Curé d'Ars, John Mary Vianney
Words of the Cure of Ars
Mercy and the sacrament of forgiveness
The Eucharist and communion
The Virgin Mary
With his words, Jean Marie Vianney was able to touch hearts and lead them to God
Mercy and the sacrament of forgiveness
If we really understood what it meant to be a child of God, we would not be capable of doing evil (…)
to be a child of God, oh, the beautiful dignity!
God’s mercy is like an overflowing stream. It sweeps away hearts as it passes.
It is not the sinner who returns to God to ask for forgiveness, it is God
who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him.
Let us therefore give this joy to this good Father: let us return to him… and we will be happy.
The good Lord is always ready to receive us. His patience waits for us!
There are those who turn a cold heart to the Eternal Father. Oh, how mistaken they are!
The Eternal Father, to disarm his justice, gave his Son an excessively good heart:
you cannot give what you do not have…
There are those who say: "I have committed too many sins, the Good Lord cannot forgive me”.
This is a gross blasphemy. It is the same as putting a limit on God’s mercy, which has none: it is infinite.
Our errors are grains of sand beside the great mountain of God’s mercy.
When the priest gives the absolution, we should think of only one thing:
that the blood of the good Lord is poured out on our soul to wash it, purify it and make it
as beautiful as it was after baptism.
The good Lord, in the moment of the absolution, tosses our sins behind his back, that is, he forgets them,
erases them: they will never again reappear.
We will no longer speak about the sins which have been forgiven.
They have been erased, they no longer exist!
The Eucharist and communion
All the good works put together do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass,
because they are the work of men, while the Mass is a work of God.
There is nothing as great as the Eucharist.
Oh my children! What does Our Lord do in the Sacrament of his love?
He took his good heart to love us, and extracts from this heart a perspiration of tenderness and mercy to drown the sins of the world.
There he is: the one who loves us so much! Why not love him!
The nourishment of soul and body is the blood of a God. If one thinks about it, one
could lose oneself for all eternity in this abyss of love!
Come to communion, come to Jesus, come to live of Him, in order to live for Him.
The good Lord, wanting to give himself to us, in the sacrament of his love,
has given us a great and profound longing that only he can satisfy.
Holy Communion produces in the soul something like a rush of air on a fire that begins to extinguish,
but where there are still many embers!
When we began, if someone were to ask us: "What do you bring home with you?",
we could respond: "I bring heaven".
Do not say that you are not worthy of it. It is true: you are not worthy it, but you need it.
Prayer is nothing more than one form of union with God..
Prayer is a sweet friendship, a surprising familiarity... it is a sweet conversation of a child with his Father.
The more one prays, the more one wants to pray.
You have a small heart, but prayer enlarges it and makes it capable of loving God.
It is not the long nor the beautiful prayers that the good Lord looks at,
but those that come from the depths of the heart, with great respect and a true desire to please God.
How much a mere quarter of an hour that we steal from our affairs, from a few useless things,
in order to pray, makes him happy!
Private prayer is similar to hay scattered here and there in a field. If you light fire to it,
the flame gives off little heat, but if you gather that scattered hay, the flame becomes abundant and rises up towards the sky:
the same is true of public prayer.
Man is a pauper who needs to ask everything of God.
Man’s purpose is beautiful, to pray and to love... This is man’s happiness on earth.
Let us go my soul, go and speak with the good Lord, to work with Him, to walk with Him,
to fight and to suffer with him. You will work, but He will bless your work; you will walk,
but He will bless your steps; you will suffer, but He will bless your tears. How great,
how noble, how consoling it is to do everything in the company and under the gaze of the good
Lord, and to think that he sees everything, counts everything!...
The order: it is a sacrament that does not seem to regard any of you and is a sacrament that regards everyone.
The priest is he who continues the work of the Redemption on earth.
When you see a priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The priest is not a priest for himself, he is for you.
Go and confess to the Blessed Virgin or to an angel. Will they absolve you?
Will they give you the body and blood of Our Lord? No, the Blessed Virgin
cannot make her divine Son descend in the host. Even if you had two hundred angels there with you,
they could not absolve you. A priest, no matter how simple he may be, can.
He can say to you: go in peace, I forgive you.
Oh! The priest is truly something great!
A good pastor, a pastor according to God’s heart,
is the greatest treasure that the good Lord could grant a parish,
and one of the most precious gifts of his divine mercy.
