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05 The Simplicity of Saint Vincent de Paul

posted Sep 20, 2018, 11:21 PM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Oct 18, 2018, 6:19 PM ]
St Vincent De Paul's extraordinary life began in 1561 in the village of Pouy, France. He had humble beginnings as the child of peasant farmers. After spending two years as a slave in Tunisia, he returned to France, and became a missionary to prisoners in Paris and Marseilles. He began hospitals, he founded communities where the poor could work to support themselves, and set up homes for orphans. As a result of his devotion to the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, he is the patron of charitable organisations and is called the 'Apostle of Charity'. One might assume, then, that charity was the virtue St Vincent De Paul valued most in his life, but it was not. He often said that simplicity was his "gospel." How can we imitate this virtue of holy simplicity in our own lives? 


The word 'simplicity' has different meanings, and it seems that St Vincent embraced three of them. Each of these meanings is important if we are to understand why St Vincent esteemed simplicity so highly. 

Simplicity as having a single aim or purpose - St Vincent wanted his priests and nuns to be simple in the sense that they did everything out of love of God. He did not want them to do things to impress their superior or out of human respect. He wanted them to be single-minded in their intentions and in their pursuit of God's will. Too often, our intentions are not pure, and we act according to our own will, instead of God's. 

Simplicity in material possessions - St Vincent asked his priests not to have any superfluous things in their rooms, and to avoid owning anything useless. He knew that possessions bring attachment, which hinders us from living for God in complete freedom. St Vincent wanted to imitate Christ in everything. How can we live this kind of simplicity in our lives? Are there unnecessary purchases we could sacrifice, and instead give that money to the poor? Are there items in our homes that we do not use that could be donated to someone who could use them? If we want to imitate Christ the way St Vincent did, we must be willing to go without, in order to help those who are in need. 

Simplicity as sincerity - Above all, simplicity for St Vincent was sincerity in one's words and actions. He tried to always say things as they truly were, to avoid any duplicity or deceit. He said that God speaks to the simple, and that simplicity is the spirit of Jesus. He wanted his communities to practise this virtue, because the world is filled with so much duplicity. Of the three, this may be the most important form of simplicity for us to practise today. 

We live in a society where it is considered normal to present an image of ourselves that is not authentic. Just as in St Vincent's day, this is an obstacle for evangelization and service to the poor. We must have the courage and humility to be seen as we truly are, to speak the truth in love. Then we will be effective in sharing the gospel and in helping the poor, the way St Vincent De Paul was. 

Christ was the source of St Vincent's tenderness with the prisoners on the galleys, living in horrible conditions, when he cleaned their wounds; it was Christ living in St Vincent when he went out into the streets of Paris at night, looking for the children who had been abandoned. Just like the Good Shepherd, St Vincent would pick the children up, wrap them in his cloak to keep them warm, and carry them to his orphanages. If simplicity made it possible for Christ's tenderness and compassion to fill St Vincent's heart, and if it was the spirit of simplicity that allowed Christ to work through him, I hope and pray that each of us can learn to live this beautiful virtue, so that Jesus can do the same for us. 

Sarah Metts is a freelance writer and an aspiring Spanish historian. 
Source: catholicexchange.com