In January, my seminary classmates and I visited the Parisian church where St. Vincent de Paul is entombed. As you can see in the above photograph, St. Vincent's tomb is just under the large arch on the right, topped with two angels and a statue of the Saint of Charity.
When I exited the church to get back on the rainy streets of Paris that morning, I noticed some food neatly placed on the steps of the church entry-way. Why is that food there? I wondered.
Saint Vincent was born to a poor family who sent him off to seminary at the age of 15, selling some of their livestock to pay for his schooling. Becoming a priest in France in the 17th century would mean benefices for your family and a really good quality of life, especially compared with the peasant class from which he came. But Vincent would not settle for worldly riches.
While returning home from selling a benefice as a newly ordained priest, St. Vincent's ship was overrun by pirates, and the 20-something year old priest was sold into slavery. For the next few years Vincent worked in foreign lands, before his third owner was convinced by this slave's conversations concerning God and by Vincent's holiness of life that the owner should return Vincent to his home country where he would again take up ministry as a priest.
St. Vincent, because of his intellectual and spiritual gifts began teaching the children of noble families in academics and religion and giving conferences on the life of discipleship to adults and to other priests. While this might set a priest of his time up for wealth and prominent roles in the Church, St. Vincent rejected worldliness and aimed for personal poverty, the formation of other priests in holiness, and life-long, radical service to the poor.
About two years ago, I attended a meeting of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Resurrection Parish in Evansville. A small collection was taken for the poor as we began the meeting, and while small in size, that collection would not have taken place in 2015 had it not been for the Saint who lived an inspiringly faithful life in the early 1600's.
Today there are societies of St. Vincent de Paul dotting the globe; groups of people who have taken this man's name as their own as they serve those who are in need. Men and women gather for meetings in parishes in St. Vincent's city of ministry (Paris) but also in places like Evansville, Indiana, because St. Vincent chose the standard of the Gospel over the delights of the world. His example shows us that holiness can be found and that it is worth it.
In January 2015, I got to visit St. Vincent's tomb in Paris. Why did I see food left on the step of the church when I walked out of that small church? Because even after the great work this Saint did in his day--and the great work that is carried out every day and in every place--some poor person will still come seeking the man who gave everything away, and when that person comes looking for St. Vincent de Paul, he or she will still find the Saint giving to those in need... giving through the spiritual sons and daughters St. Vincent has inspired.