Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, Patron Saint of the Diocese of Richmond

Vincent de Paul was always a decent, upright man. From an early age, he lived a basically good life. But it might surprise you to learn that Vincent’s original motivation for becoming a priest was really quite worldly and superficial. It’s well documented, and Vincent himself would have admitted it freely, that he became a priest mostly just to have a comfortable job, a sizable paycheck, and a secure retirement.

That’s what moved him.

But then a pivotal thing happened — Vincent’s ambitions didn’t exactly pan out, his life didn’t go quite the way he expected, and eventually he came face to face with the peasants of rural France. And it was there — in the encounter with the poor — that Vincent’s radical conversion to Christ took place. 

When he looked poverty and pain straight in the face, he found the face of Christ — a face that looked him in the eye. And at the piercing glance of that face, Vincent’s heart was moved in an entirely new way.

The lives of the saints are always filled with these amazing stories — these encounters with the face of Jesus. And in its two hundred years of existence, our Diocese has been filled with these sorts of stories, as well — stories of ordinary people, right here in Virginia, meeting the Lord and being moved to do incredible acts of love, sacrifice and service. 

That’s because at the end of the day: This is the Christian story: The encounter with Jesus changes us. It moves our hearts to want what God wants.

Why is that?

Because in Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see God’s own Divine Heart being moved.

We heard in our gospel today that: “At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them, because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”

That is an incredible and beautiful thing: God — the Unmoved Mover — the source of all movement in the cosmos — is Himself moved by our brokenness in the Person of Jesus. Jesus’ Heart reveals the Father’s heart — a heart that moves toward our confusion, our desperation, our desires, our longing, and our needs. 

He is not threatened by our poverty. He is not discouraged by our emptiness or our weakness. He’s not overwhelmed by our neediness. 

Rather, He is attracted to and propelled by all these things — things we are so often ashamed of —  and He rushes into our lives to come and be our Lord and our Good Shepherd.

When Christ comes into our lives, what does he do there?

Well, he renovates our hearts so that they can move — more and more — like His Heart. He gives us the same desires He has, the same convictions, the same vision for human happiness, and the same urgency to proclaim the Kingdom. He brings to a screeching HALT all those movements towards lesser things — all movements towards pride, lust, selfishness, envy, and greed. He places in our hearts a bigger, vaster source of motivation — one that moves us for the glory of God alone.

Not many of us are wise, or powerful, or of noble birth, as St. Paul says in our second reading — and yet God chooses the foolish of the world to move like He moves.

So that whenever we see people suffering — from disease, broken homes, or mental illness — our hearts are moved to serve them because we see Jesus suffering there.

When we see people on the news screaming and angry — our hearts are moved with a sorrowful desire for healing and unity.

When we see people deeply confused about the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, the dignity of a natural death, and so many other contested issues — our hearts are moved to actively work for better laws that protect the vulnerable and lead us into truth.

When we see our friends and family rejecting or ignoring God — our hearts are moved to intercede for them — that they may one day come to love Him who IS Love itself.

If our hearts aren’t particularly moved by any of these things, then we should ask God for the grace to be moved. 

Vincent de Paul himself said it this way: “We must try to be stirred by our neighbors worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.”

But at this point, I’d like to make something absolutely clear: “Being moved” does NOT mean having emotional feelings or warm fuzzies toward God or anybody else.

Sometimes we fall for this lie, don’t we? We think that if we’re going to be good, faithful Christians — if we’re going to be SAINTS that love like Jesus — then we need to have a powerful, emotional surge constantly motivating us. If we don’t feel any of those feelings — if we’re dry or feel kind of unmotivated — then something must be wrong with our faith.

But that’s just not true! Emotions are incredibly easy to provoke. Emotions are fleeting. They don’t equal meaning. They are the guitar strings of the heart that can be plucked by anything and everything.

It’s a much bigger thing — a much harder thing — to be moved in your will, to change your mindset, to redirect your deepest desires to be set on God.

This deeper, more lasting process of “being moved” toward God’s plan for your life is called conversion.

Conversion is the work of God’s Holy Spirit rushing down upon us — It’s the quiet, ongoing, interior transformation that God is accomplishing in you. It’s all about receiving a brand new heart — In fact, it’s about receiving Jesus’s own heart!

This weekend, throughout the Diocese of Richmond, we celebrate 200 years of so many countless hearts being moved like the heart of Jesus. That’s why this diocese exists at all — to allow everyone to encounter Christ and be moved by His grace to love and serve Him.

The only reason we have the courage at all to enter into this third century as a Diocese is because we are absolutely convinced: Jesus Christ is still on the move. 

Sometimes that’s hard to see, isn’t it? 

In today’s secular culture, it’s much easier just to stop moving. It’s more convenient to lay down and let our desires grow cold, to put the Lord’s will on the backburner. To try very hard not to draw any attention to our beliefs. To become passive, private Christians.

But Christ is still on the move! We do not serve a stagnant, archaic, old-fashioned, dead God. We love and worship a Savior who is alive and active and really present today!

That’s especially true, of course here — in the Sacred Liturgy. The entire direction and motion of the Mass is the movement of Jesus’ heart toward the Father’s in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we enter into the liturgy, we literally step into the Trinity. Here, Christ offers perfect worship on our behalf, and we get to participate in that eternal movement.

But Christ is also alive and active when we follow in the footsteps of our Diocesan patron, St. Vincent de Paul — who after being nourished by the Eucharist at the altar, went out into the streets and lived that Real Presence of Christ in his total self-sacrificial service among the poor.

Jesus, our Shepherd, is moving here. And he moves THROUGH US. He says to you and to me: “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few. Get motivated! Be moved by my Love!”

Through the intercession of our patron, St. Vincent de Paul, we ask for the grace to always be moved — to willingly abandon ourselves to His will, and become the saints we’re called to be.