Year of the Priest 2009–2010: August 2009 Archives

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Our Lady in the Life of the Priest

Pope Benedict XVI has been using every opportunity to promote a fruitful observance of the Year of the Priesthood. Especially noteworthy is the Holy Father's attention to the place of Our Lady in the life of the priest. At the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Assumption, he spoke of the Immaculate Virgin in the experience of Saint John Mary Vianney.

The Curé of Ars and the Parish Priest of Knock

It struck me, after my recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock, that the Marian devotion of the Curé of Ars (1786-1859) had much in common with that of the Parish Priest of Knock, the Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897). Both priests were devoted to Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception; both priests consecrated their parishes to her.

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The memorial tablet erected by the grateful parishioners of Knock in honour of Archdeacon Cavanagh could, in fact, describe the Curé of Ars. It reads:

Pray for the soul of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Archdeacon of the Chapter of Tuam, and parish of Knock-Aghamore, whose fame, on account of the extraordinary sanctity of his life and his devotion to the Mother of God, was diffused thus far and wide. Unwearying in the Confessional, assiduous in works of piety, he died, full of years and merits, December 9th, 1897, R.I.P.

There is one mistake on the memorial tablet; the Archdeacon died, not on December 9th, but on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception to whom he was so devoted.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Mary Our Mother

In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Collect).

The Example of the Saints

Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.

Priestly Love and Veneration for the Most Holy Virgin

You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.

His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).

Never Tired of Speaking of Mary to the Faithful

And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).

Mary's Beauty

The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.

"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).

Marian Consecration

Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.

Turn to Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.

Mary in the Life of the Priest

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Dear readers, I returned from Ireland to Connecticut last evening. As soon as I can, I will share some of the pilgrimage experience with you. In the meantime, I must catch up with correspondence and other pressing duties. The Holy Father's General Audience of August 12th is a real gift for the Year of the Priesthood. This unusual depiction of Our Lady and Saint John in the Cenacle is a fitting illustration of the Holy Father's teaching on Mary, Mother of Priests.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our Lady and the Priesthood

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priests. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Mary's Yes

When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary at the Heart of This Mystery

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Saint John the Beloved Son

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.

Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).

The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".

Taking Mary Into One's Inner Life

This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.

To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.

It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.

In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.

Priests: Beloved Sons of Mary

Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18).

The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305).

Priests: Stewards of the Precious Treasure of Jesus' Love

This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!


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A View of "Lovely Leitrim," the Land of My Paternal Ancestors


In just a few hours I will be on my way to JFK International Airport in New York and, from there, will be winging eastward to greet the Irish dawn. My destination is Drumshanbo in County Leitrim where Father Dan L. and I will be staying at the lodge of the Franciscan Convent of Perpetual Adoration. Father and I will be spending the week before the Most Blessed Sacrament, seeking the light of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus for ourselves and for all priests.


I will also be visiting my one remaining cousin in the "old country": John McKeon of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. John, now retired, attends Holy Mass on weekdays at Saint Patrick's Hospital, originally a "poorhouse" for the victims of the Great Hunger.

130th Anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady at Knock

Father Dan and I plan on going over to Knock in County Mayo for the celebrations surrounding the annual feast of Our Lady of Knock. This is the 130th anniversary of the apparition that took place on the evening of August 21, 1879. As I wrote in a post below, Knock is, in a very special way, a pilgrimage for priests. How fitting, then, that Father Dan and I should have the grace of being there during this Year of the Priesthood.

I am not sure that I will have internet access in rural Ireland. Do not be surprised, dear readers, if ten days pass without a post on Vultus Christi. I humbly ask for your prayers, and assure you of a remembrance in mine.

An Offering to Christ the Priest

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Hymn for the 'Year For Priests'

Vincent William Uher III, a gifted hymnographer, who is "completing in his flesh what remains of Christ's sufferings for His Body, the Church" (Col 1:24), wrote this hymn at my request. He dedicates it:

In honor of The Most Reverend Edward James Slattery
Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa
And in honor of Father Mark Daniel Kirby
and The Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, O.S.B.

The hymn can be sung to any one of the following tunes: Beach Spring, Chartres, In Babilone, or Hyfrydol.

Friends of Christ, O royal priesthood,
Sing God's praise for every priest -
Strong and faithful, weak or lonely -
From the greatest to the least.
Brother priests of the Good Shepherd
Called to live the Lamb's high feast,
Witness to your love of Jesus,
Lord and Master, Great High Priest.

Take the Cross upon your shoulder.
Place your mind within your heart.
Make of Christ your perfect model.
Walk His steps and learn His art.
Beat down Satan with each footstep.
Fight to free each captive soul
Till the world's deceits and pleasures
Are no longer mankind's goal.

