The Art of Compassionate Accompaniment
September is the month of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast was celebrated on the 15th of this month, the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Mother Mary, the first disciple of Christ from the moment He was incarnated in her womb, is the pre-eminent example of compassion, the ability to suffer with another person. Her Immaculate Heart was pierced by the sharp sword of sorrow as she watched her only son, her beloved God, suffer and die on Calvary.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in Calvary and the Mass:
Today is the feast of St Vincent de Paul, a saint who also exemplifies compassion, known for his charitable works. Vincent’s father paid for his education by selling the family’s oxen. His father believed that a good ecclesiastical career would enable Vincent to be financially independent and help support his family.
Educated by Franciscan friars in France, the young Fr de Paul was captured by pirates and sold into slavery (like St Patrick). His third owner had forsaken Catholicism, but Fr de Paul brought him back to the faith; they fled by night over the sea to France, from whence Fr de Paul accompanied a cardinal to Rome. From there, in 1609 Fr de Paul was chosen to go on a secret mission to the court of Henry IV, King of France. That’s when he met Queen Marguerite and became her almoner, that is, a chaplain who is in charge of distributing money to the poor.
In 1617, Fr de Paul established confraternities of charity for the spiritual and physical relief of the poor and sick of each parish. From these, with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, came the Daughters of Charity, “whose convent is the sickroom, whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister is the streets of the city.”
Fr de Paul organised the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. Fr de Paul reflected:
The Daughters of Charity were long renowned for their work in orphanages, homes for the aged, and hospitals. They were the first active Order created for women and their particular style of dress reflected the clothes worn by peasant women in St. Vincent’s native Normandy. Yet their most important contribution, perhaps, is the fact that they were among the first professional nurses. Until Florence Nightingale came around with the Red Cross, nursing was strictly an occupation that was left to women religious and others who could share in their work. In this, the Daughters of Charity were truly pioneers.
Here is a description of them:
May we learn from St Vincent de Paul and his Daughters of Charity to be truly compassionate disciples of Christ, bearing love for every person. As the hymn to his compatriot Father Nicholas Barré says:
“Touch many hearts to follow in your footsteps
To dedicate their lives to youth and poor
Drawn by the Lord to make Christ known and loved
Fill us with zeal, humility and faith
Pure love and strength and courage without fear
To keep your spirit alive in our hearts.”
Such compassion is the fruit of a truly Catholic education.