Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Vincent Ferrer, Priest, 1350-1419
The son of a Scottish nobleman and his Spanish wife, Vincent was born in 1350 in Valencia, Spain. He entered the Dominican order at the age of eighteen and was sent to Barcelona to continue his studies. By the age of twenty, Vincent was teaching philosophy at Lérida. He would, over time, teach and preach over much of Europe, gathering a vast number of followers.
Vincent lived at a difficult time in history; many disasters, natural and man-made, afflicted both the world and the Catholic Church. The 100 Year War, started before his birth, would continue through his life. In 1348, the black plague, a scourge that would kill about a third of the population, had reached Europe, famines were a recurring problem, and laxity of many Catholics and the antipopes threatened to tear the Catholic Church apart.
Throughout the history of the Church, there have been claimants to the papacy who lacked legitimacy. Vincent was a supporter of two of these antipopes in the 14th Century as were several saints on both sides of the argument.
Briefly, the papacy had been moved from Rome to Avignon in the early 14th Century. In 1377, it returned to Rome. Upon the death of Pope Gregory XI about a year later, Pope Urban VI was elected, the first Italian pope after a series of French popes. Claiming that they had been coerced, several, mostly French, cardinals later met for another conclave and elected Cardinal Robert of Geneva pope (Clement VII). Europe was split in allegiance to the two popes.
As a young priest, Vincent was called into the service of Cardinal Pedro de Luna. He was sent on diplomatic missions to persuade the rulers of the Spanish kingdoms to support the antipope Clement VII. Largely successful in these tasks, Vincent then carried on his own missionary work.
Preaching in much of Spain, Vincent is said to have converted 25,000 Jews to Christianity, including one rabbi who later became Bishop Paul of Burgos. Even the Moors were taken by his preaching and the miracles which he regularly performed and several thousand of them were also converted.
Upon the death of Clement VII in 1394, Pedro de Luna was elected pope and took the name, Benedict III. Vincent supported him, but sought to heal the breech between Avignon and Rome. He and others suggested that both popes resign and one successor be elected, but Benedict adamantly refused to do this for several years. This stubborn rejection and the effects that it was having on the Church took its toll on Vincent. He became deathly ill with a fever. During this time, he had a vision of Christ together with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. The message that he received in the vision was that he should go out into world and evangelize. He was immediately cured. It was not until 1399 that Benedict allowed Vincent to undertake his mission.
For the next twenty years, Vincent traveled around Europe preaching to great numbers of people. Many of these people, at times numbering as many as 10,000, followed Vincent on his missionary journey.
Vincent was said to have the gift of tongues. While he spoke only Spanish, plus some Latin for the Mass and a few words of Hebrew, everyone who heard him on his journey heard him in their own language. Many miracles were performed by Vincent, including raising a man, who had been murdered, from the dead. In some of the places where he preached, the number of sick children was such that he set aside some time each afternoon to tend to these. In all, Vincent converted many thousands of heretics, Jews, and Moslems during his lifetime, as well as bringing untold numbers of lapsed Catholic back to the Church.
St. Vincent Ferrer is the patron saint of builders, construction workers, brick makers, tile makers, road builders, and plumbers. He is honored by an optional memorial on April 5.
Vincent's message today: Few of us will have visions of Christ calling us to ministry, but all of us are called by God for a purpose in life.