St. Vincent de Paul

I waited years to see Monsieur Vincent and then when I got the dvd it took me five months to watch it. It is from 1947 and I hate sentimental religious tales of perfect people with St. in front of their names. The older the movie the more likely it would make my stomach turn. I used to think that but I’m wrong. Modern films don’t know how to treat virtue with realism or heroic virtue without sending the viewer into a diabetic coma. It’s hard to watch and so I have been slapped around by these horrible films about great people when I do try.

This is not Monsieur Vincent. Nor is it St. Vincent De Paul. He wasn’t a dewy-eyed optimist with a warm and fuzzy heart. He was born to peasants and worked his way through studies he become a priest. An inheritance sent him on a sea voyage where he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. He converted his master and they both escaped to France. He then rose in the ranks to be a confessor to the élite. That would be enough for anyone’s life time. But like so many lives the callings are various and answering them takes courage and grace.

The movie starts with this new vocation to serve the poorest of the poor and to embrace the rejected. It shows the poor as they are, without romanticizing them and the rich as they are without making them into villains . It’s an honest look at the struggle in all classes to be simply human. St. Vincent is offered great things that could have saved him from turmoil and strife. The call to help the poor and rescue the abandoned was louder than any earthly honor or comfort. He never turned away from what was right even when he was shunned as a result. His life a volume to read again and again and learn from. It’s these deeds and acts of faithfulness that help us brave our own obstacles to doing what is most perfect.

I think it has one of the most poignant endings I’ve seen in a film. When he is about to die he asks to see the newest novice of his order of nuns and he tells her this:

The streets will be mostly long; the stairs will be steep, and the poor sometimes ungrateful. Jeanne, you will soon realize that charity is a much heavier burden to carry than the kettle of soup and the basket of loaves. But keep on smiling and being kind. What matters is not so much that you distribute soup and bread, for that the rich can do as well. But you are the humble servant of the poor. They are your masters; masters who can be sometimes very exigent as you will soon experience. The more disgusting and dirty they are, the more unjust and rough, the more love you should show them. It will be on account of your love, only on its account, that the poor will forgive you your offering them bread.”

Happy Feast day St. Vincent. . put in a good word for me please.


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