St. Vincent de Paul placed service to the poor above nearly every activity in his life. He did have a devout prayer life that fueled his ministry, but he believed that even that could be interrupted to help out someone in need.
He explains his thoughts in a piece of writing featured in the Church’s Office of Readings. In particular, St. Vincent de Paul believed serving the poor was in union with Christ’s mission on earth.
Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause. Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself.
This is why St. Vincent firmly believed that charity to the poor is an essential part of being a Christian. It is a work of God that we must do, even when it interrupts our prayer time.
It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God.
In our own lives, we should reflect on how we serve the poor and whether we do all that we can to help the less fortunate among us. It may be not easy, but it is a service we are doing for Christ himself.