A few years back, I watched the movie “Monsieur Vincent”. The film won “Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars)” in 1948.
It is the story of St. Vincent de Paul, also known as Pierre Fresnay. Assigned at Chantillon, France, he came to his parish finding it deserted. In the 16th century, the feudal lords had the responsibility over large areas of land. They were also responsible for the peasants living within.
Hard times fell among the Chantillon people; the poor became poorer. Hunger and misery showed in their zombie-like walk, pacing with their heads down. Despair set in. They lost their faith in God. Why? Because life became harder and the people were so dirt poor. They felt God abandoned them. The former parish priest failed his duties and left the parish because of the deplorable conditions of the place. The Nobles remained apathetic to the plight of the poor. Lack of charity towards their neighbors created distaste for the poverty around them.
It might be hard for Americans to visualize this kind of life. American’s poor does not resemble at all the poverty in developing countries like those found in Africa and Southeast Asia.
St. Vincent gave hope to the people. He learned each day to live like the poor. He understood why we cannot blame them or respond to their harsh remarks. He struggled to change the outlook of the Nobles to perform corporal works of mercy to the poor.
St. Vincent gained sympathy and support from the Noble’s wives but the struggles of the poor overwhelmed their pampered hearts. Basing it on feelings, the excitement of charitable works died down, as the fulfillment of the works fluctuated in their hearts just like any other emotions. When this happens, the poor’s difficulties appear to be a series of desperate acts to keep seeking water from the same water well so to speak. With the bottomless problems that fill the poor’s lives, they start to vocalize their grievances, becoming negative and seemingly ungrateful. Eventually, the benefactors are stunned with their callous demands, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.
How did St. Vincent de Paul help us understand poverty?
Since our mission is to “love one another”, there is no other way to live this commandment out but to serve the poorest in our midst.
Is it our neighbor? Is it that family in our parish? Is it the poor in spirit in our midst? Is the physically and emotionally vulnerable like women who just came out of the hospital or rehabilitation? Is it the single woman that lives by herself and in need of a companion? Is it the woman you know that came from a foreign land and has no immediate relatives?
The US is a rich country but we find the poor abounds in our midst. The poorest in our children – the one who lost faith that there is a God, the one who demands more from us each day, the one who spews profanities at us, the one who nullifies each good effort we make?
St. Vincent asks us to continue to LOVE them.
We know we love our neighbors? How can we love differently?
We LOVE our neighbors by showing TENDERNESS at all times.
WE LOVE our neighbors with a SMILE.
Our neighbors may be “poor in spirit” and we can only make them rich with OUR LOVE.
St. Vincent teaches us how to serve our neighbors like the poor:
You will soon realize
charity is a heavy load to carry.
It heavier to carry than a bucket of soap and a basket of bread
But you will always keep your tenderness and your smile
It is not hard to serve soup and bread, the rich can do that
But you are servant to the poor
daughter of charity
always in a good mood
they are your masters, as you’ll see
touchy and demanding master
the uglier and the dirtier they are
the more unfair and vulgar they are
the more love you’ll have to give
only because of your love, and your love only.
Through the intercession of St. Vincent de Paul today, teach us to love the poor and the poor in spirit so that we can authentically live out the command of our Lord Jesus Christ – to love one another. Amen.