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.”

Exaggerated Reports of Death

Apparently the latest sociological findings hold that “religion” has entered into a death-spiral in the Western world. The studies show that religion will inevitably end. There’s a Ted talk about this.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t quite grasp what sociologists mean by “religion.” Our first reading at Holy Mass today prescribes the yearly routine of the religion of the Old Covenant. But that seems more precise and specific than what a sociologist means by “religion.” To be honest, I got so bored watching this Ted talk that I almost doused myself in frying-pan grease, just to ease the tedium.

Anyway, plenty of people in and around Ars thought that religion had entered a death-spiral in their town. When their new priest, Monsieur John Vianney, arrived, few people ever darkened the door of the town’s church. They considered themselves too modern for such things. Only old ladies went to Mass.

But, by the time the Curé died, 158 years ago today, the train company had to run a special line from Lyons, to accommodate the crowds who came to the little parish church in Ars to go to confession to the living saint.

st-john-vianney-confessionIn other words, reports of religion’s death in Ars had been greatly exaggerated.

Now, granted: nothing could be more boring than a sociologist’s idea of “religion.” Nothing could be less attractive. That is, I guess, except for sociology itself.

But, on the other hand: For St. John Vianney, and for Saints Peter, James, and John, and all the Apostles; for the martyrs and all the heroic pastors of the Christian centuries—for all of them, nothing—no one—could be more interesting than: Jesus Christ. And His Blessed Mother. And His heavenly Father. And His Holy Spirit at work in His Church.

You can have “religion.” “Religion,” as understood by sociologists, is a thin nothingburger that I wouldn’t feed to any animal.

But give us: Christ—studied religiously, obeyed religiously, loved religiously.

“Religion,” understood as a phenomenon that doesn’t depend on the truth of particular facts; “religion” that could be Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, etc., etc.—chuck it. We don’t need it. We Catholics don’t like it any more than atheists do, or hippies, or Millennial “Nones.”

But give us the holiness of Jesus. Give us the fulfillment of all the prophets’ ancient promises. Give us the Body and Blood of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Give us the joy and hope of the saints and the common bond that holds the great family of the Church together. Give us our holy Catholic religion, and we will gladly die for it, even if we and the pope were the last Catholics left on earth.

Priests’ Patron

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  By the power of His Passion, death, and Resurrection, He will raise our lowly bodies after the pattern of His glorious body, which has ascended to the right hand of the Father.

Christ, crucified and risen, is our gospel.  He unites us in His mystical body, presided over by St. Peter’s successor.  Jesus sustains us by His heavenly grace, through the ministry of His Church.  Christ conquers evil with good.  He gives us real hope:  eternal life, life with God, the fruition of every good thing.

st-john-vianney-confessionChrist is our gospel.  Christ was St. John Vianney’s gospel.  The Cure of Ars died 157 years ago today.  Who knows what Cure of Ars means?  Parish priest of a little French town, near Lyon, called Ars.

In heaven, St. John Vianney especially helps which group of people, as their patron?  Remember, we went over this on All Saints Day last year

The parishes of a given geographic region make up a…diocese, presided over by one of the pope’s brother…bishops.  Most priests serve a particular bishop, ministering at one of his parishes, like St. John Vianney did.  That’s called a ________ priest…diocesan.

It’s a little hard getting used to the fact that we have a pope who is not a diocesan priest, for whom August 4 is not the feast day of his patron.  For most of my years as a priest, we diocesan priests always shared August 4 with the pope, as our feastday.  Anyone know the last pope before our sitting Holy Father who wasn’t a diocesan priest?  Pope Gregory XVI, who died in 1846.  He was a Benedictine, a Camaldolese hermit. And 1846 was a long time ago.

And what about Pope Francis?  Who is his heavenly patron, the founder of his religious order?  St. Ignatius Loyola, the first Jesuit.  Who died exactly 303 years and 4 days before St. John Vianney.  So St. Ignatius’ feast day was just this past…Sunday.

But:  these days all priests look to St. John Vianney for help and inspiration, including Pope Francis.  Because the Cure of Ars consecrated himself completely to the mystery of Christ crucified and risen.  St. John Vianney spent forty years hearing confessions for twenty hours a day. Talk about a Jubilee of Mercy!

