Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. Indeed, the name of this saint is familiar to many of us, Saint Vincent de Paul Societies being active in many parishes throughout the world. I have 2 friends in 2 different parishes who serve in the Society. They both say little of their work. In fact, members are extremely judicious and private about what they do and whom they serve. Their quiet, dedicated service reflects the humility of the founder.
As I prayed last night and again this morning about what to write, I returned again and again to one of my favorite psalms which we prayed at today’s Mass: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps 90:12) I often pray this verse to remind me who’s God (God) and who’s not (me). This verse in conjunction with the first reading provides a key ingredient to the sainthood of this holy man.
“Vanity of vanities!” begins the Old Testament reading, “All things are vanity!” (Ecc 1:2). Familiar to our ears, and courtesy of William Shakespeare, even to secular ears, we recognize this scriptural admonition. It continues:
What profit has man from all the labor
which he toils at under the sun?
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going.
All speech is labored;
there is nothing one can say.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing
nor is the ear satisfied with hearing. (Ecc 1:3-11)
The imagery of the river going “… to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going,” speaks poignantly of the labor of man: “Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build.” (Ps 127:1) Therein lies the vanity – labor without God.
God has a purpose and plan for each and every one of us. He is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. If here were not, we would cease to be. I think we sometimes have a tendency to compartmentalize his intimacy: he’s in the good, not the bad; he cares only about the big stuff, not the small stuff; I can only let him see my goodness and not my sinfulness. It just doesn’t work that way. Life is messy. God is in the mess. Christ is in the chaos. He wants all of us, and he wants us forever with him in heaven. By now most of us have figured out that we can’t do it on our own, yet we weave in and out of this truth. We need wisdom and grace in every moment to know and to follow God’s plan for our labors. We must number our days aright so that we may gain wisdom of heart.
In the poor of France at that time, Saint Vincent de Paul had to have daily sought wisdom in order to have the eyes to see what God sees, and the ears to hear what God hears, and a the heart to love like God loves. Courage and faithfulness bolstered the fulfillment of God’s plan in St. Vincent’s life. These 2 essential ingredients are pivotal to achieving God’s purpose. Without them, we fail. We’ve all been there, however, when we know what we’re supposed to do, but lacking courage, we hesitate, and lacking faithfulness, we don’t act.
We must number our days aright, ordered by prayer, fasting, the sacraments, and an attentive heart to hear the whispering wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Once we know God’s plan, we must beg the Lord of the harvest for courage and faithfulness to follow him whatever the cost.
“In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” (Pv 3:6)
Saint Vincent de Paul, pray for us! Anne
Song for the day: All My Heart by Twila Paris