St. Vincent de Paul: Seeing the Poor in the Light of Faith

On September 27th the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion celebrate the memorial of St. Vincent de Paul.

St. Vincent was born in Gascony, France in 1581. After completing his studies for the priesthood he was ordained in 1600. He had a very interesting early ministry. He served well connected families, including the nobility of France, and on one   trip to Marseilles he was kidnapped by Turkish pirates, sold into slavery, and ended up in the North African city of Tunis. It is said that he converted his owner to the Catholic faith and was then able to escape and return to France.

He returned to Paris and served in a local parish. He founded the Congregation of the Mission which had as its purpose the supervision of the formation of priests and to give support to the poor. With the help and support of St. Louise de Marillac, he also founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He died in 1660 and was canonized in 1737.

Joyce Carroll Cruz mentions in her book (The Incorruptibles, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1977, pp. 248–9) that St. Vincent’s body was exhumed in 1712, 53 years after his death. The written account of an eye witness states that “…(t)he eyes and nose alone showed some decay.” However, when the body was exhumed again during the canonization in 1737 it was then discovered to have decomposed due to an underground flood. His bones have been encased in a waxen figure which is displayed in a glass reliquary in the chapel of the headquarters of the Vincentian fathers in Paris. His heart is still incorrupt, and is displayed in a reliquary in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris.

In April of 2007, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the church in Paris where St. Vincent’s body reposes. The church was illuminated only by the light coming through the windows. When our eyes adjusted to the dim light and, as we stood at the back of the church, we noticed that there is a staircase leading up to the level, directly above the main altar, where St. Vincent’s body is located. No one else was in the church at the time and we carefully made our way up the staircase to stand directly in front of St. Vincent’s remains. He is dressed in his clerical vestments and there is a wax-like mask on his face. It looks very natural and is not in any way disrespectful or garish in appearance. We felt very comfortable praying with him. There was a palpable feeling of peace that radiated from the glass reliquary.

St. Vincent de Paul gave witness to the truth that the Church remains in existence primarily to provide the means for the sanctification of her members and the world at large. He mentions in one of his writings: “Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor. Although in His passion He almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, He showed them that His mission was to preach to the poor: [as He says in the Gospel] “He [God the Father] sent me to preach the good news to the poor.” We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause.” (taken from the Roman Breviary for today’s Office of Readings)

It is our duty to serve the poor in any way that we can. Some of us are called to directly serve in some type of ministry that is of assistance to them. Others are called to be prayer warriors that will act as a support system for those who work in the various charitable ministries of the Church. Some of us, because of wealth and good fortune, are called to serve the poor by financially supporting charities that directly serve them, that lift them up, not only out of physical poverty but most importantly, spiritual poverty as well.

It is appropriate, and a true witness, that St. Vincent de Paul’s heart has remained totally incorrupt from the passage of time or decay. It is as if Our Lord is telling us, “Look how much St. Vincent loved the poor. Look how much he loved Me!”

On this memorial of St. Vincent de Paul’s death to physical life but rising to eternal life, may we never forget his tri-fold missionary message of sanctification/compassion/action and the importance of  implementing it in our own lives.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

4 thoughts on “St. Vincent de Paul: Seeing the Poor in the Light of Faith

  1. Very nice post. I love learning about the saints. How very interesting also to learn about his relics and your experience in France. I had seen a very good movie about St. Vincent dePaul’s life, an older French film in black and white, called Monsieur Vincent. I highly recommend it. Unlike so many “saint movies” it is not the least bit “sappy” or sentimental, and was an excellent, thought-provoking film.
    The St.Vincent dePaul organization is hugely influential and helpful in my area, with many volunteers, and a positive influence on the government and local culture. They help a tremendous number of people in every area of life.


  2. An interesting and worthy life. In passing, I note that you have him as ordained to the priesthood in 1660 but later you have that as the year of his death. I thought you might want to correct it for the record.


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