Pray for us, o holy patron in heaven!  May we faithfully follow you as ministers of Divine Mercy in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church!

Poem for St. John Vianney

CureYour heart, and bones, stole, and chalice,
I have knelt beside,
in a poor-town church, frumpy and cramped.

Next door: the wall, where you nailed the bag
that held the week’s potatoes;
the bed, scarcely used.

On the other side (of the altar):
vesting case, little plank to sit on,
and the prie-dieu where they knelt,

thousands after thousands.
Trains brought them; they lined up along the street
to confess to the holy priest.

God beckons. The world has webs.
Your penitents got themselves tangled speaking French.
Here we speak English and Spanish: tangled all the same.

He beckons: I Am Simple.
I got to gaze at the sky above Ars,
took a run past local cornfields of your farm-fed curacy,

where you wandered to read your Breviary.
You wanted to steal away to the cloister.
They dragged you home to the town church.

You can read souls better now
than you did then, dear Father.

This Hamlet has more offenses at my beck
than thoughts to put them in.
Too arrant a knave for such a patron.

But He beckons.
The simple Fire
in the tabernacle

Who only loves, and shed His blood
so we could make the sign of the Cross,
and untangle everything.

Short on Imitation, Long on Gratitude

When St. John Vianney made his way to the remote hamlet of Ars, where he was to take up the pastorate, he had to stop a farmboy on the road to ask him the way to the town.

So if the patron saint of priests had a hard time finding his way to one country parish, imagine how I feel! I have a tough time making sure that there are clean socks in both my sock drawers. (I have a Franklin-County sock drawer and a metropolitan-Martinsville sock drawer.)

To be honest with you, the patronage of St. John Vianney poses severe challenges to us parish priests. Last week we kept the Memorial of St. Martha, the patroness of waiters and waitresses. Martha certainly lived an impressively holy life, difficult to imitate. But she did not keep a forty-year fast on two boiled potatoes a week and one hour of sleep per night, like St. John Vianney did.

Continue reading “Short on Imitation, Long on Gratitude”

150 Years Ago Today…

…the patron saint of parish priests died. It is St. John Vianney’s Dies Natalis, the day he was born into the next lilfe.

heart reliquaryPope Benedict dedicated this year to priests because of this anniversary.

St. John Vianney’s heart is kept in a reliquary separate from the rest of his body. The heart is enshrined in a small chapel outside the basilica in Ars. The basilica houses both the entire parish church of Ars and the sepulchre of the saint.

Today, after Holy Mass in the Basilica, there was a somewhat rag-tag procession of the heart of the Curé through the town.


There is a monument down the hill from Ars which marks the place where the saint asked a boy to direct him to his new parish. (The priest was arriving on foot). He said to the boy: “If you tell me the way to Ars, I will tell you the way to heaven.”

Today the Curé’s heart was carried to this monument, as well as other places in the town. Looks like it was a pretty hot day over there. St. John Vianney never had air-conditioning, of course. And he hardly ever slept. And he ate only boiled potatoes.

But the main thing is that he loved the holy faith of the Church and never tired of teaching it.


Year of the Priest

His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. –Mark 6:34

The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. –St. John Vianney

st-john-vianneyIt is difficult to keep up with all the ecclesiastical news. We were just getting into the Year of St. Paul. But the Pauline Year came to an end last month. Now another significant anniversary is upon us.

We parish priests have a pretty cushy life. Kind people love us and take care of us. Our daily duties are sweet and sublime: Offering the Holy Sacrifice, administering the sacraments, praying for the people, teaching the Word of God.

The life of a parish priest is so delightful, in fact, that we run the risk of getting lazy and self-indulgent. All the other priests I know are very dedicated and diligent, but I am speaking about myself.

Continue reading “Year of the Priest”

High-Powered Visitors


Two top-eleven college basketball teams came to town today. And the NBA-elite San Antonio Spurs, too.

Not too many people thought that the Hoyas would beat Marquette. (And they didn’t, in fact, beat Marquette.)

But even fewer people thought that the Terps would beat #3 UNC, and they did!

And nobody thought the Wizards could get three wins in a row, which they have yet to do this season.

The most cheerful basketball news of the day for me was this:

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