Born in 1581 at Ranquine in Gascony, Vincent was educated by the Franciscans and was ordained at the age of nineteen. He was something of a token priest until his conversion in 1609, when he resolved to devote himself and all he owned to works of charity. He founded communities for men and, with Louise de Marillac, helped to begin the Sisters of Charity, the first community of women not to be enclosed and which was devoted to caring for the poor and sick. Vincent worked for the relief of galley slaves, victims of war, convicts and many other groups of needy people. He became a legend in his own lifetime and died on this day in the year 1660.
Isaiah 58: 5 – 11
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
There’s a saying about being so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly use – but that isn’t a charge that can be leveled at St Vincent de Paul. Like so many of us, he rather paid lip service to his faith – until God got hold of him (and that was after his ordination – which, in his time, was a career move for younger sons, rather than a calling in and of itself) and God set him to work. So much so, that his name remains known today as a charitable institution, still doing good work, at least here in the north west of England. In our passage today, set after the return from the Exile, things were not going so well for the folk who had returned – the people who had been left behind when they were taken to Babylon did not welcome them back with open arms! They had had a tough time while they had been away, and now they had a new bunch of “lords and masters” who were not treating them too well….Meanwhile, the “returnees” got even more “religious” – because things were not working out in the way they had anticipated. This passage represents God’s response to an increasingly divided society – who were, at the end of the day, one people: God’s people.
Is any of this beginning to sound just a tiny bit familiar? It should do – because God is still calling His people out from behind their stained glass windows into the world to care for the people He loves, to create a society where none are homeless, none go hungry, and none go naked:. A society where all are treated with the dignity that humanity bestows upon them, and hurts are healed.
Thank you for calling St Vincent de Paul,
despite his failings
for we know that you could use us.
Give grace that we never hide
behind our rituals, our doors
and fail to see what lies before us:
grant kindness –
compassion for all who suffer,
a willingness to set aside our agenda,
our precious programmes
and put Yours first.
For You taught that we must love
our neighbour as ourselves.
Lord make it so. Amen
Dr Lesley Bailey, Lay Preacher St George’s URC, Maghull, Liverpool