Abelly: Book 3/Chapter 11
His Charity Towards His Neighbor
to the first great commandment of loving God with all one's heart is the second, to love one's neighbor as oneself. These two commandments are so inseparable that the first cannot be fulfilled if the observance of the second is lacking. Those who do not love the neighbor cannot say that they truly love God, no matter what feelings of fervor and zeal they might think they have for God's honor and glory.
Monsieur Vincent was totally convinced of this truth. He knew that the precept of loving the neighbor is so strong that whoever observes it fulfills the law of God. All the precepts of the law come down to love of neighbor, for according the doctrine of the holy apostle: Qui diligit proximum, legem implevit ["He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law"]. <Ftn: Rom 13:8.>
Speaking one day in a conference he said:
- "Show me a person who limits his love to God alone, a soul, if you will, so elevated to the heights of contemplation, so taken up with this way of loving God that he savors only this infinite source of blessedness, and takes no thought of his neighbor. Now consider a second person who loves God equally with all his heart, but loves his neighbor also, no matter how brusque, crude or imperfect, for the love of God. This person who also strives with all his strength to bring his neighbor to God. Tell me, please, which of these two loves is more perfect and the least self-serving? Beyond doubt, it is the second. This love unites the love of God to the love of neighbor or to say it better, it extends the love of God to the neighbor, fulfilling the law more perfectly than the first."
Then, applying this to his own Congregation, he continued:
- "We ought to impress these truths deeply on our minds, to guide our lives by this more perfect love, and to do what it demands, for no one in the whole world is more obliged to this love than we are. No other congregation should be more committed to this than ourselves, nor more dedicated to works of true charity. Our vocation is neither to go to a single parish nor a single diocese. We are to embrace the whole world to gain the hearts of all. The Son of God said that he had come to light a fire upon earth, to fill hearts with his love, and we must do the same. "
We are sent not merely to love God but also to make him loved. It is not enough for us to love God if our neighbor does not love him as well. We will not know how to love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not procure for him the same good we want for ourselves, to know the divine love which unites us to the one who is our sovereign good. We must love our neighbor as the image of God and as the object of God's love, and act in such a way that everyone will in turn love their loving creator. We must develop among ourselves a mutual charity, for the love of God, who loved us so much that he sent his own Son to die for us. Gentlemen, please look upon our divine Savior as the perfect exemplar of the charity you ought to have towards your neighbor. O Jesus, tell us, if you will, what impelled you to leave heaven to suffer so on earth? What excess of love led you to humble yourself, and accept the infamy of the cross? What excess of charity made you take upon yourself all our miseries, to adopt the form of a sinner, to live a life of suffering and submit to a shameful death? Where can anyone find such an excellent and admirable charity?
Only the Son of God is capable of such love, of leaving the throne of his glory to take a body subject to all the infirmities and miseries of this life. He alone was capable of doing all he did to establish in us and among us, by word and example, the love of God and neighbor. Yes, this same love crucified him and produced the marvelous work of our redemption. O gentlemen, if you had but a spark of that sacred fire which consumed the heart of Jesus Christ, could you spend your life with folded arms, and abandon those who call for your help? Certainly not, for true charity does not know how to live in idleness, nor of seeing our brother in need, and not to respond. Since our exterior actions show our interior dispositions, those who have true charity will show it by the way they act. Fire gives light and heat, and in the same way, love shines forth in action. <Ftn: CED XII:261-64. The Abelly text differs considerably from Coste's.>
He expressed this same thought on another occasion when he said to his community that they should be happy if they became poor themselves in exercising charity towards others.
You should not fear this poverty, never doubting the goodness of our Lord and the truth of his word. Even if you were forced to go to work for the pastors in the villages to support yourselves, or had to beg your bread, or sleep in barns, exposed to the rigors of the weather, suppose someone were to ask you: Poor priest of the Mission, what has brought you to such extremity? What happiness, gentlemen, if you could respond: Charity. How blessed this poor priest would be, before God and his angels. <Ftn: CED XI:76.>
Once the missionaries he had sent to Algiers to work among the poor slaves there found themselves in danger of having to pay a large amount for one of the fugitive slaves for whom they had supplied bail. Monsieur Vincent told the members of the Congregation about this in a noteworthy statement: "What is done out of charity is done for God. It is a great honor for us if we are asked to give away what we have, for charity's sake, since it was for God who gave it to us in the first place. In this case, we should thank him and bless him for his infinite bounty towards us." <Ftn: Dodin, Entretiens, 1001.>
The charity of Monsieur Vincent was so perfect and his heart so filled with the effects of this divine virtue that we might say in some way that he anointed all who came in contact with him. It could be said of him what the apostle Paul said: Christi bonus odor sumus in omni loco, we are an aroma for Christ's sake. <Ftn: 2 Cor 2:15.> Once he said to his community:
- "Everything creates an image of itself, much like a mirror which reflects things just as they are. An ugly face appears ugly in a mirror, and a beautiful face appears beautiful. In the same way, good and bad qualities shine forth from us. This is especially true of charity which by its very nature communicates itself and produces charity. A heart truly filled and animated by this virtue shows forth its inner fire, and everything in a charitable person breathes and preaches charity. <Ftn: CED XI:76.>"
The charity of this great servant of God was not restricted or limited, but extended to everyone capable of receiving its effects. As much as possible he preserved an affectionate and cordial relationship with everyone. This virtue always led him to be united and submissive to the sovereign pastor of the Church, that is, our holy father, the pope. In the person of the pope Monsieur Vincent respected and loved Jesus Christ, whose vicar he was upon earth. When the Apostolic See became vacant by the death of a pope, he prayed incessantly and had the community pray that God would be pleased to give the Church a man after his own heart. When a new pope was elected he showed respect and affection for the person raised to this sublime dignity. Leaving aside all human consideration he saw in the person of the sovereign pontiff only the person given to the Church by God's providential will.
