Curé d'Ars, John Mary Vianney
Palabras del Cura de Ars
Misericordia y sacramento del perdón
La Eucaristía y la comunión
La Virgen María
Palabras del Santo Cura de Ars sobre...
Algunos extractos de palabras del Santo Cura…
Con sus palabras, Juan María Vianney supo tocar los corazones y conducirlos hacia Dios
Misericordia y sacramento del perdón
¡Si comprendiéramos bien lo que significa ser un hijo de Dios, no podríamos hacer el mal (…) ser hijos de Dios, oh la bella dignidad!
La misericordia de Dios es como un arroyo desbordado. Arrastra los corazones cuando pasa.
No es el pecador que vuelve a Dios para pedirle perdón, es Dios que corre detrás del pecador y lo hace volver a Él.
Demos entonces esta alegría a este Padre bueno: volvemos a Él … y seremos felices.
El buen Dios siempre está dispuesto a recibirnos. ¡Su paciencia nos espera!
Hay quienes se dirigen al Eterno Padre con un corazón duro. ¡Oh, cómo se equivocan! El Eterno Padre, para desarmar su justicia, ha dado a su Hijo un corazón excesivamente bueno: no se da que no se tiene…
Hay quienes dicen: “hice demasiado mal, el Buen Dios no puede perdonarme.” Se trata de una gran blasfemia. Equivale a poner un límite a la misericordia de Dios, que no tiene: es infinita.
Nuestros errores son granos de arena al lado de la grande montaña de la misericordia de Dios.
Cuando el sacerdote da la absolución, es necesario pensar sólo en una cosa: que la sangre del buen Dios se derrama sobre nuestra alma para lavarla, purificarla y hacerla bella cuanto lo era después del bautismo.
El buen Dios, al momento de la absolución, tira detrás de sus espaldas nuestros pecados, es decir se olvida, los cancela: no reaparecerán jamás.
No se hablará nunca más de los pecados perdonados. ¡Han sido cancelados, no existen más!
La Eucaristía y la comunión
Todas las buenas obras juntas no equivalen al sacrificio de la Misa, porque son obras de los hombres, mientras la Santa Misa es obra de Dios.
No hay nada más grande que la Eucaristía.
¡Oh mi hijos!, ¿qué hace Nuestro Señor en el Sacramento de su amor? Ha tomado su corazón bueno para amarnos, y extrae de este corazón una transpiración de ternura y de misericordia para ahogar los pecados del mundo.
¡Allí está quien nos ama tanto! ¿Por qué no amarlo?
El nutrimento del alma es el cuerpo y la sangre de un Dios. ¡Si uno lo piensa, se puede perder por la eternidad en este abismo de amor!
Venid a la comunión, venid a Jesús, venid a vivir de Él, para vivir por Él.
El buen Dios, queriendo darse a nosotros en el sacramento de su amor, nos ha dado un deseo profundo y grande que sólo Él puede satisfacer.
¡La comunión produce en el alma como un golpe de fuelle en un fuego que comienza a apagarse, pero donde todavía hay muchas brasas!
Cuando hemos comulgado, si alguien nos dijera: “¿Qué os lleváis a casa"?, podríamos responder: “Me llevo el cielo.”
No decís que no sois dignos. Es cierto: no sois dignos, pero lo necesitáis.
La oración no es otra cosa que unión con Dios.
La oración es una dulce amistad, una familiaridad sorprendente (…) es un dulce coloquio de un niño con su Padre.
Más se reza, más se quiere rezar.
Tenéis un corazón pequeño, pero la oración lo agranda y lo hace capaz de amar a Dios.
No son las largas ni las bonitos oraciones que el buen Dios mira, sino las que vienen del fondo del corazón, con un gran respeto y un verdadero deseo de gustar a Dios.
¡Cuánto un pequeño cuarto de ahora que robamos a nuestras ocupaciones, a algunas cosas inútiles, para rezar le gusta!
La oración privada se asemeja a la paja esparcida por aquí y por allá en un campo. Si se enciende fuego, la llama tiene poco ardor, pero si se agrupa la paja esparcida, la llama se hace abundante y se levanta hacia el cielo: así es la oración pública.
El hombre es un pobre que necesita pedirle todo a Dios.
El hombre tiene una hermosa función, aquella de rezar y de amar… He aquí la felicidad del hombre sobre la tierra.
Vamos, mi alma, ve a conversar con el buen Dios, a trabajar con Él, a caminar con Él, a combatir y sufrir con Él. Trabajarás, pero Él bendecirá tu trabajo; caminarás, pero Él bendecirá tus pasos; sufrirás, pero Él bendecirá tus lágrimas. ¡Cuánto es grande, cuánto es noble, cuánto es consolador hacer todo en compañía y bajo la mirada del buen Dios, y pensar que Él ve todo, cuenta todo!…
El orden: es un sacramento que pareciera que no se refiere a ninguno de vosotros y es un sacramento que se refiere a todos.
Es el sacerdote que continúa la obra de Redención sobre la tierra.
