You are in Paris, standing in front of an old city map. Scattered across the map are small red dots.
The dots are not McDonalds or gas stations or theatres or 5-star restaurants.
The dots represent schools and orphanages, hospitals and clinics, seminaries and retreat centers-all the result of the deep faith and extraordinary heart of Vincent de Paul.
As a Protestant, I have to confess that I have not spent a lot of time studying the lives of Roman Catholic saints. That’s a shame, for as I spend more time with Vincent de Paul, Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, and Benedict of Nursia, my own spiritual life is stretched and deepened.
The details of Vincent’s life are fascinating.
Born in the southwest of France in 1581, Vincent was one of seven children and spent much of his early life tending sheep.
When neighbors recognized the boy’s gifts, money was scraped together to send him to school. Later, his father sold a yoke of oxen to help Vincent begin his university studies.
Unbelievably, while returning home by ship one summer, Vincent was captured by Turkish pirates, taken to Tunis, and sold as a slave.
Helped to escape, Vincent came to the attention of a Cardinal who invited him to Rome. In Rome, church leaders grew so impressed with Vincent that they sent him to represent them to Henry IV, King of France.
Between his visits to the royal palace, however, Vincent attended to the work that he most loved: he spent days and nights caring for the sick and dying in one of Paris’ largest hospitals.
When he was called later to serve as chaplain to the wealthy Gondi family, Vincent made an indelible impression on the family persuading the influential Count Gondi to ignore the codes of honor and humbly accept invective and insult rather than defend his honor. And moved by Vincent’s personal example, Madame Gondi soon spent her days providing care to the peasants who worked on the family estate.
When two of the district’s wealthiest and most fashionable ladies began spending their days nursing the sick and caring for those stricken by the plague. The groundwork was laid for the Sisters of Charity.
Before his life was over, Vincent founded orphanages, hospices, asylums, and hospitals for the indigent. He established prison ministries all across France, with a special concern for the convicts chained to the oars in the galleys of ships. He called thousands of priests and laity to the humble service of the poor and provided a wealth of opportunities for intense, structured missions to those living in misery and squalor. And he set up, in effect, the first sheltered workshops and parish nurse programs.
But as Albert Holtz reminds us: Vincents great works for the poor were not his reason for existing God was. He didn’t go around giving his life to the poor; he gave it to God. Because Vincent de Paul knew he was loved by God, he could love God in return, and cover [the] map of Paris with all [those] lovely dots.
Vincent de Paul extended extraordinary mercy toward others because he understood how fully God had extended extraordinary mercy to him.
And what of us? To quote Holtz again: “Each of us, whatever our state in life, is expected to leave a bunch of red dots sprinkled across the map of our own life, marking places where our love has made a difference.”
I know that there are times that I wonder about the red dots in my life. What about you? If people were to look at a map of your life, how many red dots would they see?
Gary Robbins is the pastor of Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Roanoke. Visit them on the web at: www.gmumc.org.