This month we celebrated the feast days of Blessed Frederic Ozanam (Sept. 8), founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society 150 years ago in France, and that of Vincent de Paul (Sept. 27), patron saint of the society, whose mission is to go and seek out the deprived and forgotten. I am blessed to serve as chaplain for the society in the Diocese of St. Augustine (the oldest in the country).
Ozanam sought to bridge the gap between rich and poor (immortalized by Victor Hugo in “Les Misérables”). At a chance encounter with another student, he was challenged, You Christians are fine at talking, but what do you ever do? He was awakened to the fundamental insight that Christianity is not about ideas but about deeds inspired by love.
He wrote, A battle rages between those who have nothing and those who have too much; it is the violent collision of opulence and poverty which makes the earth tremble under our feet. His concern was not only the welfare of the poor but the credibility and integrity of the gospel. The poor, he said, are messengers of God to test our justice and our charity, and to save us by our works.
Vincent de Paul was born to a poor peasant family in 1580 in Gascony. Ordained at the remarkably young age of nineteen, he applied himself to securing a series of lucrative positions.
In mid-life however he underwent a great transformation. Summoned to hear the confession of a dying peasant, he was struck as never before by the fact that this man might have died in mortal sin had he not heard his confession. A simple encounter that changed the course of his life.
He determined to dedicate his priesthood to serving the spiritually impoverished rural masses. In time this grew to include ministry among the sick, poor and destitute. Ultimately his motto became, I am for God and for the poor.
Two chance (or providential) encounters that changed the course of their life.
What encounters have we had that awakened us to find deeper meaning in our life and greater awareness of who we are, and who we want to be?