at other times Ferrier.

[2] (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2006). Cf  Ven. Julienne Morrell (1593-1653), a commentary on A Treatise on the Spiritual Life, (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951).

[3] A Christology From the Sermons of St Vincent Ferrer (London: Blackfriars, 1954).

[4] Pat Collins, C.M. “St Thomas Aquinas on the Evangelistic Nature of the Gifts of the Spirit,” The Gifts of the Spirit and the New Evangelisation  (Dublin: Columba, 2009), 56-72.

[5] (Rockford, IL: Tan, 2000), 185-6.

[6] (London: R. Washbourne, 1875), 98.

[7] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul, vol. 3 (New York: New City Press, 1993), 94. There is an interesting footnote on this page which says that one of the reasons for accepting the date 1580 for the saint’s birth is that his birthday would fall on the feast of Vincent Ferrer.

[8] Pierre Coste, The Life and Works of St. Vincent de Paul, vol. 3 (New York: New City Press, 1987), 305.

[9] The passing of the soul at death into another body i.e. to be reincarnated.

[10] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, vol. 1, (New York: New City Press, 1985), 152.

[11] Some of them  are available at http://www.svfparish.org/svfsermons/index.htm

[12] Vol. XIV, (Paris: Lecoffre, 1925), 636.

[13] Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, vol. 2, op. cit., 232.

[14] CED, X, 482.

[15] STL, op. cit., 3.

[16] St Vincent de Paul: A Biography (London: Melisende, 1999).

[17] Vincent de Paul: The Trailblazer (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University, 2003).

[18] TSL, 24.

[19] Saint Vincent: A Guide for Priests (London: Burns Oates, 1932), 106-33.

[20] The Missionary Ideal of the Priest According to Vincent de Paul (Vincentians, 1993), 121-8.

[21] St Vincent de Paul: A Biography, op. cit., 348-51.

[22] CED XI, 286.

[23] Quoted by Delarue, op. cit., 123.

[24] CED XI, 50, quoted in Abelly, vol. 2, op. cit., 19.

[25] Delarue, op., cit., 127.

[26] Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, vol. 1, op. cit., 526.

[27] CED XI, 77, quoted by Abelly, vol. 3, op., cit., 119.

[28] CED XI, 342-51, quoted by Abelly, op. cit., vol. 3, 320.

[29] Prospero Lambertini, Heroic Virtue, vol. 3, (London: Richardson, 1850), 97.

 

 Do you feel that you are being called to follow St Vincent de Paul in the evangelisation of those who experience  their need for God in contemporary society, especially those who are poor either in a material or a psycho-spiritual sense? There are a number of ways of fulfilling that call, either as a member of of the Vincent de Paul Society, the Daughters of Charity or as a Vincentian priest.

Let me share the story of my own vocation. My parents were devout Catholics who went to daily Mass and prayed regularly with the family. I was nurtured by the example of their faith and felt close to God from an early age. As a young boy I tried to go to daily Mass, joined the Legion of Mary and had a niggling sense of being called to the priesthood. In a way this was not surprising because my father had three brothers who were priests, and I also had a lovely first cousin who was a priest in Sydney, Australia. When I reached adolescence the idea of being a priest lost its attractions. I felt it would be nice to get married have a home of my own and do my own thing. For a time I decided I'd become a doctor instead. That way I would be able to help people without too much self-sacrifice.

When I was in sixth year in secondary school I spent a good deal of time thinking about my future. The idea of the priesthood, unattractive as I found it to be, kept resurfacing. I felt that if God was absolute -- and I knew he was -- then he deserved an absolute response from me. I can remember asking my mother if she thought God was absolute. "Of course I do" she replied, "Why do you ask." I replied, "If you think God is absolute surely he deserves an absolute response. That being so why didn't you become a nun?" My mother laughed and said, "Why do you think that getting married is not an absolute response. Being a wife and mother is my way of responding to God." While I could see what she meant, I knew that I was different. I felt called to respond to the absolute nature of God by giving myself absolutely to Him as a priest.

