Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 04/Section 02

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The Zeal of Monsieur Vincent to Provide the Opportunity to All Sorts of Persons to Make a Spiritual Retreat

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Since the spiritual retreat is such a salutary means for sanctification and perfection of souls, as we have said in the previous section, God so inspired his Church, from the first centuries of Christianity, that great saints retired to the deserts of Egypt and elsewhere to participate in them. In recent times many saintly persons have revived this custom. Among others, Saint Ignatius made it possible for persons living in the world to find a place of retreat, some in the cities and others in desert places, yet since these places were not well attended lay people rarely followed these retreat exercises. Moved by an ardent desire to procure the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls, Monsieur Vincent strove to extend this opportunity to all sorts of persons, either lay or clergy, and he made this practice more common than ever before.

With a wholly impartial charity, he opened the doors of his heart and his home to all those who wished to share in this good work. He would receive them kindly and paternally, with no distinction of persons. In this he was imitating the father of the family in the Gospel who accepted to his banquet all those who came: the poor, blind, lame, and the crippled, and sending out to the streets and squares of the cities, and even to the fields and most isolated areas, to invite and even compel all to attend.

We must admit that in our day this great servant of God did something similar to the astonishment and edification of all. In the refectory at Saint Lazare many other persons could be seen among the missionaries. They were of all ages and conditions, from city and country, poor and rich, young and old, students and doctors, priests and holders of benefices, ecclesiastics and prelates, gentlemen, counts, marquis, attorneys, lawyers and councillors, presidents, receivers of petitions and other officers of justice, merchants, artisans, soldiers, pages, and lackeys. All were received, lodged, and fed in this great hospice of charity to make their retreat, to find the remedy for their spiritual infirmities, or the help necessary to set them securely on the path of salvation.

This one house of Saint Lazare of Paris received, lodged, and fed every year from seven to eight hundred persons for their spiritual retreat, not to mention the other houses of the {Congregation of the Mission|Mission]] which accepted as many as they could, especially at Rome where they always received several. All this taken into account, from 1635 to the time of Monsieur Vincent's death twenty-five years later, more than twenty thousand people participated in these retreats. Their general confessions and other exercises brought remedies to a countless number of disorders of family and conscience. A large number of public and secret sinners were reconciled to God. Those who had strayed from the path of salvation were returned to the right way. The just received an increase of blessings and grace, and all were given arms against their great enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil by the helpful advice they received, to repulse their attacks and so gain glorious victories over these enemies of their salvation.

In the beginning, in fact, not many people came to make the spiritual retreats. The numbers increased only little by little. The charity of Monsieur Vincent directed that all who came should be received with open arms, at the expense of the house at Saint Lazare although there was no assured source of funds to support them. Among those who came, some who were better off left a donation which he did not refuse, since it had been freely offered. This did not happen often, because nothing was asked for, or possibly because it was simply overlooked. It was evident to all that retreatants were accepted with no thought of the expenses involved, solely through charity and zeal for their salvation and perfection.

Although the house of Saint Lazare was put to much inconvenience and a large debt on this score and by reason of the ordination retreats, they continued and will remain, God willing, as long as humanly possible. These good works for the glory of God and the service of the people shall remain open for the spiritual advancement of those who wish to come in search of a personal renewal of life. In this, the sons of Monsieur Vincent have shown themselves possessed of his spirit. His confreres spared no effort or expense when there was question of the salvation of souls, in consideration that our Lord had given his blood and his life for them. Monsieur Vincent was persuaded that his Congregation would never want for material support so long as they used their patrimony in works of charity.

He even felt at ease in seeing his confreres in real need on occasion, to give them an opportunity to display their absolute dependence on the Providence of God. They must have the experience of saying, amid their wants and financial difficulties, like Saint Peter in the storms and waves that threatened: "Lord, save us, we perish." [1] God preserved this tiny craft from foundering, as though by miracle, despite its being often threatened, but never enough to lessen the charity of Monsieur Vincent. In this connection, a brother of the Mission, seeing the huge number of those making the retreat, took the liberty of suggesting that perhaps too many retreatants had been accepted. Monsieur Vincent's only reply to this was, "Brother, this is because they wish to be saved."

On another occasion it was pointed out to him that the house was not able to cover the expense of all those who came to make the retreat, and was already running into debt because of this. He replied, "If we had thirty years to exist, but because of receiving so many retreatants would be able to manage only fifteen years, this must not concern us. The expense is truly great, but money cannot be used any better. If the Congregation of the Mission is in debt, God knows how to get us out. This is what we hope from his Providence and from his infinite bounty."

He also said to the one in the house charged with receiving the guests: "Give them our rooms, when all the others are taken." When it was pointed out to him that the house could not take care of all who came to make their retreat, he offered to take over as receptionist, thinking perhaps that he might be able to cut down on the number accepted. The opposite happened, for his charity was such that he could not turn anyone away, causing the suspicion he might have taken the role of receptionist to increase the number of retreatants rather than lessen it.

One day someone said to him that among the large number of those who came, some seemed to gain nothing from the exercises. His reply was, "There is no loss if only one person gains from the retreat." When some said that some came only through pressure or to receive the corporal nourishment offered rather than the spiritual, he responded, "Well, even this is an alms agreeable to God. If you make it too difficult to come, it will surely happen that you will turn away someone God has destined to be converted on this retreat. Too great an exactness in examining motives will make you lose some who would otherwise be led to give themselves to God."

We shall finish this section by citing the opinion of a worthy priest who knew Monsieur Vincent well and who had made several retreats at Saint Lazare.

Although Paris is filled with all sorts of people, the downtrodden and afflicted of all ranks, they all could find an asylum. Monsieur Vincent and his confreres staffed a house of consolation and help. The door, the table, and the rooms of Saint Lazare, all give witness to this. I have also seen everyone made welcome: all ranks of ecclesiastics and religious, lords and magistrates, soldiers and scholars, hermits and peasants. Monsieur Vincent refused consolation and spiritual help to no one. His house was a perpetual mission, a succession of spiritual exercises, retreats, penances, general confessions for poor sinners who wished to be converted and change their lives. This was usually for all sorts of persons, lodged and fed during their retreat, one after another, continually throughout the year. Everything was done with such good grace and charity that the hardest hearts could not help being moved. They were touched and stirred by this hospitality, goodness, and meekness, and by all the other evidences of good they saw.


  1. Matt 8:25.

This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Four/Section Two
The Zeal of Monsieur Vincent to Provide the Opportunity to All Sorts of Persons to Make a Spiritual Retreat

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Four: Spiritual Retreats

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two