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Let St. Vincent de Paul teach you how to practice compassion

Mary Long I Shutterstock

Mathilde De Robien - published on 05/31/21

The saints can be our guides in managing our emotions.

“I realized that we can’t go to Mass leaving our anger or sadness out in front of the church. The Lord asks us to come to Him with our whole being,” says Edwige Billot, author of a recent book published in French on getting guidance from the saints for how to handle our emotions (“Et si les saints nous coachaient sur nos émotions?”).

Passionate about both human psychology and the testimonies of the saints, Billot is convinced that these holy men and women have grasped the extent to which God wishes to reach us at the very heart of our emotions. If emotions can make us stumble, they can also, as in the case of the saints, allow us to grow, to move forward and to make good decisions.

Compassion: The “lens of the heart”

Out of a sense of superiority or a lack of interest in those around us, sometimes we unconsciously allow ourselves to view others with contempt. This is a tendency that the Gospel, which advocates love and charity especially towards the weakest, invites us to combat.

Pope Francis proposes a remedy to fight against this prideful disdain of our brothers and sisters: When we feel contempt for someone, we must make every effort to feel compassion, the capacity to feel the suffering of others and seek to relieve it. Thus, for Pope Francis, compassion is like “the lens of the heart.”

Giving soup and bread is not enough

Now, if there’s an expert in the field of compassion, it’s St. Vincent de Paul, also called the “apostle of charity.” Ordained a priest in 1600, St. Vincent de Paul spent his life in the service of the poor. He realized that visiting the needy was more difficult than giving money to start a soup kitchen.

“You will see that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than a pot of soup,” he said. “But you must keep up your kindness and your smile. Giving soup and bread is not enough.” In other words, compassion cannot be delegated.

“If you want to be compassionate, it’s not enough to give a coin to a person on the street. What counts even more is having contact with the person,” emphasizes Edwige Billot. Stopping voluntarily and performing an act of charity is a way of practicing compassion and of gradually putting on the lenses of the heart, until one forgets any feeling of contempt towards those who are in some way less privileged than oneself.

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Acts of KindnessCharity
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