Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) only wanted to have a comfortable life as a priest in France, and it certainly appeared that the bright young man would get his wish quickly. But everything changed when he was serving as a tutor for the children of a count.
In 1617, he was staying in the countryside with the count’s family. As a priest, he was called upon to hear the confession of a peasant who was considered to be near death. In that confession, the lives of both priest and penitent were changed. Father Vincent and the peasant discovered that the man’s lack of understanding of the faith had made his past confessions literally sacrilegious, as the peasant freely told others afterward.
While some interpret the rest of Vincent’s life as focused on serving the physical needs of the needy, his primary goal from that point onward was to improve the spiritual state of human beings. He began by educating the poor about the fundamentals of the Catholic faith and confronted the rich and powerful about their immoral behavior. He and the priests, nuns, and sympathetic laymen who followed him eventually brought the Good News of God’s love to galley-slaves, sick people in hospitals, those suffering from the effects of war, and ordinary people, not only in France, but in Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and north Africa.
Vincent’s accomplishments were even more remarkable in that he started with no money, no fame, and with (according to Vincent himself) a bad temper. But God’s grace, his time spent in prayer, his zeal for personal virtue, and his dedication to serving others won him the admiration of many people during his own lifetime, along with canonization by the Church in 1737. He is remembered on the date of his death, September 27.
Saint Vincent, show me how to serve the spiritual and material needs of those around me.