This week (August 4 in OF and August 8 in EF), we celebrate the feast of the patron saint of parish priests, St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Cure’ d’Ars. John Vianney was a diocesan priest in France in the 19th century. The spiritual environment in which he worked was as challenging as ours today. France had been ravaged by the Revolution and the persecution of the Church ensuing from it. John Vianney did not have an easy pastoral task and his parish was pretty much dead when he arrived there.
Among his many saintly qualities, St. John loved in particular to hear confessions. He transformed his little parish in Ars largely by making himself available for confessions. By the end of his life, he was hearing 16 hours of confessions per day! His feast day is always a marvelous opportunity for us to grow in appreciation of the Sacrament of Mercy, both by praying for its ministers and by preparing ourselves more perfectly for our reception of it.
To celebrate St. John Vianney well, we must pray to him for priests, that they will be holy and effective confessors, after the Heart of Christ. St. John took as his guide in the hearing of confessions the great Doctor of Moral Theology, St. Alphonsus Liguori, whose feast we traditionally celebrate today. St. Alphonsus taught that the holy confessor is called to be father, physician, teacher, and judge. We must pray for our priests, through the intercession of St. Alphonsus and the Cure’ d’Ars, that they may fulfill these four offices of the confessor worthily and fruitfully.
The feast day of the Patron Saint of Priests reminds us of the gift and power of the priesthood. Without the priesthood of Jesus Christ, there is no Eucharist and no certitude of forgiveness of sins in Confession. Priests are necessary for our salvation and we cannot be holy without them. Penitents would go away from their experience with St. John Vianney with a deep desire for holiness. His feast day reminds us of the Church’s urgent need for holy priests and for more priests.
As we celebrate the feast of this great saint, we pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of a deep and abiding love for the Sacrament of Mercy and Peace. Confession is the ordinary means for us to leave sin behind and become free of the power of Satan. Together with the worthy and devout reception of Holy Communion, it forms the essence of our regular sacramental life. By confessing worthily once per month, or more often than that, we can be sure that we will grow quickly in divine love, unto perseverance towards eternal life. St. John Vianney, pray for confessors and penitents, that we may all use this merciful sacrament fruitfully!
Fr. Joseph Previtali