Cuando veis al sacerdote, pensáis en Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.
El sacerdote no es sacerdote para él mismo, lo es para vosotros.
Vais a confesaros con la Santa Virgen o con un ángel. ¿Os absolverán? ¿Os darán el cuerpo y la sangre de Nuestro Señor? No, la Santa Virgen no puede hacer descender su Hijo divino en la hostia. Aunque tuvierais doscientos ángeles para vosotros allá, no os podrían absolver. Un sacerdote, por cuanto simple sea, puede hacerlo. Os puede decir: andáis en paz, os perdono.
¡Oh! ¡el sacerdote es de veras algo grande!
Un buen pastor, un pastor según el corazón de Dios, es el más grande tesoro que el buen Dios pueda conceder a una parroquia y uno de los dones más preciosos de la misericordia divina.
El Sacerdocio es el amor del corazón de Jesús.
Dejáis una parroquia por veinte años sin sacerdote: se adorarán las bestias.
La Virgen María
La Virgen María es esta bella criatura que nunca disgustó al buen Dios.
El Padre ama mirar el corazón de la Santa Virgen María como la obra maestra de sus manos.
Jesucristo, después de habernos dato todo cuanto podía darnos, quiere todavía hacernos herederos de lo que tiene de más precioso, es decir de su Santa Madre.
La Virgen María nos ha generado dos veces, en la encarnación y a los pies de la Cruz: es, pues, dos veces nuestra Madre.
¡No se entra en una casa sin hablar al portero! ¡Pues bien, la Santa Virgen es la portera del Cielo!
El Ave Maria es una oración que no cansa nunca.
Todo lo que el Hijo pide al Padre se lo concede. Todo aquello que la Madre pide al Hijo le es igualmente concedido.
El medio más seguro para conocer la voluntad de Dios, es rezar a nuestra buena Madre.
Cuando nuestras manos han tocado aromas, perfuman todo lo que tocan. Hagamos pasar nuestras oraciones a través de las manos de la Santa Virgen, las perfumará.
Pienso que, al final del mundo, la Santa Virgen estará muy tranquila, pero hasta que el mundo dure, se la tira de todos lados…
Te amo, Oh mi Dios
ST. JOHN MARY VIANNEY
Te amo, Oh mi Dios.
Mi único deseo es amarte
Hasta el último suspiro de mi vida.
Te amo, Oh infinitamente amoroso Dios,
Y prefiero morir amándote que vivir un instante sin Ti.
Te amo, oh mi Dios, y mi único temor es ir al infierno
Porque ahí nunca tendría la dulce consolación de tu amor,
Oh mi Dios,
si mi lengua no puede decir
cada instante que te amo,
por lo menos quiero
que mi corazón lo repita cada vez que respiro.
Ah, dame la gracia de sufrir mientras que te amo,
Y de amarte mientras que sufro,
y el día que me muera
No solo amarte pero sentir que te amo.
Te suplico que mientras más cerca estés de mi hora
Final aumentes y perfecciones mi amor por Ti.
Cura de Ars, nacido en Dardilly, cerca de Lyon, Francia, el 8 de Mayo de 1786; muerto en Ars el 4 de Agosto de 1859.; hijo de Matthieu Vianney y Marie Beluze.
En 1806, el cura de Ecully, M. Balley, abrió una escuela para aspirantes a eclesiásticos, y Juan María fue enviado a ella. Aunque era de inteligencia mediana y sus maestros nunca parecen haber dudado de su vocación, sus conocimientos eran extremadamente limitados, limitándose a un poco de aritmética, historia, y geografía, y encontró el aprendizaje, especialmente el estudio del latín, excesivamente difícil. Uno de sus compañeros, Matthias Loras, después primer obispo de Dubuque, le ayudaba en sus lecciones de latín.
Pero ahora se presentó otro obstáculo. El joven Vianney fue llamado a filas, al haber obligado la guerra de España y la urgente necesidad de reclutas a Napoleón a retirar la exención que disfrutaban los estudiantes eclesiásticos en la diócesis de su tío, el Cardenal Fesch. Matthieu Vianney intentó sin éxito procurarse un sustituto, de modo que su hijo se vio obligado a incorporarse. Su regimiento pronto recibió la orden de marchar. La mañana de la partida, Juan Bautista fue a la iglesia a rezar, y a su vuelta a los cuarteles encontró que sus camaradas se habían ido ya. Se le amenazó con un arresto, pero el capitán del reclutamiento creyó lo que contaba y lo mandó tras las tropas. A la caída de la noche se encontró con un joven que se ofreció a guiarle hasta sus compañeros, pero le condujo a Noes, donde algunos desertores se habían reunido. El alcalde le persuadió de que se quedara allí, bajo nombre supuesto, como maestro. Después de catorce meses, pudo comunicarse con su familia. Su padre se enfadó al saber que era un desertor y le ordenó que se entregara pero la cuestión fue solucionada por su hermano menor que se ofreció a servir en su lugar y fue aceptado.
