You can read a brief biography of St Vincent de Paul and the readings set for today (27th September), when we remember his life and ministry, here.
If there was ever a saint who matched their set gospel reading, it is Vincent de Paul: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Vincent de Paul and his gospel reading invite us to look at others and see Christ, and not only to see Christ but to serve Christ – ‘just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ It is in so doing that we become more like Christ. The subjects take on the character of their king.
This means, though, that we must also look at others and see ourselves – this is something that I became real for me on a prison placement while I was an ordinand. It is in seeing the Christ in those in need or in those who we find difficult or strange or disturbing that we start to be able to see the Christ in ourselves, not only out of empathy (note the similarity between the gospel reading’s ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty’ and the #Iam solidarity hashtags that have been around since the Charlie Hebdo massacre) but out of an awareness of our common humanity, our common belovedness in the sight of God . We might think of the great commandments: ‘love God and love your neighbour as yourself’ for it is in love of neighbour that we understand what it is to be loved, and to see ourselves and our neighbour alike truly as beloved of God.
Meanwhile, if we, like Vincent de Paul, were to live out this gospel fully it explodes beyond the individual, and becomes a way for us to participate in the building of the kingdom of God, in which the chasms that are so often fixed in this world between the privileged and the not-priveleged might start to be broken down in preparation for the radical equality of the kingdom of God. What we do right now to join in with this work both brings earth nearer heaven, and prepares us for it.
This is how Vincent de Paul lived, and these are the kingdom values which we are invited, or rather commanded, to live out here in Westcott, in this city of Cambridge, and beyond.