I Look at Him, and He Looks at Me.
The Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest.
Lessons from the primary feria for the Twenty-Fifth Friday of Ordinary Time, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Haggai 2: 1-9.
• Psalm 43: 1-4.
• Luke 9: 18-22.
…or, from the proper:
• I Corinthians 1: 26-31.
• Psalm 112: 1-9.
• Matthew 9: 35-38.
…or, any lessons from the common of Pastors for Missionaries, or the Common of Holy Men and Women for Those Who Practiced Works of Mercy.
The Third Class Feast of Saints Cosmas & Damian, Martyrs.*
First & third lessons from the common "Sapiéntiam…" of Many Martyrs, Gradual from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Wisdom 5: 16-20.
• Psalm 5: 12-13.
• Luke 6: 17-23.
4:13 PM 9/27/2019 — Vincent de Paul’s name is familiar to us probably because of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, a charitable organization for men which remains active in the Church in many parishes. He wasn’t the founder of it, it’s just named after him.
Born 1660, he started out as a secular priest, like myself, having been ordained for the local diocese which, in his case, was the Archdiocese of Paris; but, he soon found himself scandalized by the worldly ways and lax attitudes of many of his brother priests. Understand that, while the Council of Trent was well over by this time, it took many decades for the reforms that Council had mandated to be applied throughout the Church, particularly those regarding the life and discipline of the clergy. In one passage of his writings as a young priest, he described what it was like walking into Notre Dame Cathedral and viewing the priests of the Cathedral Chapter offering Masses at the various side altars, and how each one was doing it differently. One priest, he said, would begin Mass with the Our Father; another was fond of skipping the Epistle; he even saw one priest who was in such a hurry that he would throw his chasuble on over his hunting clothes. When he was asked by his dean why he never attended the meetings of the clergy, he replied, “I can only take the clergy in small doses,” and later is reported to have said, “There is no greater cross for me in his life than attendance at an ecclesiastical gathering.”
Of course, he didn’t simply observe and complain about these things, but worked tirelessly among his brother priests to encourage greater holiness of life, as well as encourage them to show more concern for the poor in their parishes, in spite of the fact that he, himself, never served as pastor of a parish. These efforts ultimately led to the creation of a new religious community, the Congregation of the Missions, which is today known simply as the Vincentians, dedicated not only to the education and reform of the clergy, but also to providing missionary priests to France’s colonies around the world. Together with the future Saint Louise de Marillac, he founded the Daughters of Charity as a semi-contemplative community of women dedicated to hospital work. He preached vigorously against the heresy of Jansenism, encouraging the frequent reception of Holy Communion long before Pius X came along, and is today regarded as the patron saint of charities, hospitals, prisons, as well as being the patron saint of the Republic of Madagascar—don’t ask me why. His mortal remains are enshrined for public view under an alter at the Vincentian’s mother house in Paris, and are incorrupt.
Yesterday, we looked at the history behind the Book of the Prophet Haggai, who encouraged the Jews to consider the rebuilding of the Temple, and used our first lesson from that book to reflect on the importance of seeking out time with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The last line of our Gospel lesson, from Luke, had Herod expressing a desire to see our Lord (cf. 9: 9), which we can do whenever we seek Him out in the tabernacle.
The intervening verses between yesterday's first lesson and today's give the response of the governor, Zerúbbabel, and the high priest, Joshua, to the Prophet's call, pledging to fulfill the will of God and complete the House of the Lord. Today's lesson begins the second chapter of this short, two-chapter book, in which the Prophet takes the people on a trip down memory lane, reminding them of the former glory of the Temple before it was destroyed, and it provides us with an idea of what exactly we should do when we are in the presence of God in the Blessed Eucharist. “Who is left among you”, the Prophet says, “who saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now?” (2: 3 NABRE).
If we are to rediscover the practice of seeking out our Lord in the tabernacle, we have to know what to do when we're there. Saint Alphonsus Liguori was once asked what one ought to do when making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and he answered saying,
What shall we do, you ask, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament? […] What does a poor man do in the presence of a rich man? A sick man in the presence of a doctor? One who is thirsty at the sight of a crystal-clear fountain? (Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Introduction, III).
And to that we can easily add another analogy: what does a hungry man do in the presence of bread? Only the bread that is being placed before us at Holy Mass isn't bread, it only looks like it. That's what Transubstantiation means: it's our Lord in disguise. He offers Himself as food, not food to fill the belly, but food to fill the empty heart, food to fill the soul.
Very poetic, but not very practical. More to the point might be the legend sometimes told from the life of the Curé of Ars. Every day he noticed a man coming to church to make a visit, but only when he was sure the church was empty. He never had a Rosary with him, or a prayer book, or any other aid to prayer; and, as soon as someone else would come into church to pray, he would get up and leave. The holy priest and future saint one day approached him and asked, “What do you do in the presence of our Blessed Lord?” And the man very simply replied, “I look at Him and He looks at me.”
Today's Gospel lesson begins with the verse: “Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, 'Who do the crowds say that I am?'” (Luke 9: 18 NABRE). Every word in that sentence is important, beginning with the fact that our Lord was “praying in solitude.” Jesus is giving us an example of what to do when at prayer, and the question he asks His disciples tells us the result: when we seek out or Lord in the tabernacle in a spirit of silence, uncluttered by books or beads or multiplication of words, He is able to speak to us rather than us speaking to Him, and He is able to show us who we really are. The spiritual doctors of a previous age used to call this the Prayer of the Presence of God: putting ourselves in God's presence and just being there with Him. Saint Ignatius, in The Spiritual Exercises, begins every exercise by asking us to place ourselves in the presence of God, no matter where we are. Saint Josemaría Escrivá has a prayer he recommends before any act of meditation, which begins: “My Lord and my God, I firmly believe that You are here, that You see me, that You hear me.” And that alone is enough of a prayer all by itself.
There are all kinds of things we can do when we pray to purge our minds of distractions and give us seeds for fruitful meditation, all kinds of books we can use and aids to help us. The Holy Rosary is one of the most important. But there needs to be some time every day when we are truly alone with our Lord so that He can speak to us. All the better if we can do it in His very presence before the tabernacle. Let's resolve to do that as often as we can.
* Cosmas and Damien were brothers and physicians born in Syria, known in the Eastern Churches as the "unmercenaries" because of their devotion and care for the sick poor. They were tortured and beheaded in Cilicia under Diocletian by order of the prefect Lysias in the year 283. The are specifically mentioned both in the Roman Canon and in the “proscomedia” (preparation rites) of the Liturgy of John Chrysostom. In the ordinary form, their memorial was observed yesterday.