Referred to as the apostle of charity, St. Vincent de Paul is best known for his love for the poor and for founding the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) and the Daughters of Charity. As one who knew well the interrelationship of the theological virtues, St. Vincent de Paul didn’t often reflect on Advent or Christmas in his writings; yet author John E. Rybolt, C.M., collected some beloved comment on both, offered by St. Vincent at what are known as his “conferences” — talks given to both the Vincentians and Daughters of Charity.
In “Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from St. Vincent de Paul,” Rybolt begins each daily meditation with an excerpt from one of St. Vincent’s conferences, followed by an appropriate Scripture verse, prayer and what he terms “advent action,” which is a brief personal reflection that concludes with a question or suggestion for further enrichment.
Simple in its format, this Advent devotional is apt for those who do not want a lot of dense, extra reading, yet desire a little extra something to ponder throughout the liturgical season and Octave of Christmas. Written in short, digestible sections, readers have the opportunity to adapt St. Vincent de Paul’s quotes to their own lives, as well as incorporate them in journaling for further spiritual growth.
In addition to the daily reflections, Rybolt has included two formats for nightly prayer and reading, similar to Night Prayer from the Office of Readings. The reader has the option to examine his or her conscience, sing Advent hymns and pray Psalms, canticles and antiphons either individually or as a family. Therefore, this particular Advent meditation book is appropriate to use with the Advent wreath and candles as the family gathers together for brief prayer each day.
On Day 24, the quote from St. Vincent de Paul’s conference reads:
“God gives us His graces according to our needs. God is a fountain from which each of us draws water according to the need we have of it. Just as a person who needs six buckets of water draws six, and someone who needs three draws three, a bird, who needs only a bill full, just dips in his beak, and a pilgrim scoops up a handful to slake his thirst. That’s how God acts with us.”
As we strive to hope in the midst of the world’s desolation, we find words of inspiration and encouragement here. St. Vincent reminds us that God gives us exactly what we need: no more, no less. Therefore, we have no need to worry, fear or compare ourselves to others who seem to have their lives put together perfectly.
When we hope, we keep our eyes focused upward rather than outward. We do not concern ourselves with what others are doing, with appearances or with secular and societal pressures. Hope is the virtue that keeps the flame of charity alive in our hearts; that we turn to God time and again without despairing or becoming hopeless, despondent or discouraged when we inevitably suffer.
Rybolt writes on how we can imitate the hope and the other virtues of the saints:
“God offers us the saints both for our imitation and comfort. We can imitate their spiritual strengths and take comfort in their difficulties. Sometimes these stemmed from their own characters. Saint Vincent de Paul began as a harsh and demanding person, but by the practice of virtue he became ‘the meekest man of his time.’”
So, Christians should not be discouraged by their own imperfections. Hope is the virtue that buoys us above such frustrations or egocentric thoughts, so that we are better able to see the silver lining of the weaknesses of our temperaments. For example, one who struggles with patience might also recognize that he is a passionate and zealous person – qualities that can be used to glorify God through evangelism.
St. Vincent de Paul’s words are simple in “Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from St. Vincent de Paul,” but he speaks to the heart of humanity in such a way that the reader will have phrases or sentences that remain with him throughout the day.
While it’s true that everyone is fighting a battle about which few others may know or understand, St. Vincent de Paul’s honest and piercing words are a reminder that Christians are a people of hope, and Advent is the season that grants a renewed sense of purpose, strength and meaning in our losses and struggles.
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