Prayer, Care and Generosity Mark the Priesthood of St. John Vianney
There is something attractive to following an underdog. The underdog is someone who typically has low odds to succeed, however, when they do succeed, it becomes a great story. Everyone loves a winner, especially when the winner is the underdog.
St. John Vianney, whose feast the Church celebrates on Aug. 4, was, in many ways, an underdog. He was born into a poor family with little financial resources. There is nothing he wanted to do more with his life than to be a priest. His humble beginnings and lack of education made this dream nearly impossible. He was, by all accounts, an awful student who struggled with Latin. By the grace of God, however, this simple man was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ.
Following a brief appointment to his home parish, St. John was sent to be the pastor of a tiny parish in Ars, France, with a membership of 250 people. Word of his pastoral zeal and fraternal love for souls reached beyond that little town. Eventually, trainloads of people came just to be in the presence of this holy man. He truly was an underdog, but he became a saint and the patron of parish priests.
To you, my dear brothers in the priesthood, I wish you a happy feast day! The collect we prayed at Mass today notes the fact that John Vianney is an intercessor and example for us all. On this day we certainly seek his intercession and behold his example.
There are three points to his example we need to reflect upon today. The first point is prayer. St. John Vianney was a man of deep prayer. In a reflection from the office of readings for his memorial, the evangelist John states that prayer is like incense that pleases God. Prayer has a way of swelling the heart. True happiness, he believes, is found in prayer and love. When we pray, our sorrows are diminished. Why would anyone not pray?
The second point for us to ponder from the life of John Vianney is care. St. John Vianney cared tenderly about the souls of others, even those not registered in his parish. It is reported that he would spend many hours during the day in the confessional. It is easy for us to become restless in the confessional after one hour. Imagine being in the box for 18 hours a day. A good and holy priest always cares for his people without counting the cost.
Finally, the third point to highlight from the life of St. John Vianney is his generous sharing of God’s grace with others. Even in the face of limitation and weakness, he poured out God’s grace on others. Their needs were always more important than his own. What a stellar model of holiness for any priest.
Interestingly enough, in my home diocese the bishop is celebrating the chrism Mass today, which, as we all know, was unable to happen because of the restrictions imposed by the current pandemic. The Mass will not be the same. It is not Holy Thursday and only the members of the presbyteral council and newly ordained can attend as a result of the pandemic.
It is the custom at the chrism Mass for the priests to renew their priestly promises. Unfortunately, many of us priests will not be able to embrace this tradition in the presence of our bishop today. Nevertheless, in reflecting on the life of our beloved patron, St. John Vianney, we can rededicate ourselves to being prayerful priests, to care tenderly about our flock, and to generously share, even in our brokenness and limitations, God’s abundant graces. In this act of renewal, we not only become holier priests, but we also help make the presbyterate stronger.
Thank you for being a priest and brother. Happy feast day! St. John Vianney, pray for us!
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.