September 27, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Saint implores us to follow Christ’s teaching, not the world’s

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Christ’s teaching will never let us down, while worldly wisdom always will. Christ himself said this sort of wisdom was like a house with nothing but sand as its foundation, while his own was like a building with solid rock as its foundation. And that is why we should always try to follow the teaching of Christ himself and never that of the worldly” (St. Vincent de Paul).

The publication date for this column, Sept. 27, is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, whose love for the poor has inspired countless women and men in our archdiocese and throughout the world to follow his example and dedicate their lives to caring for people in need. St. Vincent is a powerful and very practical witness to the important role played by saints in the life of our Church.

Last week in this column, we observed that Pope Francis stresses that the saints are not superheroes who are “born perfect,” but rather are ordinary people who followed God with all their heart: “They are like us. They are like each of us. They are people who before reaching the glory of heaven lived a normal life, with joys and griefs, struggles and hope.”

As the saying goes, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

Each saint changed his or her life when they recognized the love of God. They followed him with all their heart, without conditions and hypocrisies. “They spent their lives in the service of others. They endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace,” the pope says.

St. Vincent de Paul had a past, but he was not a great sinner like St. Paul or St. Augustine. You might call him an “ordinary” sinner—someone who, like most of us, never committed any grave offenses, but who lived his life comfortably without demonstrating either heroic virtues or horrific vices. Vincent was a good man and a faithful priest whose sins were real, but not spectacular.

Then something happened that changed his life. While still a young priest, he came under the influence of two men who opened his eyes to a better way of living the Gospel: Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle, who placed great emphasis on the humanity of Christ, and St. Francis de Sales, who taught of God’s tender mercy. Inspired by the teaching and example of these holy men, Vincent dedicated the remainder of his priestly ministry to caring for the poor and marginalized.

Pope Francis frequently challenges us to reject lives of comfort and indifference, and to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Christ as he presents himself to us in the poor and marginalized. The pope is especially insistent that we who are bishops and priests need to get out among our people (taking on “the smell of the sheep”). The Church is not a museum, the Holy Father says. It is (or should be) “a field hospital” where those who are wounded by the battles of daily living can find healing and hope.

If we want to learn how to make this change from seeking our own comfort to comforting those who are most in need of our help, we need only to reflect on the life and ministry of St. Vincent de Paul. He was the founder of the Vincentians and co-founder of the Daughters of Charity. He was also the inspiration for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, whose nearly 100,000 trained volunteers in the United States provided 12.6 million hours of volunteer service in 2017, helping more than 5.4 million people through visits to homes, prisons and hospitals at a value of more than $3 billion.

Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is both an international organization and a local association of lay men and women joined together in their spiritual growth and through the offering of person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. The society serves the poor regardless of religious affiliations, race or national origin. Home visitations determine that a genuine need exists. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul receives no government money––federal, state or local; no Church money outside of poor box collections; and no United Way money unless specifically designated by the donor.

The Church in central and southern Indiana is blessed with the active presence of women and men who follow the teaching and example of

St. Vincent de Paul in the areas of health care, charitable outreach and advocacy for the poor and vulnerable. May our Lord bless them abundantly.

Through the intercession of St. Vincent de Paul, may we all follow their example. †

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