In the calendar of the church we remember the life and witness of Vincent de Paul. He was born in France in the year 1580 to a peasant family. He was bright, given educational opportunity, and, at 20 years old, was ordained in year 1600. This was a time of enormous change in western Europe. Most historians locate the late 15th/early 16th century as the beginning or at least maturing of western capitalism. Merchants, entrepreneurs, and bankers accumulated and manipulated capital in unprecedented levels. It was the best of times and the worst of times, worst certainly for the bankrupt and for the poor, who became more numerous and more destitute. History repeats itself.
Vincent, when called to hear the confession of a dying man, was shocked by the spiritual poverty of the penitent. Vincent began preaching sermons on confession, calling people to the necessity of repentance. His sermons were so persuasive that villagers stood in line to go to confession. It was not just the laity, but also his fellow clergy whom he found so poorly formed in their own ministry. He became a pioneer in the renewal of theological education, and was instrumental in establishing seminaries. He also pioneered conducting retreats for clergy. In year 1626, Vincent and three other priests vowed to live and pray together, and to devote themselves as mission priests. The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson in the 1860s, patterned our own community on Vincent de Paul’s Company of Mission Priests.
Vincent and his companions also gave their lives and ministry to offering God’s tender loving mercy to the poor and sick. He called upon the women of means in Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, particularly hospitals to serve the poor, and welcoming houses to feed the poor, and orphanages.
Vincent was by temperament a very irritable, short-tempered person. He said of himself that, except for the grace of God, he would have been “hard and repulsive, rough and cross.” But he became tender and affectionate, very sensitive to the needs of others, and he emulated humility. He had an extraordinary capacity to connect with all types of people and to move them to be empowered by the gospel of Jesus. Vincent died in year 1660, age 80. At his funeral, the preacher declared that Vincent had “transformed the face of the Church.” Vincent came to be called “The Apostle of Charity,” the patron saint of charitable causes.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for today, we hear Jesus use two curious metaphors. Jesus says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest…” Who are the laborers? We are the laborers. What is this plentiful harvest? The reference here is to the poor. It’s such a curious metaphor. What’s aplenty is the poor. What does that mean for each of us to face the abundant fields of poverty.
What’s to be harvested?
What’s our role?
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