Of the many responsibilities and duties that clergy have in the modern world, it is easy to become distracted from our priestly identity. We need stark reminders of what the essence of the priesthood is in order to call ourselves out and get back to basics. In the life of St. John Vianney, patron saint for all priests, we have such a reminder to challenge us to get back to basics.
A deeper look into the life of the Holy Cure` of Ars does not reveal any new parish programs or exciting tactics to draw people to Jesus Christ. The life of St. John Vianney shows one who lived the basics of the priestly vocation with conviction and dedication. He was a simple man who came from a simple family, like many of us. Yet, he shines as a model priest because he remained utterly faithful, with the help of God’s grace, to all that priesthood demands.
The Church asks her priests to have the Eucharist at the center of their lives, while ever deepening their love for Mary, our Mother. Not to oversimplify, but the two central themes that permeate the entirety of Vianney’s interior life are a voracious love for the Eucharist, and a deep, committed, tender relationship with the Blessed Virgin. Without a doubt, so much of his strength, energy, and prayer was drawn from these deep wells of grace which overflowed into his priestly care for souls.
Considering the priesthood in light of Theology of the Body illuminates the multifaceted expression of how the one, High Priest, lived the priesthood. Christ reveals himself as Bridegroom to his Bride, the Church, in his priesthood – “This is my body given for you.” Our Lord calls himself the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. Finally, through His healing ministry – both bodily and spiritually – Jesus shows himself as the divine physician. It is this last expression of Christ as Divine Physician that St. John Vianney magnifies through his priesthood.
Most priests hear confessions at some point during the week; whether Saturday afternoon before the vigil Mass, or sometime during the weekdays when it is more convenient for parishioners. There are always the drop-ins or random appointments where a soul who is really struggling needs a bit more time and attention. All of this is included in the ‘YES’ that a priest says on the day of his ordination – and it truly is a privilege and a joy. Yet, I have often tried to wrap my mind around how Vianney spent 16-18 hours a day towards the end of his life hearing confessions. I have only been able to understand this by seeing Jesus live his priesthood as Divine Physician through the Holy Cure` of Ars.
I have seen images of the shroud of Turin and read enough about it to get a sense of how badly our Lord was beaten before He was crucified. His body, His flesh underwent such torture and trauma that as Isaiah writes:
There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. (Isaiah 53:2-5)
Once aware, not only of the horror of sin, but the ravaging effects of what sin does to the person, to the soul, to the body of Christ, how could one – having the remedy at their disposal – not give everything to make that remedy available to the wounded, broken, bleeding parts of Christ’s body. St. John Vianney poured himself out in service to our Lord’s body, the Church, allowing the healing balm of divine mercy to flow through his priesthood, as he generously ministered to all seeking this remedy as their Divine Physician.
My brothers, only a few years ago we celebrated the Year for Priests, where the Church invited us to go deeper in our own priestly identity. Have you responded with a greater devotion to the Eucharist and a deeper love for your Mother, Mary? Is there evidence in your ministry of this growth or lack of growth? How generous are you in your role as Divine Physician, making extra time for healing the wounded, broken, bleeding part of Christ’s body, the Church? Let us ask St. John Vianney, our Patron, to pray for us that we may receive the grace to get back to basics, and to be as faithful as he was to all that Priesthood demands.
Fr. Jon Schnobrich was ordained a priest for the diocese of Burlington, Vermont in 2007. He resides in Burlington where he is the Director of the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont. He has attended three courses with the Institute as a student, and one course as a chaplain.