This same virtue inspired him with sentiments of love and reverence for all the bishops of the Church, as we shall see in one of the following sections of this chapter. He showed them every kindness and submission that he possibly could. He supported their plans, promoted their wishes, and maintained their authority. He wanted and did all he could that the clergy and people might regard their sacred persons highly, and deferred humbly and promptly to their directions.
He was also united to the pastors and other clergy. He honored and served them as dictated by circumstances, both as a general rule and also in each particular case. He was on good terms with the orders and communities of religious and even of seculars, and as occasions arose, met with the superiors of these groups. He showed a remarkable deference to all persons in authority, whether clergy or lay. If someone did not want to use his services, a lord in his territories, a pastor in his parish, or a bishop in his diocese, he never went over their heads to override their objections. Even in a matter which was just and reasonable, he preferred to leave a good action undone rather than do it against their will.
He was particularly noted for his open profession of sincere affection and his faithful service to the king, going so far as to risk the welfare of his community and even his own life to support the interests of His Majesty. A member of the nobility testified to this one day in the presence of the queen mother during the regency:
- "I know of few people attached with such a sincere fidelity, constancy, and disinterestedness to the service of the king as Monsieur Vincent. Your Majesty knows well how during the troubles in Paris he risked the pillage of his house at Saint Lazare, and risked even his own life, when he gave refuge to your chancellor on his way to Pontoise to find the king. You are aware of how he endured slander and the hatred of some by the firm and faithful way he handled the pious wishes of Your Majesty, as you had directed him, particularly in the administration of ecclesiastical goods."
The queen acknowledged this tribute and said that it was true. In summary, Monsieur Vincent was everyone's friend. He conserved and cultivated friendships, not simply to avoid having trouble with anyone, but rather to promote that holy unanimity of spirit that the Son of God so earnestly recommended. He was more anxious to do good than to receive any favors. We can say in all truth that he never acted to increase his own possessions or to receive honors. He acted for the good of his neighbor because of his true and sincere spirit of charity. It would not be inappropriate to cite the testimony of the religious of the first Visitation house in Paris, his spiritual daughters for over thirty-five years.
This great servant of God burned with such a love of God that he wanted everyone to share this virtue. He wanted charity to be practiced in all things as thoroughly as it could possibly be. He would not tolerate in this community anyone who showed a lack of esteem for others or who spoke to discredit her neighbor. He said that he feared that the community would be destroyed if its members were not united with one another, especially when disunity was caused by a lack of esteem, mutual support, and charity. He stressed that religious should look upon each other as spouses of Jesus Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, and the living images of God.
This view should lead each person to have a mutual respect and love for one another. In turn, this should lead to the two following things. First, we must have recourse to the goodness of God who is all love and charity, to beg of him a share in his divine spirit. Second, we should be most anxious about our own conversion, and try to correct the faults and failings we may commit against the virtue of charity. We should use this as the subject of our particular examen, to root out of our hearts anything that might hinder the union we should have with God and among ourselves.
Another religious of this same order, who lived a saintly life in the second of the houses of the Visitation established in Paris, left us this testimony about Monsieur Vincent.
We can truthfully say that this holy man strove to imitate the life of Jesus Christ, who did good to everyone during his sojourn upon earth. Who has not felt the charity of Monsieur Vincent in fulfilling the needs of their lives, whether of body or soul? Can anyone be found who had recourse to him and went away without receiving some help? Is there anyone who turned away from him when he spoke or consoled them? Who had a greater claim on the goods of his community than the person in need?
One more aspect of charity remains which we should not omit mentioning. Besides looking to the actual needs of both body and soul, he was most careful to safeguard the honor and reputation of everyone. Remarkably, he was never heard to complain about anyone, even when he had been treated poorly by them. On the contrary, the absent had an advocate who defended their cause and one who openly urged the virtue of charity. He spoke as well of others as the truth allowed. He would not allow anything negative to be said about anyone else in his presence, even when it concerned someone who had done him harm.