Love Not Rage: St. Vincent de Paul
A wise man once said that the difference between a sinner and saint is that the saint knows he’s a sinner. This is what strikes me when I think of St. Vincent de Paul. I’m sure many are aware of his amazing charitable works, hence the Society that bears his name and which does so much good in our parishes. What is seldom mentioned in popular accounts about St. Vincent, though, is his very bad temper.
Vincent was born a peasant in 1581 in the village of Pouy in the South of France near the Pyrenees mountains that separate Spain from France. He entered seminary at 15, graduated at 19, and went on to other academic degrees. He presumed he would live a rather comfortable life as a parish priest. It is in fact what he had hoped for, but when one day he heard the confession of a dying peasant something changed in him. In 1612, he started his work for the poor, and well, the rest is history. He was so successful at this work that he was canonized just 80 years after his death, and we know him today as a patron saint of charitable works. This is why, in 1833, Blessed Frederic Ozanam named his society of charitable workers after St. Vincent de Paul.
Now, when it comes to their own sins, saints often make mountains out of what we would consider molehills. Still, the thing with St. Vincent is that other people noted his bad temper. They said that he was “by nature of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger.” St. Vincent himself tells us that he was “in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed.” He said that he would sometimes be tortured by “black and boiling moods.” Yet, this is the same saint that is referred to by his countrymen as their “dear Vincent.” So, what did he do? What self-help book did he read? What podcast on stoicism did he listen to?
St. Vincent’s ability to overcome his passionate rages was entirely due to his desire to serve God above all things, and so he was granted the grace to suppress that bad temper, that pride. And this is important because St. Vincent de Paul did not serve the poor in the way he did because he was angry. He was not driven by a “rage against the machine.” He moved out of his love for Jesus, and he reminds us that this should be our motivation always.
When responding to a sister who was having difficulty praying, this is how he responded:
Each one can take her stand at the foot of the Cross, in the presence of God and, if she had nothing to say to Him, let her wait till He speaks to her; if He should leave her there, let her remain there willingly and await from His bounty the grace of either speaking or of listening to Him.
It is to the foot of the Cross that St. Vincent de Paul said we should go when we have trouble praying, when we're out of sorts, when we struggle with our very human emotions. There we should take our vices and troubles and irritations, because there is the King of Love that cures all wounds and salves all pains and truly brings about authentic social justice and peace.
May we remember that today and petition the Lord for more patience, work towards relieving the suffering of another, and pray for the intercession of St. Vincent de Paul who is a saint because he knew he was a sinner redeemed by Christ.