Juan Bautista reanudó entonces sus estudios en Ecully. En 1812 fue enviado al seminario de Verrieres; estaba tan mal en latín que se vio forzado a seguir el curso de filosofía en francés. Suspendió el examen de ingreso al seminario propiamente dicho, pero en un nuevo examen tres meses más tarde aprobó. El 13 de Agosto de 1815 fue ordenado sacerdote por Monseñor Simon, obispo de Grenoble. Sus dificultades en los estudios preparatorios parecen haberse debido a una falta de flexibilidad mental al tratar con la teoría como algo distinto de la práctica - una falta justificada por la insuficiencia de su primera escolarización, la avanzada edad a la que comenzó a estudiar, el hecho de no tener más que una inteligencia mediana, y que estuviera muy adelantado en ciencia espiritual y en la práctica de la virtud mucho antes de que llegara a estudiarla en abstracto. Fue enviado a Ecully como ayudante de M. Balley, quien fue el primero en reconocer y animar su vocación, que le instó a perseverar cuando los obstáculos en su camino le parecían insuperables, que intercedió ante los examinadores cuando suspendió el ingreso en el seminario mayor, y que era su modelo tanto como su preceptor y protector. En 1818, tras la muerte de M. Balley, Vianney fue hecho párroco de Ars, una aldea no muy lejos de Lyon. Fue en el ejercicio de las funciones de párroco en esta remota aldea francesa en las que el "cura de Ars" se hizo conocido en toda Francia y el mundo cristiano. Algunos años después de llegar a Ars, fundó una especie de orfanato para jóvenes desamparadas. Se le llamó "La Providencia" y fue el modelo de instituciones similares establecidas más tarde por toda Francia. El propio Vianney instruía a las niñas de "La Providencia" en el catecismo, y estas enseñanzas catequéticas llegaron a ser tan populares que al final se daban todos los días en la iglesia a grandes multitudes. "La Providencia" fue la obra favorita del "cura de Ars", pero, aunque tuvo éxito, fue cerrada en 1847, porque el santo cura pensaba que no estaba justificado mantenerla frente a la oposición de mucha buena gente. Su cierre fue una pesada prueba para él.
Pero la principal labor del Cura de Ars fue la dirección de almas. No llevaba mucho tiempo en Ars cuando la gente empezó a acudir a él de otras parroquias, luego de lugares distantes, más tarde de todas partes de Francia, y finalmente de otros países. Ya en 1835, su obispo le prohibió asistir a los retiros anuales del clero diocesano porque "las almas le esperaban allí". Durante los últimos diez años de su vida, pasó de dieciséis a dieciocho horas diarias en el confesionario. Su consejo era buscado por obispos, sacerdotes, religiosos, jóvenes y mujeres con dudas sobre su vocación, pecadores, personas con toda clase de dificultades y enfermos. En 1855, el número de peregrinos había alcanzado los veinte mil al año. Las personas más distinguidas visitaban Ars con la finalidad de ver al santo cura y oír su enseñanza cotidiana. El Venerable Padre Colin se ordenó diácono al mismo tiempo, y fue su amigo de toda la vida, mientras que la Madre Marie de la Providence fundaba las hermanas auxiliadoras de las ánimas del purgatorio por su consejo y con su constante aliento. Su dirección se caracterizaba por el sentido común, su notable perspicacia, y conocimiento sobrenatural. A veces adivinaba pecados no revelados en una confesión imperfecta. Sus instrucciones se daban en lenguaje sencillo, lleno de imágenes sacadas de la vida diaria y de escenas campestres, pero que respiraban fe y ese amor de Dios que era su principio vital y que infundía en su audiencia tanto por su modo de comportarse y apariencia como por sus palabras, pues al final, su voz era casi inaudible.
Los milagros registrados por sus biógrafos son de tres clases:
. en primer lugar, la obtención de dinero para sus limosnas y alimento para sus huérfanos;
. en segundo lugar, conocimiento sobrenatural del pasado y del futuro;
. en tercer lugar, curación de enfermos, especialmente niños.
El mayor milagro de todos fue su vida. Practicó la mortificación desde su primera juventud, y durante cuarenta años su alimentación y su descanso fueron insuficientes, humanamente hablando, para mantener su vida. Y aun así, trabajaba incesantemente, con inagotable humildad, amabilidad, paciencia, y buen humor, hasta que tuvo más de setenta y tres años.
El 3 de Octubre de 1874 Juan Bautista María Vianney fue proclamado Venerable por Pío IX y el 8 de Enero de 1905, fue inscrito entre los Beatos. El Papa Pío X lo propuso como modelo para el clero parroquial.
