Spiritual Formation Experience in St. Vincent’s heart

(Personal / Community celebration)

Two important dates mark each month of April: St. Vincent’s birthday (April 24th) and the Transition (or “Translation”) of his Relics (April 26th). On this occasion, in the Vincentian Jubilee Year, let us meditate on the special events connected with these two feasts: the Apparition of St. Vincent’s Heart to Sister Catherine Labouré.


In April 1830, Sister Catherine took part in the octave of the celebration of the Transition of St. Vincent’s Relics from Notre-Dame de Paris to Saint-Lazare.

Catherine_visionOn her return from Saint-Lazare, Sister Catherine went (…) to the chapel and prayed in front of the small relics of Saint Vincent. Her own account of what happened shows how deeply she was moved:

“I had the consolation,”she said, “of seeing his heart above the shrine where the small relics of Saint Vincent de Paul are exposed. It appeared to me on three consecutive days and in three different ways: white, the colour of flesh signifying peace, calm, innocence and unity. Then I saw red like fire that must light the flame of charity in people’s hearts. It seemed to me that the whole community should renew itself and spread to the farthest points of the world. Finally I saw it as red-black and this brought great sadness to my heart. Waves of sadness washed over me and I found it hard to overcome these feelings. I did not know why, or in what way, this suffering had to do with the change of government. An inner voice told me, ’the heart of Saint Vincent is deeply saddened by the great misfortunes that will fall on France.”

On the final day of the octave she saw the same heart but now it was bright red and an inner voice said to her, “Saint Vincent is a little consoled because, through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin, he has obtained the favour that his two families will not perish in the midst of those great evils and that God will use them to rekindle people’s faith.”

[A moment of music or prayerful silence…]

I will lead you into the desert and will speak to your heart (Ho 2, 16)

The vision she had was of Saint Vincent at the very centre of his being; his heart, completely given to God and to the poor. In three of his conferences Monsieur Vincent put forward a very good formation plan, “My Daughters, you are to be good Christians.” Right away he led Catherine to the heart of Christ’s teaching: that God is “Love” (1Jn 4,8), a teaching that reveals the fullness of His tender love for all people, in the person of His beloved Son who would give his life for the world and make Love – love of God and love of one’s neighbour – the great commandment he entrusted to his disciples

[Song theme: Baptism, The Commandment of Love…]

The Sisters endeavour to follow Christ as their Founders perceived him (C. 8a).

In the vision of the “white” heart, signifying the peace that comes from God, wasn’t Saint Vincent awakening in Catherine the need to welcome Jesus, the Prince of Peace, so that she in turn could bring peace to poor people? Was it not also a reminder of the need to listen to the cries of the poor so that peace may reign on earth? In his message for the 1993 World Day for Peace, Pope John Paul II said, “If you desire peace, reach out to the poor.”.Can we not say that Saint Vincent is asking Catherine to accept the gift of Peace in order to build, together with poor people, a just and fraternal society?

Let us pray:

[recited together]May there be peace within us.
May we trust God that we are exactly where we are meant to be,
May we not forget the great possibilities born of faith,
especially the vocation of being a member of the Vincentian Family.
May we use those gifts that we have received,
and passion of the love that has been given to us….
We ask this prayer in the name of Jesus.

[A moment of music or prayerful silence…]

The same love inspires and directs their contemplation and their service (C.7b)

vincents_heartIn the second vision where the heart is now “fiery red”, isn’t Saint Vincent showing Catherine the fire of his love for Christ and his burning charity for all persons who are poor? Is he not trying to tell her about his double passion: to allow himself to burn in the divine fire in order to kindle “to the ends of the earth” braziers of love for the poor, “all poor people”, “those who are truly poor”, “everywhere”? Our lives are transformed and energized by God’s love. Catherine understands that the Company has to “renew” itself in a radical way, in order to kindle the fire of love in the four corners of the earth.

Let us pray:

[recited together] Divine Savior, transform me into yourself. May my hands be your hands. May my tongue be your tongue. Grant that every faculty of my body may serve only to glorify you.

Above all, transform my soul and all its powers that my memory, my will, and my affections may be the memory, the will, and the affections of you.

I pray you to destroy in me all that is not of you. Grant that I may live but in you and by you and for you, that I may truly say with Saint Paul, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.”Amen.

[A moment of music or prayerful silence…]

The Daughters of Charity learn that no type of distress should be foreign to them. (C.11a)

The heart that is “reddish black” is associated with misfortune and suffering. This reminds Catherine of the heart-rending state of the poor which so touched Saint Vincent’s heart, “Your sorrows are my sorrows.” Isn’t Saint Vincent asking Catherine to develop a deep understanding and compassion for all who suffer, to unite herself more closely to the sorrows of mankind?

Let us pray:

[recited together] Lord, Merciful Father, who instilled in Saint Vincent de Paul a great concern for the evangelization of the poor, infuse your Spirit in the hearts of His followers. That as we hear the cry of your abandoned children, we may run to their assistance, “like someone who runs to put out a fire.”

Revive within us the flame of the Charism, that flame which has animated our missionary life for 400 hundred years. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, “the Evangelizer of the Poor.” Amen.
(Prayer for the Jubilee Year of the 400th Anniversary of the Vincentian Charism)

[A moment of music or prayerful silence…]

It is easy to imagine Catherine’s feelings of faith, charity and thanksgiving at this time. However, she acted with great discretion and was very reserved.

Far from trying to escape from the reality of everyday life, Catherine filled her days with renewed faith and love. She listened eagerly to the instructions of the Seminary Directress who explained each day some aspect of the vocation of a servant of the poor. She understood even more that to practice charity one needs to have a deep spiritual life:”Something that is very important and which you must apply yourselves to, is to keep in close communication with Our Lord” (XI, 342-348). “Let us strive to become more spiritual and allow Christ to reign in us.” (XII, 131). “Our spiritual life is of the highest importance, if we fail in this we fail in everything.”(XII, 131)

[The final song]

Credits: Celebrating the 175th anniversary of the 1830 apparitions by Sister Claire Herrmann (Echoes 2005, no. 2); Saint Catherine, her passion for God and for the poor by Sister Anne Prevost DC (Echoes 2006, no. 2)