With today’s memorial of St John Vianney, patron saint of priests, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the wondrous gift of the priesthood — and how much we as laity should support, encourage, and love our priests.
Known for his great sanctity and heroic dedication to the Sacrament of Confession as the Curé of Ars, St John Vianney turned the little French village into a great place of pilgrimage.
So it was at Ars that St John Paul II gave a retreat for priests, deacons, and seminarians in October 1986. His three meditations resonate with profound depth, offering a gift to all priests, especially those who may be in need of a tonic or morale boost in trying circumstances.
The English text can be found in Fr George Rutler’s The Curé d’Ars Today, Appendix 2, pp. 249-73 (the source for all of the quotations below). The full text is also available in French and Italian on the Vatican website.
Here are some excerpts:
People can speak of priesthood as of a profession or function, including the function of presiding over the Eucharistic assembly. But we are not reduced by this to functionaries. This is so first of all because we are marked in our very souls through ordination with a special character that configures us to Christ the Priest…we are ‘set apart,’ totally consecrated to the work of salvation…
You know the saying of the Curé d’Ars: ‘Oh, the priest is something great! If he knew it, he would die!’
…[T]he baptized need the ministerial priesthood. By means of it, in a privileged and tangible manner, the gift of the Divine Life received from Christ, the Head of all the Body, is communicated to them. The more Christian the people become…the more they feel the need of priests who are truly priests.
It was for their salvation that the Curé d’Ars wanted to be a priest: ‘To win souls for the Good God!’…And when he was tempted to run away from his heavy charge as parish priest, he came back, for the salvation of parishioners.
‘Grant me the conversion of my parish, and I am ready to suffer whatever you wish for the rest of my life.’
‘The priesthood,’ as Jean Marie Vianney also said, ‘is the love of the Heart of Christ.’
Let us note what his vicar-general said to the Curé d’Ars: ‘There is not much love of God in this parish: you will put it there.’
The Curé d’Ars said: ‘Do not be afraid of your burden. Our Lord carries it with you.’
After recounting the difficulties that priests experience in a number of aspects of ministry, as well as personally, JP II notes:
sometimes there is the sentiment of a great spiritual poverty or even humiliating weakness. We offer to God this fragility of our ‘earthen vessels.’ It is good for us to know that the Curé d’Ars too knew many trials…
How could we bring a remedy to the spiritual crisis of our time, unless we ourselves grasp the means of a profound and constant union with the Lord, Whose servants we are?
The priestly ministry, then, living in a state of union with God, is the daily place of our sanctification.
JPII concludes with thanksgiving, and an “urgent appeal” to priests:
…I give thanks to Jesus Christ for this unheard-of gift of the priesthood, that of the Curé d’Ars and that of all the priests of yesterday and today. They prolong the sacred ministry of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
To this word of thanks, I join an urgent appeal to all priests: whatever may be your interior or exterior difficulties, which the merciful Lord knows, remain faithful to your sublime vocation…In critical times, remember that no temptation to abandonment is fatal before the Lord Who has called you…
Let us always pray for our priests, and remember to include them as we offer up our daily crosses to the Lord. In addition to supporting our own parishes materially, we can also support priests in need through Opus Bono Sacerdotii.