[Nota: En 1925, el Papa Pío XI lo canonizó. Su fiesta se celebra el 4 de Agosto]
SUSAN T. OTTEN
Transcrito por Gerard Haffner
Traducido por Francisco Vázquez
Pope John Paul II’s reflection on the life of the Holy Curé
Letter of the Holy Father To All the Priests of the Church for Holy Thursday 1986
Dear Brother Priests,
Holy Thursday, the Feast of Priests
1. Here we are again, about to celebrate Holy Thursday, the day on which Christ Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time our ministerial Priesthood. "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."(1) As the Good Shepherd, he was about to give up his life for his sheep,(2) to save man, to reconcile himself with his Father and bring him into a new life. And already at the Last Supper he offered the Apostles as food his own Body given up for them, and his Blood shed for them. Each year this day is an important one for all Christians: like the first disciples, they come to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the evening liturgy that renews the Last Supper. They receive from the Saviour his testament of fraternal love which must inspire their whole lives, and they begin to watch with him, in order to be united with him in his Passion. You yourselves gather them together and guide their prayer. But this day is especially important for us, dear brother priests. It is the feast of priests. It is the birthday of our Priesthood, which is a sharing in the one Priesthood of Christ the Mediator. On this day the priests of the whole world are invited to concelebrate the Eucharist with their bishops and with them to renew the promises of their priestly commitment to the service of Christ and his Church. As you know, I feel particularly close to each one of you on this occasion. And, the same as every year, as a sign of our sacramental union in the same Priesthood, and impelled by my affectionate esteem for you and by my duty to confirm all my brothers in their service of the Lord, I wish to send you this letter to help you stir up the wonderful gift that was conferred on you through the laying on of hands.(3) This ministerial Priesthood which is our lot is also our vocation and our grace. It marks our whole life with the seal of the most necessary and most demanding of services, the salvation of souls. We are led to it by a host of predecessors.
The matchless example of the Cure of Ars
2. One of those predecessors remains particularly present in the memory of the Church, and he will be especially commemorated this year, on the second centenary of his birth: Saint John Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars. Together we wish to thank Christ, the Prince of Pastors, for this extraordinary model of priestly life and service which the saintly Cure of Ars offers to the whole Church, and above all to us priests. How many of us prepared ourselves for the Priesthood, or today exercise the difficult task of caring for souls, having before our eyes the figure of Saint John Mary Vianney! His example cannot be forgotten. More than ever we need his witness, his intercession, in order to face the situations of our times when, in spite of a certain number of hopeful signs, evangelization is being contradicted by a growing secularization, when spiritual discipline is being neglected, when many are losing sight of the Kingdom of God, when often, even in the pastoral ministry, there is a too exclusive concern for the social aspect, for temporal aims. In the last century the Cure of Ars had to face difficulties which were perhaps of a different kind but which were no less serious. By his life and work he represented, for the society of his time, a great evangelical challenge that bore astonishing fruits of conversion. Let us not doubt that he still presents to us today that great evangelical challenge. I therefore invite you now to meditate on our Priesthood in the presence of this matchless pastor who illustrates both the fullest realization of the priestly ministry and the holiness of the minister. As you know, John Mary Baptist Vianney dies at Ars on 4 August 1859, after some forty years of exhausting dedication. He was seventy-three years of age. When he arrived, Ars was a small and obscure village in the Diocese of Lyons, now in the Diocese of Belley. At the end of his life, people came from all over France, and his reputation for holiness, after he had been called home to God, soon attracted the attention of the universal Church. Saint Pius X beatified him in 1905, Pius XI canonized him in 1925, and then in 1929 declared him Patron Saint of the parish priests of the whole world. On the centenary of his death, Pope John XXIII wrote the Encyclical "Nostri Sacerdotii Primitias," to present the Cure of Ars as a model of priestly life and asceticism, a model of pastoral zeal, and this in the context of the needs of our time. Here, I would simply like to draw your attention to certain essential points so as to help us to rediscover and live our Priesthood better.
THE TRULY EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF THE CURE OF ARS
His tenacious will in preparing for the Priesthood
3. The Cure of Ars is truly a model of strong will for those preparing for the Priesthood. Many of the trials which followed one after another could have discouraged him: the effects of the upheaval of the French Revolution, the lack of opportunities for education in his rural environment, the reluctance of his father, the need for him to do his share of work in the fields, the hazards of military service. Above all, and in spite of his intuitive intelligence and lively sensitivity, there was his great difficulty in learning and memorizing, and so in following the theological courses in Latin, all of which resulted in his dismissal from the seminary in Lyons. However, after the genuineness of his vocation had finally been acknowledged, at 29 years of age he was able to be ordained. Through his tenacity in working and praying, he overcame all obstacles and limitations, just as he did later in his priestly life, by his perseverance in laboriously preparing his sermons or spending the evenings reading the works of theologians and spiritual writers. From his youth he was filled with a great desire to "win souls for the good of God" by being a priest, and he was supported by the confidence placed in him by the parish priest of the neighboring town of Ecully, who never doubted his vocation and took charge of a good part of his training. What an example of courage for those who today experience the grace of being called to the Priesthood!
The depth of his love for Christ and for souls.
