Patron Saint

 

ars ceiling
Inside the Basilica in Ars, France

Rich in what matters to God. (Luke 12:21) [Spanish]

Here’s a quote from a preacher who died 160 years ago Sunday:

Man by himself is nothing, but with the Holy Spirit he is very great. Man is all earthly and all animal; nothing but the Holy Spirit can elevate his mind, and raise it on high. Why were the saints so detached from the earth? Because they let themselves be led by the Holy Spirit.

One hundred sixty years ago Sunday, the Rev. Father John Vianney breathed his last, in Ars, France.

The French Revolution broke out when he was a toddler. The government prohibited the celebration of Holy Mass. Thirteen-year-old John Vianney received First Communion at a Mass celebrated by an underground priest, in a remote farm house. They blocked the windows so no one could see the altar candles burning inside.

Napoleon Bonaparte re-established the Church in France three years later. As a teenager, John Vianney revered as his heroes the priests who had risked their lives to keep the faith going in France.

st-john-vianney-confessionJohn left his farm to get an education so he could become a priest. He had trouble with the books, but he got ordained. Three years later, he became the pastor of the obscure country town of Ars. At that time, only a handful of old women ever came to the parish church.

Father Vianney would remain there as pastor for 41 years. For four decades, he gave relentlessly strict sermons.

Does everyone know St. John Vianney’s great claim to fame? His reputation as an insightful and holy confessor began to spread throughout the country. People began to come from all over, to go to confession to him. So Father Vianney wound up hearing confessions for 18 hours a day.

The train company had to open a special window at the Lyon train station to sell tickets for the train to the little farm town of Ars. An average of 20,000 penitents came every year.

The priest lived on a few boiled potatoes per week and just a couple hours sleep each night. He said His Mass, recited his breviary, taught catechism, and visited the sick daily; he preached on Sundays and Solemnities. And he heard thousands upon thousands upon thousands of confessions.

When Father Vianney finally died at age 73, they preserved the parish church and rectory just as it was. They encased the little church in a basilica, to hold the saint’s tomb. The pope proclaimed St. John Vianney the patron saint of parish priests.

I had a chance to make a pilgrimage to Ars shortly before I was ordained. I was a transitional deacon, so I got to hold the chalice at Mass. It was a chalice used by the saint himself.

Because of St. John Vianney’s selfless pastoral love, devotees of the saint have a special devotion to his heart. They keep his heart in a separate reliquary, in a small chapel outside the basilica. The Knights of Columbus sponsored a tour of St. John Vianney’s heart through the US this past year. Anyone get a chance to visit the relic? The closest it came was Alexandria, VA.

During my seminarian years, the austerity of St. John Vianney’s life mystified and frightened me. Subsisting on a meager weekly portion of boiled potatoes. And hardly any sleep.

st-john-vianneyBut then I, too, got ordained. And started hearing confessions. I realized: the saint didn’t live like that for its own sake. He just had a lot of people lined up, waiting to reconcile with God—and he didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer than he absolutely had to.

“Rich in what matters to God.”

St. John Vianney simply did not care about anything other than God and the salvation of souls. Nothing else interested him or distracted him. He prayed, “Lord, grant the conversion of my parish. I am willing to suffer whatever you wish.”

Now, I myself can eat more tamales in one day than the number of potatoes St. John Vianney ate in a week. I get up early—but nowhere near as early as he did. You do not have a very holy priest. But I can honestly say: nothing interests me more than all of us getting to heaven together.

“The eyes of the world see no farther than this life, but the eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.” A quote from St. John Vianney’s instruction to his people about the Holy Spirit. He went on:

“The Holy Spirit is like a man with a carriage and a horse, who wants to take us to Paris. We only have to say Yes, and get in. It is an easy matter to say Yes. Well, the Holy Spirit wants to take us to heaven. We have only to say Yes and let Him take us there.”

World War III

St Peters altar baldachino

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and thieves break in and steal.  But lay up treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in, nor steal.

That’s part of our Lord’s Sermon on the…  Mount.  Which helps us understand the parable we hear in our gospel reading at Sunday Mass, traditionally known as the Parable of the Rich Fool.

st basil
St. Basil

When St. Basil preached on this parable, he pointed out that earthly prosperity can serve as a trial of faith, just like difficulties and tribulations can.  We usually think of a ‘trial’ as a deprivation or an occasion of suffering, like:  “Her husband just got a cancer diagnosis.  What a trial for her!”  But easygoing prosperity poses a spiritual challenge of its own.  Godless worldliness can overtake the comfortable.   The prosperous can succumb to: total secularization.

Growing rich is no sin, in and of itself.  The man in the parable did no outright injustices to his fellow man.  Good weather and fruitful soil gave him a superabundant harvest.  But the rich man in the parable showed himself a fool by thinking neither of God nor of others.  He thought only of his personal comfort.  St. Basil put it like this:

Think, o man, think of the Giver!  From Whom have you received your wealth?  You are the servant of the good God, a steward for your fellow servants.

A servant of God and a steward for your fellow servants.

Now, I think many of us were shaken this past week by the cold-blooded murder of a priest, near Rouen, France.  Father Hamel’s murder shakes us especially because it occurred at the holy altar, as he ministered in the person of Christ, at Mass.  French president Hollande called the murder a “profanation.”  The profanation of something sacred.

Pope Francis Easter candleWe need to focus hard on what the sacred thing is, that this murder profaned.  The sacred thing is:  Religion, our relationship with God, the meaning of life, the eternal mystery of undying love, the foundation of peace among men.

In the rich fool’s life, comfort—or wealth, or something—something secular—crowded God out.  God gave the man good things in abundance, but the rich fool did not humbly thank Him.  And the fool did not understand his duty to share his wealth.

Why?  Because he thought too much of himself?  No.  The rich man’s foolishness involved selling himself short.  He thought of himself merely as a consumer of material goods, capable of nothing more beautiful or noble than catching a buzz and then filling his belly.

“You fool!” said the Lord.  Did I make you to rut around the earth like a worm?  No.  I made you to be My friend.  I made you to share in the great work of love that I bring about, by My almighty power.

The holy, sacred beauty of God, the triune God Who revealed His infinite love on the cross:  the altars of our churches stand firmly consecrated to our on-going relationship with Him, with this transcendent Love.

Pope Francis has said that a “piecemeal” World War III has long since begun.  This war costs us a lot—not just dollars, but pain and anxiety.  It assaults us with blow after blow of horrifying violence.  And a dark specter rises behind the barrage of killings:  the idea that life itself is brutal and meaningless.  The rich man in the parable went to his death a fool, because he had not prepared himself to meet God.  He had no altar.  He had no relationship with the Almighty.

Let me quote a few sentences of Pope Francis’ letter to us about the New Evangelization:

In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries, globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.

The process of secularization, by completely rejecting the transcendent, has produced a growing deterioration of ethics…a general sense of disorientation… a remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. (paragraphs 62 and 64)

We talked about this back on Fourth of July weekend:  the beautiful idea that can stabilize and unite us human beings in an enduring peace is the very treasure of our holy altars:  The idea of true human dignity.  The great God invites us to be His friends.  We are not expendable.  We are not worms.  We are children of the Most High.

Our adversaries make war against: the sacred truth of human dignity.  They make war against human culture’s greatest accomplishment:  the doctrine of human dignity, taught by Christ.  The great mystery of our beautiful, eternal destiny.  With which we commune at the altar.  May God have mercy on them, for making war on the heart and soul of human peace.

How do we fight back?  By kneeling down and praying.  Praying with Christian faith and Christian love, at Christ’s holy altar, for deliverance from this unholy war.