Saint Vincent de Paul by F. A. Forbes is compact, easy-to-read and inspirational. The whole world knows Saint Vincent de Paul, thanks to the charity organisation, “St Vincent de Paul Society, now known in Australia as simply, “Vinnies,” which continues to live on.
I didn’t know much about Saint Vincent de Paul before reading this book. Albeit brief, this biography conveys that he was zealous and, though successful in many endeavours, was unsuccessful in others. At times he was weighed down with sorrow. However, this never stopped him. “He had done what he could, and God asks no more of any man.”
This account takes you through this great saint’s incredible journey. From slavery to founding great charities (greater and more meritorious than “Vinnies”), this novel captivates the reader from start to finish. Did you know he lived during the time of the Jansenists? In fact, the Jansenists saw Saint Vincent as the most dangerous of their enemies. I won’t spoil it by saying anymore.
Sugarcoating facts is not something the author believed in. He writes it how it was. Examples include, “Vincent was passing one day through the streets of Paris on one of his errands of mercy when he saw a beggar mutilating a newborn baby in order to expose it to the public as an object of pity,” and, “these unfortunate little creatures [around four hundred children], in a state of semistarvation and utter neglect, were crowded together into two filthy holes, where the great number died of pestilence. Of those who survived, some were drugged with laudanum to silence their cries, while others were put an end to by any other method that suggested itself to the wretched women into whose hands they had fallen.”
Charity has never been easy. Saint Vincent’s story shows that charity can not just be difficult, but heroic. In a modern world where “philanthropists” and successful entrepreneurs throw a small percentage of their money to charity and are idolised for it, we should learn where true charity lies, by learning about Saint Vincent’s life. The modern day “philanthropist” would never undergo the sacrifices Saint Vincent did for the sake of others.
When I say this, I am referring to the charity of Saint Vincent and his supporters for the physical needs of others. Needless to say, it didn’t stop there. Saint Vincent’s charity extended to the spiritual well-being of others. Obviously, Saint Vincent organised the baptising and teaching of the truth to those under his and his supporters’ care. However, one true example of holiness and being “good” instead of “nice” is how Saint Vincent acted when the Jansenists were gaining prominence. Unlike a soft “nice” person who “goes along to get along”, Saint Vincent never budged on his Catholic beliefs. He never gave an inch to the Jansensists. This man who bestowed so much charity on the world and so much selflessness - acts which the world would associate with a “nice person” - refused to cave into anything remotely heretical, even if it would have resulted in worldly peace. To reiterate, the Jansenists looked at Saint Vincent as the most dangerous of their enemies. Saint Vincent demonstrated that there is much more to being a saint than being a “nice” person.
After the reader follows Saint Vincent’s valiant journey, this book goes above and beyond with its end section, “The Words of Saint Vincent de Paul.” Straightforward and useful words from the honest and uncompromising saint are presented in this part. An example:
“Mortification of the appetite is the A-B-C of the spiritual life. Whoever cannot control himself in this will hardly be able to conquer temptations more difficult to subdue.”
Simple advice, yet easier said than done. I guess the “doing” is what makes people like Saint Vincent the great saints they are. This novel shows us what Saint Vincent achieved, and how he became the great saint everyone knows about.
Saint Vincent de Paul is undoubtedly a must-read saint’s book, providing a “no excuses” opportunity for those who don’t have much time on their hands but desire to learn about our true heroes.
Saint Vincent, pray for us!