4. The Cure of Ars is a model of priestly zeal for all pastors. The secret of his generosity is to be found without doubt in his love for God, lived without limits, in constant response to the love made manifest in Christ crucified. This is where he bases his desire to do everything to save the souls ransomed by Christ at such a great price, and to bring them back to the love of God. Let us recall one of those pithy sayings which he had the knack of uttering: "The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus."(4) In his sermons and catechesis he continually returned to that love: "O my God, I prefer to die loving you than to live a single instant without loving you... I love you, my divine Saviour, because you were crucified for us... because you have me crucified for you."(5) For the sake of Christ, he seeks to conform himself exactly to the radical demands that Jesus in the Gospels puts before the disciples whom he sends out: prayer, poverty, humility, self-denial, voluntary penance. And, like Christ, he has a love for his flock that leads him to extreme pastoral commitment and self-sacrifice. Rarely has a pastor been so acutely aware of his responsibilities, so consumed by a desire to wrest his people from the sins of their luke-warmness. "O my God, grant me the conversion of my parish: I consent to suffer whatever you wish, for as long as I live." Dear brother priests, nourished by the Second Vatican Council which has felicitously placed the priest's consecration within the framework of his pastoral mission, let us join Saint John Mary Vianney and seek the dynamism of our pastoral zeal in the Heart of Jesus, in his love for souls. If we do not draw from the same source, our ministry risks bearing little fruit!
The many wonderful fruits of his ministry
5. In the case of the Cure of Ars, the results were indeed wonderful, somewhat as with Jesus in the Gospel. Through John Mary Vianney, who consecrates his whole strength and his whole heart to him, Jesus saves souls. The Saviour entrusts them to him, in abundance. First, his parish—which numbered only 230 people when he arrived—which will be profoundly changed. One recalls that in that village there was a great deal of indifference and very little religious practice among the men. The bishop had warned John Mary Vianney: "There is not much love of God in that parish, you will put some there." But quite soon, far beyond his own village, the Cure becomes the pastor of a multitude coming from the entire region, from different parts of France and from other countries. It is said that 80,000 came in the year 1858! People sometimes waited for days to see him, to go to confession to him. What attracted them to him was not merely curiosity nor even a reputation justified by miracles and extraordinary cures, which the saint would wish to hide. It was much more the realization of meeting a saint, amazing for his penance, so close to God in prayer, remarkable for his peace and humility in the midst of popular acclaim, and above all so intuitive in responding to the inner disposition of souls and in freeing them from their burdens, especially in the confessional. Yes, God chose as a model for pastors one who could have appeared poor, weak, defenseless and contemptible in the eyes of men.(6) He graced them with his best gifts as a guide and healer of souls. While recognizing the special nature of the grace given to the Cure of Ars, is there not here a sign of hope for pastors today who are suffering from a kind of spiritual desert?
THE MAIN ACTS OF THE MINISTRY OF THE CURE OF ARS
Different apostolic approaches to what is essential
6. John Mary Vianney dedicated himself essentially to teaching the faith and to purifying consciences, and these two ministries were directed towards the Eucharist. Should we not see here, today also, the three objectives of the priest's pastoral service? While the purpose is undoubtedly to bring the people of God together around the Eucharistic mystery by means of catechesis and penance, other apostolic approaches, varying according to circumstances, are also necessary. Sometimes it is a simple presence, over the years, with the silent witness of faith in the midst of non-Christian surroundings; or being near to people, to families and their concerns; there is a preliminary evangelization that seeks to awaken to the faith unbelievers and the lukewarm; there is the witness of charity and justice shared with Christian lay people, which makes the faith more credible and puts it into practice. These give rise to a whole series of undertakings and apostolic works which prepare or continue Christian formation. The Cure of Ars himself taxed his ingenuity to devise initiatives adapted to his time and his parishioners. However, all these priestly activities were centered on the Eucharist, catechesis and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
7. It is undoubtedly his untiring devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation which revealed the principle charism of the Cure of Ars and is rightly the reason for his renown. It is good that such an example should encourage us today to restore to the ministry of reconciliation all the attention which it deserves and which the Synod of Bishops of 1983 so justly emphasized.(7) Without the step of conversion, penance and seeking pardon that the Church's ministers ought untiringly to encourage and welcome, the much desired renewal will remain superficial and illusory. The first care of the Cure of Ars was to teach the faithful to desire repentance. He stressed the beauty of God's forgiveness. Was not all his priestly life and all his strength dedicated to the conversion of sinners? And it was above all in the confessional that God's mercy manifested itself. So he did not wish to get rid of the penitents who came from all parts and to whom he often devoted ten hours a day, sometimes fifteen or more. For him this was undoubtedly the greatest of his mortifications, a form of martyrdom. In the first place it was a martyrdom in the physical sense from the heat, the cold or the suffocating atmosphere. Secondly in the moral sense, for he himself suffered from the sins confessed and even more the lack of repentance: "I weep because you do not weep." In the face of these indifferent people, whom he welcomed as best he could and tried to awaken in them the love of God, the Lord enabled him to reconcile great sinners who were repentant and also to guide to perfection souls thirsting for it. It was here above all that God asked him to share in the Redemption. For our own part, we have rediscovered, better than during the last century, the community aspect of penance, preparation for forgiveness and thanksgiving after forgiveness. But sacramental forgiveness will always require a personal encounter with the crucified Christ through the mediation of his minister.