Tag Archives: St. Vincent de Paul

Will the poor forgive me?

Pope Francis in his trip to the United States has given us an example of God’s love for and identification with the poor and the marginalized – visiting places where the poor are fed and where the marginalized are put into prison.

He often speaks of the culture of encounter. We are not only called to be on the side of the poor, we are called to be with them in person – in the manner in which we can do this, meeting them as persons.

It is easy to love the poor as a group and to advocate for them. It is not so easy to be with them. It can be threatening – we don’t know what to expect.

But to accompany the poor means that we let ourselves be challenged by the poor, to learn from them, and to be with them without a sense of superiority.

Otherwise our charity becomes a way of proving ourselves superior to the poor or to those who do not “help” the poor as we do.

How ought we to practice charity? With gratitude, with love, with respect, with openness to the other.

But this is not easy.

As Dostoevsky wrote, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams.

St. Vincent Depaul, who died on September 27, 1660, and whose feast is celebrated today, once wrote, in a similar vein:

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.

Will the poor forgive me as I live here? Will they recognize their dignity and their capacities in my presence? Will they recognize how they are truly children of God and my sisters and brothers? Will they forgive me?

For God and for the poor

When he was young, St. Vincent Depaul wanted nothing more than to escape the poverty he was born in. From middle age on, he wanted nothing than to “be for God and for the poor,” seeking out the poor in the streets of Paris.

Explaining why the Sisters of Charity, that he cofounded with St. Louise de Marillac, should not be enclosed in a cloister, he reminded them that they should leave God for God – seeing in the streets of the city their cloister.

When you leave your prayer to care for a sick person, you leave God for God. To care for a sick person is to pray.

According to his own words he was not an easy man to get along with, but he inspired and led many to go beyond themselves to care for the poor.

He saw the importance of evangelizing the poor, going out to where they are to serve them with the Word of God and the sacraments as well as to care for their needs.

Today’s Mass prayer in Spanish beautifully sums up his way to God and gives us a challenge to follow Christ, as he did:

Our God,
You bestowed on Saint Vincent de Paul
an immense compassion for the poor
and a great concern for the formation of priests
who would dedicate their lives to those most in need.
Grant us, by his intercession,
to share, in so far as we are enabled,
in his evangelical commitment
to the good of the poor of Christ.


Poverty and Saint Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul was born into a poor family and, according to some stories, he hoped to escape poverty. Becoming a priest and a chaplain to the rich and the powerful seemed the way out.

But God has ways of getting through our defenses, and “Monsieur Vincent” became a priest who not only sought out the poor but founded a congregation of priests to care for the poor, to give missions, and to train seminarians. With St. Louise de Marillac, he founded the Daughters of Charity, whose many branches still serve the poor throughout the world.

In one of his letters (#2546) he explains, very directly his response to the poor:

We should not judge the poor by their outward dress and manner, or by their mental gifts, for the poor are often uneducated. If we look at the poor in the light of faith, we will see them to be the children of the God Who himself chose to be poor. When he was suffering, He had almost lost His human appearance and was a fool to the pagans, a stumbling block to the Jews. But He was also proving Himself God’s messenger to the poor: “He has sent me to proclaim the good news to the poor.” We ought to think and act like Christ by being concerned for the poor, consoling and helping them.

Christ willed to be born poor; He made poor men His disciples; He became the servant of the poor and shared their lot, so that whatever good or evil would be done to them, He would regard as done to Himself. God loves the poor and therefore those who love them; for if you hold someone dear, your affection reaches out to embrace all who are that person’s friends or servants. We hope, therefore, that for the sake of the poor, God will love us too.

We ought to embrace the service of the poor to all else and exercise it without delay. If in time of prayer there is a question of bringing medicine or help to a poor person, bring it! Go in peace and offer your actions to God as though you were deep in prayer. Allow yourself no anxiety of mind or trouble of conscience because you omitted prayer for the sake of the poor. God is not neglected if you “leave” Him for His own sake! You are simply doing one of His works instead of another. Let us, then, with renewed spirit serve the poor, especially the abandoned, even the ones who complain, for they are given to us as masters and patrons.

And so today, let us recommit ourselves to accompany the poor, becoming their servants.

That all may eat

Today’s lectionary readings are, in part, about food. Isaiah (25: 6-10) shows God preparing ”a feast of rich foods and choice wines” for all peoples. And Jesus, in Matthew 15: 29-37), feels so much for the people that he has his disciples distribute seven loaves and a few fish and four thousand men eat, (not counting women and children” (Matthew 15:28).

God wants people to eat. He wants all to share in the banquet of creation. But in our world there are so many who do not have enough to eat.

For some this is due to the lack of work; here, in Central America, it is also often due to the lack of land to work. A few own most of the land and those who would work the land have little land. And so hunger afflicts many, especially between May and August when the grains they stored at the end of the harvest run out and they await the upcoming harvest.

But God wants all to eat and offers that as a vision.

There is a hymn from El Salvador that shares this vision.

Vamos todos al banquete,
a la mesa de la creación –
cada cual con su taburete,
tiene un puesto y una misión.

Dios invita a todos los pobres
a esta mesa común por la fe,
donde no hay acaparadores
y a nadie le falta el conqué.

Dios nos manda a hacer de este mundo
una mesa donde haya igualdad,
trabajando y luchando juntos,
compartiendo la propiedad.

Let us all go to the banquet,
to the table of creation,
where everyone has a stool,
with a seat and a mission.

God invites all the poor
to this common table, with faith,
where there are none who hoard
and where nobody lacks more than tortillas.

God invites us to make of this world
a table where there is no inequality,
working and struggling together,
sharing our property.

That’s the vision of today’s readings – but it’s a vision where we all have the call to see that all are fed.

But we must do it with a spirit of love, even asking forgiveness from the poor. As St. Vincent de Paul wrote:

 You will find that charity is a heavy burden to carry,
heavier than the kettle of soup and the basket of bread.
But you must keep your gentleness and your smile.
Giving soup and bread isn’t all that the rich can do.
The poor are your master, terribly sensitive, and exacting, as you will see.
But the uglier and the dirtier they are, the more unjust and bitter,
the more you must give them your love.
It is only because of your love — only your love —
that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them.