I can remember two significant incidents that occurred before I left school. On one occasion one of the priests who taught me asked me what I was going to do when I left. I said that it was possible that I might consider the priesthood. He asked me if I had any idea of what the priesthood was like. I responded by painting a rather grim picture of priestly life, its loneliness, hard work, lack of wealth, obedience and so on. When I finished, the priest responded, "well Pat I can see that you have a very realistic  notion of what the life is like!" (I have since discovered that my picture of the priesthood was far too bleak.) Some time later I was trying to study in my bedroom. My father knocked on the door, came in and said, "your mother sent me up to ask you what you intend doing when you leave school." I paused and said, "I am thinking of the priesthood, but I have not decided yet." He responded, "so you are thinking of going for the Church." At first I didn't know what he meant. Then it struck me that it was his way of saying I was going to be a priest. "That is right" I replied, "I'm thinking of going for the Church." Strangely, neither of my parents mentioned the subject after that.

When I completed my Leaving Certificate exams I hitched my way around Ireland on two occasions, with school friends. At one point on the second journey we went to Kinsale in county Cork. We stayed in the youth hostel. One evening my two friends said they were going to the cinema and asked would I like to come. I said, no, I wanted to write a letter to my parents. So they headed off. I went and sat on a wall that overlooked the sea. Beneath me was the vast expanse of water, in the distance were the twinkling lights of the town in the fading light of the Summer evening. As I sat there I had quite a religious experience. Everything took on a symbolic meaning. I felt that the ocean represented the infinity of God, while the twinkling lights in the distance represented the ephemeral attractions of this fleeting world. I felt that I was suspended between them both. It was reminiscent of my old dilemma about the absoluteness of God demanding an absolute response, which for me, meant becoming a priest. As I sat there I knew I had no real choice. If I was to be true to my deepest self, I would have to give the priesthood a reluctant try. As soon as I made up my mind I wrote a letter to my parents to tell them of my decision. Although I posted it, I don't think they ever received it. Certainly it was never mentioned when I returned home a few days later.

Although I had decided to become a priest, I had no idea what kind of priest I'd like to be. I thought it was important to find out what God wanted for me. I decided to go and see my former headmaster. Fr. O' Flynn was a man I liked and trusted. He had given me a good deal of affirmation at a time when I was lacking in self-confidence. The two of us went for a walk in Howth Harbour. We chatted about my future. I told him that I wanted to try the priesthood but I felt no attraction to the Vincentians. He asked if I'd like to be a Jesuit. "No" I replied,"the studies are too long.""Would you like to go on the missions?"he asked. "No, I don't want to leave Ireland," I responded. "What about the diocese, then, it always needs priests."Again I said no because I knew that I did not want to live alone. Then I said to Fr. O' Flynn, "I didn't really come to discuss the issue. I wanted to get your opinion. You know me well. What do you think?" When I said this, I had in mind the fact that God's providential plan for my life would be expressed through him. He asked me a question, "Pat do you think that it was by chance that you were born in Clontarf so near to a Vincentian school?" He had me there because I did not think that anything happened by chance."I suppose not," I said."Well Pat, you asked for my opinion. I think it was providential that you went to a Vincentian school. Furthermore you have all the qualities to make a good Vincentian." I felt snookered by what he said. It sounded convincing. And although I didn't feel emotionally attracted to the Vincentians, I decided that God was calling me to join. I told my parents about my decision when I got home. My mother was shocked as if she had no idea I had been thinking of the priesthood.

The next day, I headed into Dublin with my father and he bought me clerical clothes, a Douai Bible, the Imitation of Christ, and a new watch. The following day, the 4th of September 1963 I kissed my tearful mother good-bye and my father drove me to the seminary. I had never seen it before. It looked so forbidding, a bit like a prison. Although I had entered because I was sure God was calling me I sometimes hoped I would have an excuse to leave so that I could resurrect my old plan of becoming a doctor. But I had no excuse. Many other students left in the uncertain but exciting days that followed the end of the Second Vatican Council, but I remained. Eight years after entering, I was ordained on the 6th of June 1971. All this time later, I thank God that I did become a priest. Times have not always been easy but I have loved being a Vincentian and all the adventures it has involved. These days I feel that I have a vocation within a vocation, namely to devote all my energies to the urgent task of the new evangelisation called for by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

 If any man, young or old reads this testimony and feels, like me, that he wants to give himself absolutely to our absolute God as a Vincentian and wants to explore the possibility of engaging with me and members of the Vincentian Family in the new evangelisation, please contact me at

44 Stillorgan Park,

Blackrock,

Co. Dublin.

