Homily for the Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul
If there ever was a saint who embodied this Gospel passage today from Matthew, it was St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent understood the compassion and mercy that the Lord expresses in this experience with the crowds. Throughout his ministry as a priest, Vincent’s heart was moved with that same compassion for those who were sick, individuals who were unemployed, men and women who were experiencing financial distress and uncertainty, those who were enslaved, and those who were abandoned. Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, Vincent saw those on the receiving side of his ministry as sheep without a shepherd. And as a result, his heart was moved and he only desired to love them all the more.
But St. Vincent de Paul didn’t always have that genuine care and concern for the poor. The first few years of his adult life were actually spent pursuing fame and fortune. His family was quite poor and, as a result, Vincent wanted to escape those humble roots. His parents believed that the priesthood was the way for the family to emerge from their poverty and to become more prestigious members of the community. There is a story that is told that Vincent’s father visited him one day at the seminary, but Vincent refused to go out to meet him because he was embarrassed and ashamed of his father’s appearance. Even after becoming a priest, Vincent was still so concerned about making a name for himself that he would only spend time with members of the elite. But then came a moment of conversion for him.
That conversion experience came when he was kidnapped by pirates and sent to North Africa where he was enslaved for 2 years. During that time, Vincent prayed that if God would spare his life and secure his freedom, that he would devote the rest of his life to the service of the poor. And that’s exactly what happened. The Lord used Vincent even in captivity to convert those around him. After converting his slave master, Vincent was set free. And for the rest of his life, he devoted his priesthood to the poor, establishing missions and religious orders and founding seminaries to educate men preparing for the priesthood to always remember the poor and less fortunate.
That is the same compassion that continues to be seen in so many people who have become members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an organization that we are blessed to have here at Holy Family. They share that compassion to those in our own community who have fallen on hard times, who simply need a little help. The heart of St. Vincent de Paul – and therefore, the heart of our Lord – is very much alive still today.
All of us are called to recognize how the Lord has been generous with us in our lives and how he has blessed us with an abundance of His grace. And we should have that desire on our hearts to share that same love, that same generosity, that same grace with those around us. And so, as we continue with this celebration of the Eucharist, may we remember to give thanks to God for the great work that He has done within each of our hearts. And, may we continue to ask Him to keep our hearts filled with that same compassion and mercy that Jesus and St. Vincent had for the poor.
Image: Saint Vincent de Paul Preaching to the Court of Louis XIII on Behalf of the Abandoned Children, Paul Delaroche. Yale University Art Gallery. Public domain. Wikicommons.