ST. VINCENT DE PAUL: Stewardship Saint of September

The feast day of Saint Vincent de Paul is September 27, the date of his passing in 1660. He was the founder of the Vincentians and the Sisters of Charity,  and is the patron saint of all charitable organizations.

Born in 1581 to a peasant family in southwestern France, Vincent studied for the priesthood at a local Franciscan college and then at Toulouse University. He was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen. Little is truly known of Vincent’s early life in the priesthood except that he spent a year in Rome, perhaps studying. In 1612 he became a parish priest in a village just north of Paris and the following year became a tutor in the household of the wealthy and politically powerful Gondi family. He remained with the family for the next 12 years and spent some time as a parish priest where he attended to the needs of the sick and the poor in his parish.

In 1617 he formed a group of women who ministered to the needs of these families. He established similar groups in other villages. Around the year 1618 Vincent came to know Saint Francis de Sales, whose writings, especially the Introduction to the Devout Life, had a strong influence on him. That same year Vincent established a society of priests, sometimes referred to as “Vincentians,” who with the financial support of Madame Gondi, would go from village to village on the Gondi estates to preach to the peasants and conduct missions. The mission work became so successful that with the approval of the archbishop of Paris and continued financial support of the Gondis, the group established a base in Paris and their community continued to grow along with their ministry. Meanwhile the women’s groups started to multiply. In 1633 Vincent began offering formal religious formation for this new group, called the Daughters of Charity. A new order of women religious was born that ministered in hospitals, orphanages, prisons and many other places. The order was formally approved by the Church in 1668.

Vincent’s approach to a devout life of faith was to be simple, practical and to have confidence in God’s love and mercy. He would maintain: “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.” At Vincent’s funeral the presiding bishop said that he had “changed the face of the Church.”

He was canonized in 1737. In 1833, Blessed Antoine Frederic Ozanam would found the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1885 Pope Leo XIII named St. Vincent de Paul universal patron of all works of charity.

Stewardship in the Gospel of Matthew (by Rev. Joe Creedon)

In last month’s reflection, we looked at stewardship parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. For our final Gospel parables we will go to Matthew, chapter 25.

The first is the parable of the three servants (stewards). One is given five talents, one is given two talents and the last servant is given one talent. The one with five talents makes five more, the one with two gains two more but the one who is given one talent does nothing with what was given to him. The two servants who use their talents wisely are praised by the master; the one who is fearful of the gift he has been given is stripped of what he was given. I have always wished there was a fourth servant who tried to use what he was given as gift and failed because if there were a fourth servant I am sure that the master would have said to him, “Here are three more try again.”

This parable is not about success but about remembering our need to give thanks to God for the gifts he has placed in our lives. This parable comes right before Matthew’s beautiful and chilling parable of the Last Judgment where we are reminded that when our life is over God will judge us on how we shared our gifts with others. The time will come when we get to ask, as did the folks in Matthew 25: 31-46: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to the least of these, you neglected to do it to me. And they will go away to eternal punishment and the virtuous to eternal life.”

God has given each and every one of us the gift of faith in Baptism. At Baptism, we are given both a mission and a ministry. The mission: to become disciples of Jesus and stewards of God’s gifts; the ministry is to use our unique gifts and talents in a way that gives glory to God. Stewardship then is a spirituality rooted in the Bible and based on the principle that everything we have is a gift from God.