Learn from Mary Blessed Mother;
Ponder in your hearts God's grace:
How Christ makes His living presence
Real to feed the human race -
The Atonement raised to heaven
Through the holy hands of priests
For the life of all creation
Christ's own life, His Heart, His peace.

Forward go the royal banners
Of our Eucharistic King.
The Wise Virgins follow closely
Lamps of seven in offering.
Priests of God guide Christ's lay faithful
To bring forth their gifts and lights
And to call both friend and stranger
To the Way of Jesus Christ.

Now behold the Cross illumined
By the uncreated light.
See your Lord alive and risen
Calling you to share His life
And around Him all assembled
Martyred priests and Saints of God
Calling all of us together
To the Wedding Feast of God.

Copyright © 2009 Vincent William Uher III
All Rights Reserved.

The Triduum: Evening III

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I came in from the cathedral a short while ago. The third and last evening of the Triduum was very well attended. His Excellency, Bishop Slattery presided from the throne and went to the altar to give Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The veneration of the first class relic of Saint John Mary was very touching. Folks of all ages, including wide-eyed little children, came forward to kiss a humble fragment of the saint's mortal body and to ask for his intercession. I was especially gratified to see a number of our seminarians there this evening. Heartfelt thanks to all who joined in the Triduum from their homes!

"He stood up as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch" (Ecclus 48:1).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Love Crucified Here and Now

I left off last evening by quoting Saint John Mary Vianney on the Mass. ""What a good thing it is," he said, "for a priest each morning to offer himself in sacrifice." Saint John Mary Vianney's identification with Love Crucified was so complete that his only glory was in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, not in a remote Cross, not in the mere symbol of a sacrifice that happened in a place far away and long ago, but in the Cross made present, actualized, brought out of the historical "there and then" of another place and time, into the immediacy of the real "here and now," and this by the miracle of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Into the Hands of the Living God

When the parish priest of Ars ascended the steps of the altar in his village church, it was to say "Yes" to all the exigencies of Redeeming Love. It is a terrifying and risky thing for a priest to ascend to the altar . . . to the place of sacrifice, morning after morning. He does so with the words of Jesus crucified on his lips, "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46), not forgetting for a single moment what is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:1).

Between the Wood of the Cross and the Sin of the World

Saint John Mary Vianney, like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, like the soon-to-be-Saint Damien of Molokai, like the fiery Irish Jesuit Father Willie Doyle, and like so many other priests through the ages, knew that he could not hold the Body of Crucified Love in his hands, and raise the Chalice of Love Crucified's Blood, without yielding to the embrace of Love Crucified. Only in the embrace of Love Crucified does the priest begin to understand -- and this in a partial and shadowy way -- the utter horror of sin. Even as God draws the priest into the mystery of the Sacrifice he offers at the altar day after day, the Divine Hand shields the priest from too close an understanding of what sin is. Were the priest -- any priest -- to grasp, even for an instant the enormity of a single sin, that realization would annihilate him. But that is not all. Were the priest -- any priest -- to grasp even for an instant the immensity of Crucified Love, that realization would incinerate him. The priest, like Jesus whom He represents, accepts in every Mass to place himself between the wood of the Cross and the sin of the world. This is the place of the priest: between the wood of the Cross and the sin of the world. "God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:14).

From the Altar to the Confessional

It is this identification with Love Crucified and with the sin of the world that compels the priest to go from the altar to the confessional. One might say that the priest who consents, day after day, to the mystical crucifixion of the Mass -- and mystical does not mean spooky; it means hidden -- will be driven by the Holy Spirit into the confessional. Altar and confessional are but two faces of a single mystery: what sin does to Love, and what Love does to sin.

The Horror of Sin

In his letter for the Year of the Priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI says that "this deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led Saint John Mary Vianney -- by a sole inward movement -- from the altar to the confessional." The Holy Father goes on to say that, "Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament." "In France," he says, "at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval of the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion." Saint John Mary Vianney lived in the wake of the bloody French Revolution (1789-1799); we live in the wake of the sexual revolution, and in the throes of a cultural revolution that has spawned and abetted the undoing of Christian principles in every area of life. In both cases, the revolutionary animus has blunted our awareness of the horror of sin as an offense against God, and led to a disaffection for the Sacrament of Penance.

The Return to the Confessional

At the same time, changes in liturgical and pastoral practice, such as the introduction of the Saturday Vigil Mass, displaced or reduced the weekly availability of priests for confessions. In most places, there was little critical reflection on the long-term consequences of this displacement, and only minimal efforts at making the Sacrament of Penance readily available at other times. At no other time in the history of the Church hav we seen such long lines for Holy Communion, and such short ones for Confession. One of the aims of this Year of the Priesthood is the return of both priests and people to the confessional. The Babylonian Exile of confessors and penitents is over! Confession is back! The confessional cannot be separated from the altar any more than sin can be separated from the blood-soaked Cross on Calvary.