The Priesthood is the love of Jesus’ heart.
Leave a parish without a priest for twenty years: they will worship beasts there.
The Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin is that beautiful creature who never disappointed the Good Lord.
The Father enjoys looking at the heart of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary as the masterpiece of his hands.
Jesus Christ, after having given us everything he could give us,
still wants to make us heirs of what he holds most precious, that is, of his Blessed Mother.
The Blessed Virgin generated us two times, in the incarnation and at the foot of the Cross: thus,
she is our mother twice over.
One does not enter a house without speaking to the porter!
Well, the Blessed Virgin is the porter of Heaven!
The Hail Mary is a prayer that never tires.
All that the Son asks of the Father is granted him.
Also all that the Mother asks of the Son is conferred to her.
The surest way of knowing the will of God, is to pray to our good Mother.
When our hands have touched aromas, they perfume everything they touch.
Let us pass our prayers through the hands of the Blessed Virgin and she will perfume them.
I think that at the end of the world, the Blessed Virgin will be very peaceful,
but as long as the world goes on, it pulls her all over the place …
ACT OF LOVE OF THE CURE D'ARS,
ST. JOHN MARY VIANNEY
I love you, O my God and my sole
desire is to love You until the last
breath of my life.
I love you, O infinitely lovable God
and I prefer to die loving You than
live one instant without loving You.
I love You, O my God, and I do not
desire anything but heaven so as to
have the joy of loving You perfectly.
I love You, O my God, and I fear hell, because there will not be the sweet consolation of loving You.
O my God, if my tongue cannot say
in every moment that I love You,
I want my heart to say it in every beat.
Allow me the grace to suffer loving You,
to love You suffering and one day
to die loving You. And as I approach
my end, I beg You to increase and
perfect my love of You.
From the Cincinnati Seminarian Blog
St. John Vianney – aka the “Curé of Ars” – the patron saint of parish priests. The basic outline of his life is somewhat well known; as the introduction to his life in the Breviary states:
Saint John was born in Lyons in 1786. After overcoming many difficulties, he was ordained a priest. He was entrusted with a parish in the town of Ars in the diocese of Belley. He cared for this parish in a marvelous way by his preaching, his mortification, prayer and good works. Since he was renowned for great skill in helping penitents, people came to him from many regions and devoutly accepted his counsel. He died in 1859.
Like most of these paragraph-length life summaries, some basic facts are there (and they’re helpful) but there is SO much more. Personally, though, I didn’t know much about St. John Vianney until I went to the town of Ars itself.
I was a junior in college in 2001 when I went on my semester study abroad to Austria with the Franciscan University of Steubenville. During that semester, we had a ten-day break that offered our best opportunity for extended travel. With some of my best friends, we decided to see most of France. Paris, Lourdes, Chartres, Mont Saint-Michel … and the tiny town of Ars were all on the list. I didn’t know a thing about Ars. I had heard very generally about St. John Vianney, but nothing substantive. My roommate’s older brother had visited Ars when he was a student and loved it, and, well, we were basically going on that reputation as far as I knew.
Ars is located near Lyons and is a tiny town—and it remains so today. Nothing stood out upon our arrival. We were staying at a pilgrim’s house behind the shrine. I remember it being wonderfully sparse - truly accommodations for humble pilgrims.
Ars ended up being a true highlight of that trip and my semester abroad as a whole. There was basically nothing in the town of Ars… except for the palpable legacy of a holy saint from over a century prior. We received a tour of his rectory and home, as well as the beautiful church that is the heart of the town. The Masses celebrated there were all in French – both beautiful and unintelligible to me – and it was one of the occasions in which I really, really appreciated and was struck by the universality of the Mass. I always knew what was happening in the liturgy, even if the readings of the day had to be read later. The church also contains the incorrupt body of this holy saint. Incorrupt saints are just awesome, and this mysterious, amazing aspect of Catholicism deepened my appreciation for our heritage.
After this visit, but before I was seriously thinking about entering the seminary myself, I developed a bit of a devotion to St. John Vianney. I was sure to pray for his intercession in any litanies, after rosaries, etc. – praying for the holiness and intentions of all priests (or so I thought). I do believe that these prayers over the years also helped move my heart as I considered my own life’s vocation.
So much more can be said about this amazing saint. Pope John Paul II’s reflection on the life of the saint, offered to all priests on Holy Thursday of 1986, is a great source.
Saint John Vianney, pray for us!
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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