XVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 August 2019
This weekend Bishop Rozanski has given all the priests in the diocese permission to use the prayers of the Mass for the Feast Day of St. John Vianney – the patron saint of priests. This permission comes while we are still engaged in a “year for vocations” which began back in Advent. Following Bishop’s advice I thought it appropriate not only to use the prayers dedicated to him but to speak a bit about his life as it is relevant even for us today.
St. John was born in 1786 in Dardilly, France. At the time the French Revolution was sweeping across the country and Napoleon was trying to wipe out the Church. St. John had to receive his religious instruction in private by priests and nuns forced to work in secret. As a result, priests became his heroes. He believed in the bravery of priests and at 20 years of age left home for seminary – where struggled bitterly … especially in Latin (which was the language of the Mass). Eventually he was ordained and after 3 years was assigned to a small parish in Ars, France – where legend has it, the Bishop had said … it is where he can do the least damage.
It is what he found there that is of interest … dwindling Mass attendance, few – if any – confessions, many people indifferent to religion – caring more about work, money, dancing and drinking … in large part due to the aftermath of the revolution. We can see similarities in today’s culture – low Mass attendance, few confessions, and – because of the climate of the church and the society in which we live – many people put off by religion. We find today a people engrossed in earthly matters – which the author of the first reading calls “vanity”.
How did St. John respond to that, how did he bring people back? … He spent time with the people – especially the poor … he instructed them in faith, spoke out against the immoral practices of the times … and spent long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, did penance on their behalf, spent 12 hours per day in the confessional … he lead by example, he lead them to God … and eventually people came … they came from all over to hear him speak and go to confession.
Isn’t it true that we spend so much time on earthly matters? Isn’t it true that we our minds are continuously grounded, distracted by the toil, labor and anxiety of the heart – and because of that the heavenly and spiritual get pushed aside. Yet, St. John once said in a sermon, “reflect on these words: the Christian’s treasure is not on earth but in heaven. Our thoughts then, ought to be directed to where our treasure is.” He spoke to what touches people to the core of their being – to their souls. And it moved them, it changed them. Doesn’t St. Paul say the very same things in the second reading? Seek what is above … put to death immorality, impurity, greed, etc … rather be renewed in Christ … become rich in what matters to God.
This is what St. John taught his people, it is how he lived his life … it is what priests are supposed to do… He is a hero to all priests, he is truly a hero of mine … he shows us what the priesthood is mean to be, how it is to be lived – a simple man showing people the way to heaven. Perhaps we might have the courage to follow.