Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 01/Part 02

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Monsieur Vincent's Convictions about the Virtues Most Needed by the Missionaries, and How They Should Preach

This great servant of God was filled with a truly apostolic spirit. As a result, he knew well what virtues were most suitable for missionaries, since he had possessed and exercised them himself in a most eminent degree, as we shall see in Book Three. It was not simply from his mind, but from his own experience, that he concluded the most needed virtue was that of a profound humility and distrust of self. This meant not attributing to one's own labors or solicitude the conversion of souls or other benefits of the mission. They should refer all to the glory of God, save their own faults and failings. The missionaries ought to have a great faith and confidence in God, not allowing the difficulties and contradictions they were sure to meet in their work to discourage them. They needed the virtue of charity, of course, and zeal for the salvation of souls, to search them out, to help, and to serve them. They should have meekness and patience to attract their hearers, and simplicity and prudence to lead them to God.

They should be detached from worldly goods to become freer in the works they undertake for God, and be able to inspire others to hunger for the goods of heaven. The missionaries should be mortified in both body and spirit, so that the movements of nature would never impede the operations of grace. They should be indifferent about position, place, time, or persons, having no other motive than to do in all things the will of God. Those who preached were to be ready to cede the pulpit to others, even in the midst of a mission, if this should be ordered by a superior.

He insisted that the missionaries defer to religious or other preachers in the parishes, especially when these others had some standing there. They should willingly give up the pulpit to them and show them every respect. He wished his followers to be prayerful and edifying, being convinced they would produce more fruit this way than by any knowledge or eloquence they might display. Prayer would attract upon themselves an abundance of grace and interior unction, and their good example would dispose their audience to receive what they themselves had been given by God.

Monsieur Vincent wrote to one of his priests in 1633 about how to preach:

I have heard from several sources the blessing it has pleased God to shower upon your mission at N. [1] We were most pleased to hear this, because we know these blessings come from God, who bestows them especially upon the humble, those who appreciate that any good they do comes from him. I pray God with all my heart to give you the spirit of humility in your work. You must believe most assuredly that God will take away from you this grace should any thought arise in you to take complacency in your work, and attribute to yourself what belongs to God alone. Be humble then, Monsieur, remembering that even Judas received greater graces than you, and these graces were more effective in him than in you, and yet he was lost. What would it profit the greatest preacher in the whole world, endowed with the greatest talents, if after he received the plaudits of an entire province and even converted countless souls to God, he were to perish?

I do not write this, Monsieur, because I fear this defect in you or in your helper, Monsieur N. [2] I do so only to warn you that if the demon attacks you from this angle, as he will, you must be on the alert to reject his suggestions, and instead honor the humility of our Lord.

In my recent conference to the community I have taken as my theme the simple style of life our Lord led upon earth. He preferred this common and abject way of living, just like so many other persons of his time. He abased himself as much as possible (O marvel, surpassing all human understanding) although he was the uncreated wisdom of the eternal Father. His manner of expounding his teaching was even more simple and direct than his own apostles. Please read some of his teachings and compare them with those of Saint Peter or Saint Paul, and the other apostles. This would lead you to believe he was a person without learning, whereas the apostles appear to be better instructed than he. Even the success of his teaching was astonishingly less than that of the apostles, for in the Gospel we see him persuading his apostles and disciples one by one to join him, and that at a cost of much effort. Saint Peter, on the other hand, converted five thousand at his first sermon. That single incident gave me more understanding of the great and marvelous humility of the Son of God than any other consideration I have ever had on this subject.

Every day at mass we say the words, in spiritu humilitatis, etc. ["In the spirit of humility."] A holy person told me once that he had learned from the lips of the blessed bishop of Geneva that this spirit of humility, which we ask for in each of our masses, consists chiefly in a continuous attitude of humbling ourselves, on all occasions, both interiorly and exteriorly. But, gentlemen, who can give us this spirit of humility? Our Lord alone, if we ask it of him, and if we remain faithful to his grace, and exercise this virtue in ourselves. Please do this, then, and let us remind each other of this when we say these words at the altar. I hope in your charity you will do this. [3]

Speaking one day to the priests of the Congregation of the Mission on this same topic he said:

The Company must give itself to God to explain the truths of the Gospel in familiar comparisons in our work in the mission. Pay close attention to forming your own mind to using this method, in imitation of our Lord, who, as the evangelist says, Sine parabolis non loquebatur ad eos ["He spoke to them in parables only"]. [4] Do not use quotations from the profane authors, unless you use them as stepping stones to the Holy Scriptures. [5]

He also recommended to the missionaries not to become too emotional in their preaching, nor speak too loud. He preferred that they speak to the people simply, with moderate voice, both to make their words more acceptable, and to conserve their strength and health. Having to preach every day of the entire year, and sometimes twice a day, they run the danger of destroying their health. By their shouting they would ruin their voice and their lungs.

One day he wrote to one of his priests:

I have learned that you put too much of yourself into your preaching, and have suffered some bad effects. In the name of God, Monsieur, take care of your health by moderating your voice and your emotional involvement in your preaching. I have spoken before of how our Lord blesses sermons spoken in familiar and simple language, because this is the way he himself taught and preached. This way of speaking is more natural, less draining than a forced way of speaking. The people like it better, and respond more readily. Believe me, Monsieur, the actors in the theaters realize this. They have changed and no longer use the elevated tone they used to employ in reciting their parts. They now speak with a moderate tone of voice, as though they were conversing familiarly with their audience. This is what I heard from an actor who happened to be speaking with me within the last few days.

If the desire to please the world has led these people to change, what a subject of confusion it would be for those who preach Jesus Christ if their love and zeal for the salvation of souls would not have the same result? I was sorry to learn that instead of teaching the longer catechism lesson in the evening, you have substituted a sermon in its place. This ought not to be done:

  1. because the morning preacher might have trouble preparing the evening talk.
  2. The people need the catechism lesson, and will profit more from it than from a second sermon.
  3. We honor better the way Jesus Christ set out to teach and convert the world.
  4. This is our tradition, to which it has pleased Our Lord to give many blessings, and using this method we find more occasion to practice humility. [6]


  1. Probably Mortagne-sur-Gironde (Charente-Maritime).
  2. Lambert aux Couteaux, or Robert de Sergis.
  3. CED I:181-84.
  4. Matt 13:34.
  5. CED XI:50.
  6. CED VI:378.

This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section Section One/Part Two: Monsieur Vincent's Convictions about the Virtues Most Needed by the Missionaries, and How They Should Preach

Index of this section:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section One/Index: His Missions in General

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two