My Email address is [email protected]

My phone no. is (01) 2831317                                                                                              

                                                                           A PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS

 

Lord Jesus, you invite us to pray the Lord of the harvest that He sent labourers into his harvest.

 

Lord and God of all, call to the Vincentian priesthood men on fire with your divine love, who will be the voice of the good shepherd to the scattered sheep of the flock.

Lord of the harvest, send labourers into your harvest.

 

Lord and Saviour, bless us with holy priests. Through their ministry may your life-giving presence in the sacraments always be present in your church.

Lord of the harvest, send labourers into your harvest.

 

Lord and Giver of life, raise up men filled with your power and with great missionary zeal, so that all who dwell in darkness may come to live in the light of Christ.

Lord of the harvest, send labourers into your harvest.

 

Silent pause for personal prayer.

 

Lord Jesus, you called chosen men to be with you; to preach the good news of salvation to the poor; to have authority over the powers of darkness. Send your Holy Spirit upon the men you have chosen for the priestly ministry. May they answer your call and follow you with generous hearts. Amen.

 

 

                                                         

 

                                                                          Praying With Faith for Vocations

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Like many dioceses and other religious orders, my congregation is suffering badly from a chronic shortage of vocations. As a result, a diminishing number of aging men are trying their best to respond to the changing needs of the Church. Not surprisingly, we pray for vocations every day, asking the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest. However, nothing seems to have happened for years, so it is easy to loose heart. Recently, I was encouraged by the story of Hannah in 1 Sam 1. It struck me that, read in a metaphorical way, it had something to say about the situation.

 

Hannah, was married to the priest Elkanah. Like many a Western diocese and congregation, that has no vocations, this biblical couple had no children. As a result, Elkanah married Peninnah as his second wife. Like dioceses and congregations in other parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, who are blessed with many vocations, Peninnah bore her husband many children. Not only that, she boasted about the fact in such a way that Hannah felt humiliated and useless, much as those who are blessed with vocations can draw attention to their good fortune in such a way as to make the Western Church feel jealous and disheartened. Apparently, Hannah had to endure this frustrating situation for many years, just as the Western church has had to endure its vocations crisis for a long time.

 

What is significant in the biblical story, is the fact that Hannah never completely lost heart. On one occasion, when her infertile state was causing her an acute sense of loss and worthlessness, she went to the temple and poured out her feelings to God. She implored the Lord to give her a son, whom she promised to dedicate to the divine service from his birth. When the priest, Eli observed her lips moving, he added to her pain by jumping to the false conclusion that she was drunk. "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief' 1 Sam 1:15-16.

 

Those of us in the priesthood and religious life can feel, that like Hannah, we are being unfairly judged. People can imply that we don't get vocations because we are not worthy of them for one reason or another, such as a lack of concern for the poor, not praying enough, and the like. The story of Hannah indicates, that rather than denying our painful feelings, we should get in touch with them and pour them out to God. Hannah promised that she would dedicate her son to God if she conceived. Likewise, we can promise what we would do with any vocations God sent to us.

 

When Eli understood Hannah's pain he said: "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him" 1 Sam 1:17. Although it was only the expression of prayerful good will, as far as Hannah was concerned, God was reassuring her through Eli that her prayer would be heard. She went home at peace, and shortly afterwards conceived Samuel. Hopefully, the Lord will strengthen the faith to those of us who worry about the vocations situation, in such away that we too will be reassured and blessed with vocations, men and women who are willing, like Hannah’s son, Samuel, to devote their lives to the Lord's service.

 

 

 

 

 

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