“The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you. After God, the priest is everything.” St. John Vianney
Saint John Mary Vianney, known to many as the Curé d’Ars, lived out his words every day of his priesthood.
He was a priest for the people, leading them ever closer to the Heart of God. Born in France, in 1786, and ordained a priest in 1815, he was appointed pastor of the Village of Ars, a small French town where the faith was vanishing. Here St. John Vianney worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to serve the people.
He lived a life of great penance and trials. He spent countless hours in the confessional daily and softened the hearts of a multitude of sinners through his preaching and love. In fact, his gift in the confessional was so well known, that thousands would journey to Ars for the opportunity to confess. It was said by many that kneeling in the confessional of John Vianney was a mystical encounter. Many penitents expressed a personal connection to the saint as he was miraculously able to reach into the depths of a person’s soul with divine grace and gain insight into the penitent’s personal struggles with sin.
Though the sacrament many would reconcile with God and experience true conversion.
St. John Vianney became a vessel of the love and mercy of the Father by truly becoming Jesus in the confessional, in persona Christi. It is easy to see how John Vianney lived his life not for himself, but for the people entrusted to him, and it is no wonder that when canonized he was named the patron saint of parish priests.
St. John Vianney once said,
“The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
There is no doubt that Vianney revealed the heart of Jesus to others through sacraments and service. Yet something had to sustain him as he lived out this extraordinary priesthood. I believe it was his steadfast love and devotion to the heart of Jesus.
He profoundly loved the Lord, and this intimacy with Jesus is what allowed him to impart so faithfully the mercy and love of God the Father. More importantly, he also likely had a deep understanding of the love of God for him. We know we cannot give what we have not yet received. The more he embraced the mind and heart of Christ, the more he became the hands, feet, and heart of Christ to others. What a model and challenge for all of us, especially for our priests!
Today, on the feast of St. John Vianney, let us all pray for our priests that they may have the fortitude, humility, and perseverance to fall deeply in love with the heart of Christ.
Let us pray that their lives be transformed by Him so that they can reveal to us all that the Father has promised, as John Vianney did for his parishioners. Let us pray that our priests be sustained and protected as they strive to bring us the Sacraments. Let us pray that our priests rise up in their spiritual fatherhood even amidst the current obstacles.
Brothers and sisters, we are not an easy flock to shepherd. Let us pray for ourselves that we can have the docility to be formed by holy men of God who seek to reveal Christ to us. May we all, as one Body of Christ, open our minds and hearts to the overwhelming and transforming love of God, who so often comes to us through the steadfast love and fatherly care of our beloved priests. In the words of St. John Vianney,
“A good priest is the greatest treasure the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the precious gifts of Divine Mercy.”
Thank a priest today. They need our love and encouragement!