(8) Unfortunately it is often the case that penitents do not fervently hasten to the confessional, as in the time of the Cure of Ars. Now, just when a great number seem to stay away from confession completely, for various reasons, it is a sign of the urgent need to develop a whole pastoral strategy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This will be done by constantly reminding Christians of the need to have a real relationship with God, to have a sense of sin when one is closed to God and to others, the need to be converted and through the Church to receive forgiveness as a free gift of God. They also need to be reminded of the conditions that enable the sacrament to be celebrated well, and in this regard to overcome prejudices, baseless fears and routine.(9) Such a situation at the same time requires that we ourselves should remain very available for this ministry of forgiveness, ready to devote to it the necessary time and care, and I would even say giving it priority over other activities. The faithful will then realize the value that we attach to it, as did the Cure of Ars. Of course, as I wrote in the Post-Synodal Exhortation on Penance,(10) the ministry of reconciliation undoubtedly remains the most difficult, the most delicate, the most taxing and the most demanding of all—especially when priests are in short supply. This ministry also presupposes on the part of the confessor great human qualities, above all an intense and sincere spiritual life; it is necessary that the priest himself should make regular use of this sacrament. Always be convinced of this, dear brother priests: this ministry of mercy is one of the most beautiful and most consoling. It enables you to enlighten consciences, to forgive them and to give them fresh vigor in the name of the Lord Jesus. It enables you to be for them a spiritual physician and counsellor; it remains "the irreplaceable manifestation and the test of the priestly ministry."(11)
The Eucharist: offering the Mass, communion, adoration
8. The two Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist remain closely linked. Without a continually renewed conversion and reception of the sacramental grace of forgiveness, participation in the Eucharist would not reach its full redemptive efficacy.(12) Just as Christ began his ministry with the words "Repent and believe in the gospel,"(13) so the Cure of Ars generally begins each of his days with the ministry of forgiveness. But he was happy to direct his reconciled penitents to theEucharist. The Eucharist was at the very center of his spiritual life and pastoral work. He said: "All good works put together are not equivalent to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the Holy Mass is the work of God."(14) It is in the Mass that the sacrifice of Calvary is made present for the Redemption of the world. Clearly, the priest must unite the daily gift of himself to the offering of the Mass: "How well a priest does, therefore, to offer himself to God in sacrifice every morning!"(15) "Holy Communion and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are the two most efficacious actions for obtaining the conversion of hearts."(16) Thus the Mass was for John Mary Vianney the great joy and comfort of his priestly life. He took great care, despite the crowds of penitents, to spend more than a quarter of an hour in silent preparation. He celebrated with recollection, clearly expressing his adoration at the consecration and communion. He accurately remarked: "The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!"(17) The Cure of Ars was particularly mindful of the permanence of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. It was generally before the tabernacle that he spent long hours in adoration, before daybreak or in the evening; it was towards the tabernacle that he often turned during his homilies, saying with emotion: "He is there!" It was also for this reason that he, so poor in his presbytery, did not hesitate to spend large sums on embellishing his Church. The appreciable result was that his parishioners quickly took up the habit of coming to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, discovering, through the attitude of their pastor, the grandeur of the mystery of faith. With such a testimony before our eyes, we think about what the Second Vatican Council says to us today on the subject of priests: "They exercise this sacred function of Christ most of all in the Eucharistic liturgy."(18) And more recently, the Extraordinary Synod in December 1985 recalled: "The liturgy must favor and make shine brightly the sense of the sacred. It must be imbued with reverence, adoration and glorification of God... The Eucharist is the source and summit of all the Christian life."(19) Dear brother priests, the example of the Cure of Ars invites us to a serious examination of conscience: what place do we give the Mass in our daily lives? Is it, as on the day of our Ordination—it was our first act as priests!—the principle of our apostolic work and personal sanctification? What care do we take in preparing for it? And in celebrating it? In praying before the Blessed Sacrament? In encouraging our faithful people to do the same? In making our Churches the House of God to which the divine presence attracts the people of our time who too often have the impression of a world empty of God?
