Painting: Saint Jean-Marie Viannney and Saint Peter Julian Eymard
The Preacher Belongs to the Word
The Word does not belong to the preacher; the preacher belongs to the Word. This was true of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, it was true of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, and it is true of today’s saint, the holy parish priest Jean-Marie Vianney. The Curé of Ars stands in a long line of preachers possessed by the Word, and compelled to speak it without compromise.
The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them” (Jer 6:14). Holy preaching is, necessarily, incendiary. Jean-Marie Vianney was not particularly eloquent; he preached in a cracked and broken voice, but his words communicated the fire of the Holy Spirit. Even the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, the Dominican Père Lacordaire, fell silent before the charism of holy preaching in Jean Marie Vianney.
John Paul and Jean-Marie
When the Curé of Ars spoke of the Sacrament of the Altar, he glowed. He communicated to his hearers the Eucharistic fire that burned in his own heart. Twenty-one years in ago in 1986, Pope John Paul II devoted his Holy Thursday Letter to Priests to Saint Jean–Marie Vianney. I think that today we can read that letter as one saint talking about another. This is what Pope John Paul II said:
The Eucharist was at the very center of Saint Jean Vianney’s spiritual life and pastoral work. He said: “All good works put together are not equivalent to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the Holy Mass is the work of God.” It is in the Mass that the sacrifice of Calvary is made present for the Redemption of the world. Clearly, the priest must unite the daily gift of himself to the offering of the Mass: “How well a priest does, therefore, to offer himself to God in sacrifice every morning!”(15) “Holy Communion and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are the two most efficacious actions for obtaining the conversion of hearts.”(16)
Thus the Mass was for John Mary Vianney the great joy and comfort of his priestly life. He took great care, despite the crowds of penitents, to spend more than a quarter of an hour in silent preparation. He celebrated with recollection, clearly expressing his adoration at the consecration and communion. He accurately remarked: “The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!”