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.
Beware the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept seats of honor. As a pretext, they recite lengthy prayers.
Our Holy Father dedicated this year to priests. 2009-2010 is the “Year of the Priest.”
When the Pope began this Holy Year in June, he urged everyone to reflect on the “immense gift which priests represent…presenting Christ’s words and actions each day.”
But when we hear the gospel passage we just heard, it seems like the Lord is telling us that priests will receive a very serious condemnation. After all, wearing long robes, sitting up front, and reciting lengthy prayers is what we do.
Now, let’s make a distinction. It seems pretty clear that the good Lord is condemning not ALL men in robes, but just the greedy and vain ones, the ones who pray without meaning it and who glorify ourselves instead of God.
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.
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
It 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.
When you are expecting a delivery, you look for the UPS man or the FedEx man. When he arrives, he hands the package to you. You might ignore the UPS man and focus on the package.
Of course, the UPS man or the FedEx man is just doing his job. But the fact that there is a UPS and a FedEx to get our deliveries to us is pretty amazing. These companies deliver all over the world.
There is one delivery that is uniquely wonderful, uniquely important: the peace of Christ. This is a delivery that comes to us from some place other than earth.
The Lord came down from heaven to give us His peace. And He established a company that delivers divine peace to every city, town, and village, through generation after generation, until the end of time.
The priest is the like the FedEx man—just doing his job.
But maybe Pope Benedict is asking us all to step back and appreciate the marvel of this delivery system. The system is so solid and reliable, we easily take it for granted. But where would we be without it?
Perhaps, dear reader, you remember that we have touched on our love for Michael Jackson before.
The album “Thriller” was fun in just about every way–all the songs were good, the videos were delightful, the Vincent-Price cameo was priceless.
“Human Nature” is on my iPod perennially. I liked the album “Bad,” too. “Man in the Mirror” was a great song.
Also, let’s not forget that M.J. was acquitted of all charges.
May the King of Pop rest in peace.
Speaking of death, today I drove past the one small piece of real estate I own.
It is only a few square feet.
But it will be more than big enough, when the time comes.
Act V, Scene 1 of Hamlet opens with two gravediggers joking with each other.
The one asks the other, “What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?”
The other replies, “The gallows-maker; for that frame outlives a thousand tenants.”
The other replies:
I like thy wit well, in good faith: the gallows
does well; but how does it well? it does well to
those that do ill: now thou dost ill to say the
gallows is built stronger than the church: argal,
the gallows may do well to thee. To’t again, come.
The second one can’t come up with another witty reply, so the first one says:
Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull
ass will not mend his pace with beating; and, when
you are asked this question next, say ‘a
grave-maker:’ the houses that he makes last till
The entire scene is very long. Here is the second part of it, worthily done by Kenneth Branaugh and our old buddy Billy Crystal, from the 1996 movie version.
Then, later on in the scene, my favorite phrase from all of Shakespeare makes its appearance. Laertes is bickering with the priest. Laertes thinks his sister Ophelia’s funeral has been too short.
Laertes. What ceremony else?
Priest. Her obsequies have been as far enlarg’d
As we have warranty. Her death was doubtful;
And, but that great command o’ersways the order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodg’d
Till the last trumpet. For charitable prayers,
Shards, flints, and pebbles should be thrown on her.
Yet here she is allow’d her virgin rites,
Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.
Laertes. Must there no more be done?
Priest. No more be done.
We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.
Laertes. Lay her i’ th’ earth;
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A minist’ring angel shall my sister be
When thou liest howling.
“Churlish priest!” Maybe, after this Year of the Priest is over, we can have a Year of the Churlish Priest, and I will be the poster-child.
Christ, of course, could have obliterated King Herod with the slightest movement of His divine will. But He did not. Instead, the heavenly Father sent an angel to His Son’s foster-father, telling him to take flight into Egypt. God dealt with the threat to His life the way that any human being would deal with it: He ran away to a safe place.
This is one of the countless examples of Christ’s solidarity with us. Part of being human is living in a world marked by evil, disorder, and sin. Christ, of course, never sinned. But He accepted every aspect of the reality of living in the sinful world. He is with us in everything we have to deal with.