Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrating the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul

Although the charism of many religious groups impacted the spirtuality of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, none was more significant than the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul.  Even as he lay dying, Pier Giorgio's thoughts were for the poor whom he served as a devoted confrere of his Conference in Turin. 

The Church remembers St. Vincent de Paul in the Divine Office today with a beautiful reflection by the saint himself.  As I read it this morning, I was impressed with how the life of Pier Giorgio completely embodied the attitude one must have in regard to the poor, as outlined in St. Vincent de Paul's writing.  Although it is lengthy, it is well worth reading:

Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor. Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause.
Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathize with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbors’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.
It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.
One of the most compelling writings by Pier Giorgio is contained in his book of Letters to His Friends and Family.  In his notes for a speech on charity to his fellow university students, he expounds the virtues of joining a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul.  Again, though lengthy, it is a wonderful meditation on this feast day: 

I don’t know if you are all aware what these institutions are that were so marvelously conceived by St. Vincent de Paul.
It is a simple institution suitable for students because it does not involve commitment apart from being in a particular place one day a week and then visiting two or three families every week.  You will see, in just a little time, how much good we can do to those we visit and how much good we can do to ourselves.
The members who visit these families are, I would say, unworthy instruments of Divine Providence.   As we grow closer to the poor little by little we gain their confidence and can advise them in the most terrible moments of this earthly pilgrimage.  We can give them the comforting words of faith and we often succeed, not by our own merit, in putting on the right path people who have strayed not out of malice.
I think I can say that the Conference of St. Vincent with its visits to the poor serves to curb our passions, it gives us increasing incentives to get on the right road by which we are all trying to reach the great harbor.
Seeing daily the faith with which families often bear the most atrocious sufferings, the  constant sacrifices that they make and that they do all this for the love of God often makes us ask this question: I, who have had so many things from God, have always been so neglectful, so bad, while they, who have not been privileged like me, are infinitely better than me.  Then we resolve in our conscience to follow the way of the Cross from then onward, the only way that leads us to Eternal Salvation.
Now there are many conferences in the city of Turin and among those there is one for university students, which however is composed primarily of people who are on the verge of ending their student careers and beginning the life of adults. 
Now we direct to you a warm appeal that you might want to swell the ranks of our members which are now very meager and so that each of you can contribute in your own way to relieve those who suffer. 
Come with enthusiasm to this conference, come and every sacrifice of yours will certainly be compensated in Heaven because Jesus Christ has promised that all we do for the poor for Love of Him He will consider it as having been done to Himself.  You don’t want to refuse this Love to Jesus Who, because of infinite love for Humanity, wanted to be in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as our Consoler and as Bread of the Soul.
To be members one is not required to pay membership dues, it is enough to have good will and nothing else.  It is true that at the end of the meeting there is a collection, but everybody is free to put whatever he wants.
St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati...pray for us!

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