Preaching and catechesis
9. The Cure of Ars was also careful never to neglect in any way the ministry of the Word, which is absolutely necessary in predisposing people to faith and conversion. He even said: "Our Lord, who is truth itself, considers his Word no less important than his Body."(20) We know how long he spent, especially at the beginning, in laboriously composing his Sunday sermons. Later on he came to express himself more spontaneously, always with lively and clear conviction, with images and comparisons taken from daily life and easily grasped by his flock. His catechetical instructions to the children also formed an important part of his ministry, and the adults gladly joined the children so as to profit from this matchless testimony which flowed from his heart. He had the courage to denounce evil in all its forms; he did not keep silent, for it was a question of the eternal salvation of his faithful people: "If a pastor remains silent when he sees God insulted and souls going astray, woe to him! If he does not want to be damned, and if there is some disorder in his parish, he must trample upon human respect and the fear of being despised or hated." This responsibility was his anguish as a parish priest. But as a rule, "he preferred to show the attractive side of virtue rather than the ugliness of vice," and if he spoke—sometimes in tears—about sin and the danger for salvation, he insisted on the tenderness of God who has been offended, and the happiness of being loved by God, united to God, living in his presence and for him. Dear brother priests, you are deeply convinced of the importance of proclaiming the Gospel, which the Second Vatican Council placed in the first rank of the functions of a priest.(21) You seek, through catechesis, through preaching and in other forms which also include the media, to touch the hearts of our contemporaries, with their hopes and uncertainties, in order to awaken and foster their faith. Like the Cure of Ars and in accordance with the exhortation of the Council,(22) take care to teach the Word of God itself which calls people to conversion and holiness.
THE IDENTITY OF THE PRIEST
The specific ministry of the priest
10. Saint John Mary Vianney gives an eloquent answer to certain questionings of the priest's identity, which have manifested themselves in the course of the last twenty years; in fact it seems that today a more balanced position is being reached. The priest always, and in an unchangeable way, finds the source of his identity in Christ the Priest. It is not the world which determines his status, as though it depended on changing needs or ideas about social roles. The priest is marked with the seal of the Priesthood of Christ, in order to share in his function as the one Mediator and Redeemer. So, because of this fundamental bond, there opens before the priest the immense field of the service of souls, for their salvation in Christ and in the Church. This service must be completely inspired by love of souls in imitation of Christ who gives his life for them. It is God's wish that all people should be saved, and that none of the little ones should be lost.(23) "The priest must always be ready to respond to the needs of souls," said the Cure of Ars.(24) "He is not for himself, he is for you."(25) The priest is for the laity: he animates them and supports them in the exercise of the common priesthood of the baptized—so well illustrated by the Second Vatican Council—which consists in their making their lives a spiritual offering, in witnessing to the Christian spirit in the family, in taking charge of the temporal sphere and sharing in the evangelization of their brethren. But the service of the priest belongs to another order. He is ordained to act in the name of Christ the Head, to bring people into the new life made accessible by Christ, to dispense to them the mysteries—the Word, forgiveness, the Bread of Life—to gather them into his body, to help them to form themselves from within, to live and to act according to the saving plan of God. In a word, our identity as priests is manifested in the "creative" exercise of the love for souls communicated by Christ Jesus. Attempts to make the priest more like the laity are damaging to the Church. This does not mean in any way that the priest can remain remote from the human concerns of the laity: he must be very near to them, as John Mary Vianney was, but as a priest, always in a perspective which is that of their salvation and of the progress of the Kingdom of God. He is the witness and the dispenser of a life other than earthly life.(26) It is essential to the Church that the identity of the priest be safeguarded, with its vertical dimension. The life and personality of the Cure of Ars are a particularly enlightening and vigorous illustration of this.
His intimate configuration to Christ and his solidarity with sinners
11. Saint John Marie Vianney did not content himself with the ritual carrying out of the activities of his ministry. It was his heart and his life which he sought to conform to Christ. Prayer was the soul of his life: silent and contemplative prayer, generally in his church at the foot of the tabernacle. Through Christ, his soul opened to the three divine Persons, to whom he would entrust "his poor soul" in his last will and testament. "He kept a constant union with God in the middle of an extremely busy life." And he did not neglect the office or the rosary. He turned spontaneously to the Virgin. His poverty was extraordinary. He literally stripped himself of everything for the poor. And he shunned honors. Chastity shone in his face. He knew the value of purity in order "to rediscover the source of love which is God." Obedience to Christ consisted, for John Mary Vianney, in obedience to the Church and especially to the Bishop. This obedience took the form of accepting the heavy charge of being a parish priest, which often frightened him. But the Gospel insists especially on renouncing self, on accepting the Cross. Many were the crosses which presented themselves to the Cure of Ars in the course of his ministry: calumny on the part of the people, being misunderstood by an assistant priest or other confreres, contradictions, and also a mysterious struggle against the powers of hell, and sometimes even the temptation to despair in the midst of spiritual darkness. Nonetheless he did not content himself with just accepting these trials without complaining; he went beyond them by mortification, imposing on himself continual fasts and many other rugged practices in order to "reduce his body to servitude," as Saint Paul says. But what we must see clearly in this penance, which our age unhappily has little taste for, are his motives: love of God and the conversion of sinners. Thus he asks a discouraged fellow priest: "You have prayed..., you have wept..., but have you fasted, have you kept vigil...?"