The Restoration of the Sacrament of Penance

Pope Benedict XVI present Saint John Mary Vianney as our model in the restoration of the Sacrament of Penance. Monsignor Halpine has more than once preached eloquently on this very subject here in Holy Family Cathedral! Saint John Mary Vianney "sought in every way, "says the Holy Father, "by his preaching and by his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He this created a "virtuous circle."

A Virtuous Circle

It is this "virtuous circle" going from the altar to the confessional, and from the confessional to the altar, that the Holy Spirit wants to regenerate during this Year of the Priesthood. Our parishes must become what the village of Ars had become under its saintly pastor: "a great hospital of souls." The Divine Physician of our souls and bodies waits to disinfect the fetid wounds of our sins with His Precious Blood; He waits to anoint them with the healing balm of the Holy Spirit -- and this He wills to do through the ministry of His priests.

The Needs of Souls

Saint John Mary Vianney adapted his treatment of souls to the particular needs of each one. Listen to what Pope Benedict XVI writes:

"Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God's forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the 'flood of divine mercy' which sweeps everything away by its vehemence.

If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God's love in these beautiful and touching words: 'The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, He already knows that you will sin again, yet He still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: He even forces Himself to forget the future, so that He can grant us His forgiveness.'

To those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how abominable this attitude was. 'I weep,' he used to say, 'because you don't weep.'"

Three Sacraments

This final evening of our Triduum -- and the two previous evenings we have spent together -- send us to three Sacraments: 1) to the altar, that is, to the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist; 2) to the confessional, that is, the Sacrament of Penance; and 3) to the priest, that is, to the Sacrament of Holy Orders without which we would have neither the one nor the other.

A Quickening of Sacramental Life

The Sacerdotal Pentecost -- the New Pentecost of the Priesthood -- for which we are praying will be revealed, not in a might wind and tongues of fire, not in a profusion of extraordinary charisms, but in a quickening of sacramental life in every parish, in every diocese, and in the Church throughout the world. Let the sacramental dance begin: from the altar to the confessional, from the confessional to the altar, and then into the darkness of a world waiting for the light of Christ, into the coldness of a world waiting for His warmth, into the infirmity of a world waiting for His healing touch. Eucharistic Face of Jesus, sanctify Thy priests!

The Triduum: Evening II

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"I will most gladly spend and be overspent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Arrival at Ars

When Saint John Mary Vianney arrived in the village of Ars, it counted 230 souls. He was thirty-two years old and had been ordained but three years. The young priest walked the 18 miles from his first assignment to what would be, in fact, his last. Approaching the village, he lost his way and asked directions from a group of children keeping sheep. A lad named Antoine Givre pointed him in the direction of Ars. "My young friend," said the new parish priest, "you have shown me the way to Ars; I shall show you the way to Heaven." Prophetic words in more than one way: Antoine Givre was the first parishioner of Ars to follow Saint John Mary Vianney in death forty-one years later in 1859.

Where There Is No Love, Put Love

Before sending John Mary to Ars, his bishop warned him that he would find but little love of God there. "There is little love of God in that parish," he said; "You will be the one to put it there." One is reminded of the maxim of Saint John of the Cross: "Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love."

Love Crucified

Saint John Vianney would bring about the conversion of his little parish not by so much by teaching an ethic of love nor by undertaking the works of love -- even if he did these things to an heroic degree -- but by allowing himself to be transformed into Love, and Love Crucified.

Priest and Victim

For John Vianney the priesthood was not a job, not a career, not a function, not at all a question of doing, but rather one of being. Pope Benedict XVI says that the first thing we priests need to learn from Saint John Mary Vianney is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. Saint John Mary Vianney was all priest and only priest, and this at every moment of the day and night. His priesthood was not a garment to be put on and taken off: every fibre of his being had become priestly. And because the priesthood of Jesus Christ cannot be separated from his victimhood, John Mary Vianney was as much victim as priest, as much the offering as the offerer, as much the lamb of sacrifice as the sacrificer.

All Priest

In his letter proclaiming The Year of the Priesthood, our Holy Father writes that, "in a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification." I often reflect on this after celebrating Holy Mass: there is not a single moment when I am not all priest. Priest in my body. Priest in my heart and in all its affections. Priest in my intelligence: in my memory, imagination, and will. Priest in all that I say, in all that I touch, in all that do. Priest with every breath I draw and priest with every heartbeat. At every moment I am either coming from the altar of Christ's sacrifice or going toward it. At every moment, because it is no longer I who live but Christ the priest and victim who lives in me, I can say, "I know whence I have come and whither I am going" (Jn 8:14), and again, "I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn 16:28).

