"It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." St Vincent de Paul (1)
St Vincent de Paul has always been one of my favorite saints. His words are clear, direct and uncompromising. Two of his more noteworthy sayings are: “Extend mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?” And, "Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances."
These days I often revisit Vincent's wisdom when I need to forgive myself and remember that God always judges us in the most favorable light. The image of the Forgiving Father seeing his prodigal son returning home after years of infidelity never fails to comfort me. It also challenges me to offer the same mercy to others that God has given me so many times.
But no saying of Vincent has impacted me more than his demand that we love the poor, not just feed them. In truth, one can only know the power of this directive by experiencing it. Of all the ministries to which I have been called, it is my encounters with the poor that have been most life changing.
“Charlie”, a fellow I came to know at the Shattuck Hospital in Boston, loved the men and women with whom he spent his final days and his last effort was to agitate the administration of the hospital to put a handicapped ramp to the smoking gazebo outside the hospital, the only place where patients were allowed to smoke. Although not a smoker himself, Charlie realized that most of the disabled at the Shattuck had very few pleasures of any kind, and because he loved them he wanted them to have access to the place where others socialized and enjoyed themselves. Though St Vincent de Paul may have preferred that "Charlie" advocate for something other than smoking privileges, I am sure he would have been proud of him.
Today, ask God for the grace of merciful eyes and a forgiving heart.
How do you think you can love and serve the poor?