(27) Here we are close to the warning Jesus gave to the Apostles: "But this kind is cast out only by prayer and fasting."(28) In a word, John Mary Vianney sanctified himself so as to be more able to sanctify others. Of course, conversion remains the secret of hearts, which are free in their actions, and the secret of God's grace. By his ministry, the priest can only enlighten people, guide them in the internal forum and give them the sacraments. The sacraments are of course actions of Christ, and their effectiveness is not diminished by the imperfection or unworthiness of the minister. But the results depend also on the dispositions of those who receive them, and these are greatly assisted by the personal holiness of the priest, by his perceptible witness, as also by the mysterious exchange of merits in the Communion of Saints. Saint Paul said: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church."(29) John Mary Vianney in a sense wished to force God to grant these graces of conversion, not only by his prayer but by the sacrifice of his whole life. He wished to love God for those who did not love him, and even to do the penance which they would not do. He was truly a pastor completely at one with his sinful people. Dear brother priests, let us not be afraid of this very personal commitment—marked by asceticism and inspired by love—which God asks of us for the proper exercise of our Priesthood. Let us remember the recent reflections of the Synodal Fathers: "It seems to us that in the difficulties of today God wishes to teach us more deeply the value, importance and central place of the Cross of Jesus Christ."(30) In the priest, Christ relives his Passion, for the sake of souls. Let us give thanks to God who thus permits us to share in the Redemption, in our hearts and in our flesh! For all these reasons, Saint John Mary Vianney never ceases to be a witness, ever living, ever relevant, to the truth about the priestly vocation and service. We recall the convincing way in which he spoke of the greatness of the priest and of the absolute need for him. Those who are already priests, those who are preparing for the Priesthood and those who will be called to it must fix their eyes on his example and follow it. The faithful too will more clearly grasp, thanks to him, the mystery of the Priesthood of their priests. No, the figure of the Cure of Ars does not fade.
Conclusion: for Holy Thursday
12. Dear Brothers, may these reflections renew your joy at being priests, your desire to be priests more profoundly! The witness of the Cure of Ars contains still other treasures to be discovered. We shall return to these themes at greater length during the pilgrimage which I shall have the joy of making next October, since the French Bishops have invited me to Ars in honor of the second centenary of the birth of John Mary Vianney. I address this first meditation to you, dear brothers, for the Solemnity of Holy Thursday. In each of our diocesan communities we are going to gather together, on this birthday of our Priesthood, to renew the grace of the Sacrament of Orders, to stir up the love which is the mark of our vocation. We hear Christ saying to us as he said to the Apostles: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends... No longer do I call you servants..., I have called you friends."(31) Before him who manifests love in its fullness, we, priests and Bishops, renew our priestly commitments. We pray for one another, each for his brother, and all for all. We ask the eternal Father that the memory of the Cure of Ars may help to stir up our zeal in his service. We beseech the Holy Spirit to call to the Church's service many priests of the calibre and holiness of the Cure of Ars: in our age she has so great a need of them, and she is no less capable of bringing such vocations to full flower. And we entrust our Priesthood to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of priests, to whom John Mary Vianney ceaselessly had recourse with tender affection and total confidence. This was for him another reason for giving thanks: "Jesus Christ," he said, "having given us all that he could give us, also wishes to make us heirs of what is most precious to him, his holy Mother."(32) For my part, I assure you once more of my great affection, and, with your Bishop, I send you to my Apostolic Blessing
From the Vatican, 16 March 1986, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, in the eighth year of my Pontificate.
1. Jn 13:1.
2. Cf. Jn 10:11.
3. Cf. 2 Tm 1:6.
4. Cf. "Jean-Marie Vianney, cure d'Ars, sa pensee, son coeur presentes par l'Abbe Bernard Nodet, editions Xavier Mappus, LePuy, 1958, p. 100; henceforth quoted as: Nodet.
5. Nodet, p. 44.
6. Cf. 1 Cor 1:28-29.
7. Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
"Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" (2 December 1984): AAS 77 (1985), pp. 185-275.
8. Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Redemptor Hominis" (4 March 1979), No. 20: AAS 71 (1979), pp. 313-316.
9. Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" (2 December 1984): AAS 77 (1985), pp. 250-252.
10. Cf. Ibid., No. 29: AAS 77 (1985), pp. 252-256.
11. John Paul II, Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1983, No. 3: AAS 75 (1983), pars I, p. 419.
12. Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Redemptor Hominis" (4 March 1979), No. 20: AAS 71 (1979), pp. 309-313.
13. Mk 1:15.
14. Nodet, p. 108.
15. Nodet, p. 107.
16. Nodet, p. 110.
17. Nodet, p. 108.
18. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium," No. 28.
19. II, B, b/1 and C/1; cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium," No. 11.
20. Nodet, p. 126.
21. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests "Presbyterorum Ordinis," No. 3.
22. Cf. Ibid.
23. Cf. Mt 18:14.
24. Nodet, p. 101.
25. Nodet, p. 102.
26. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests "Presbyterorum Ordinis," No. 3.
27. Nodet, p. 193.
28. Mt 17:21.
29. Col 1:24.
30. Final Report, D/2.
31. Jn 15:13-15.
32. Nodet, p. 252.
Vatican Translation, reprinted by Editions Paulines, 1986
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