The Objective Truth of the Priesthood

I share this with you, brothers and sisters, precisely because it is not personal to me; this is no less true of any other priest. It is the objective truth of the priesthood. Ordination to the priesthood by the laying on of hands and by the consecratory prayer of the Church effects a real change in a man's very being. It is not a mere dedication of his energies to a specific life's work. It is a kind of configuration to Christ, Priest and Victim, from the inside out. And it cannot be undone. "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps 109:4).

At Home In Church

Just how did Saint John Mary Vianney go about "putting love where there was no love, so as to find love" in the parish of Ars. He began by going to the very wellspring of love, and in this beginning he persevered until death. His first biographer tells us upon arriving in Ars, "he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed."

With Me Where I Am

This pastoral method is, I think, a little shocking to our contemporary American notions of creative enterprise, and strategic planning, and committee forming. By abiding from before sunrise to after sunset in his parish church, Saint John Mary Vianney was not fleeing the world; he was, rather, imitating the divine economy of the Incarnation of the Son of God by pitching his tent at the very heart of the parish community, by living close to the tabernacle. In some, astonishingly literal way, Saint John Mary Vianney began his pastoral ministry by responding to Jesus' own prayer to the Father on the night before He suffered: "Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am" (Jn 17:24).

A Priest Spent and Overspent

The marvel of Saint John Mary Vianney's pastoral method is that by anchoring himself to the altar and tabernacle of his little church, he became capable of spending himself, of pouring himself actively over the entire territory of his parish. It was his Eucharistic contemplation that allowed him to say with the Apostle Paul: "I will most gladly spend and be overspent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15). Spend himself he did, not only in the confessional from twelve to eighteen hours a day, but also by visiting the sick and caring for families, by organizing missions and parish feasts, by collecting and administering funds, by looking after orphans, by providing education for children, and by collaborating most effectively with the lay women he formed and directed. By remaining at the source of life -- the altar and the tabernacle -- the parish priest of Ars became the principal artery of Divine Love quickening and warming not only the little village's population, but thousands of souls beyond it as well.

Keeping Company With Jesus

Saint John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners how to pray by praying. They learned more from his example than from his words. "One need not say much to pray well," he used to say. "We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle. Let us open our hearts to Him, let us rejoice in His sacred presence. That is the best prayer." He invited his people to "keep company" with Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. One who keeps company with Jesus is compelled to adore Him, and one who adores him desires nothing so much as to remain in His company. This is the kind of prayer that transforms life. It heals. It restores. It sanctifies quietly and almost imperceptibly, but surely.

The Mass

Saint John Mary Vianney's Mass, like that of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, made words superfluous. Eyewitnesses relate that when he offered the Holy Sacrifice, he gazed upon Host with immense love. On one occasion, while holding the Sacred Host in his hands, he went so far as to say: "I I thought I were to be eternally damned, now that I hold Thee in my hands, I would never let go of Thee." For the parish priest of Ars, nothing could compare with a single Mass. "All good works taken together," he said, "do not equal the Sacrifice of the Mass since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God."

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, in his letter for The Year of the Priest, of Saint John Mary Vianney's absolute conviction that the fervour of a priest's life depends entirely upon the Mass. Listen to the Saint's own words: "The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaging in something routine." And then, he would add, "What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself in sacrifice."

Toward the Sacerdotal Pentecost

On this second evening of our Triduum, brothers and sisters, I beg you once again to pray mightily for a new Priestly Pentecost, for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all the priests of our diocese and of the whole Church, that the holiness of Saint John Mary Vianney might be reproduced in our day -- not only in the more than 406, 0000 priests currently serving the Church in every culture and place on earth -- but in a vast number of new priestly vocations. The Heart of Jesus, Priest and Victim, waits for men to respond to His call by saying with Saint Paul, and with Saint John Mary Vianney: "I will most gladly spend and be overspent for your souls" (2 Cor 12:15)

The Triduum: Evening I

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"For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Man Sent by God

In 1827, Ars was a remote country village eighteen miles outside of Lyons in France with nothing extraordinary about it . . . nothing extraordinary apart from the fact that from 1827 until 1859 -- a period of thirty-two years -- the little church of Ars was never empty. Multitudes poured into the church from before the first light of day until well into the night.

You see, "there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8).

The Baptist

Remarkably, the parish priest of Ars was, even by name, another John the Baptist; his full Christian name was, in fact, John Mary Baptist Vianney. Baptized John Mary, he chose the name Baptist at the time of his Confirmation on a cold snowy day in 1807. He was twenty-one years old. On that one day Cardinal Fesch, the Archbishop of Lyons, confirmed three-thousand souls. The ceremony began early in the morning and continued until after 5 o'clock in the afternoon. In the wake of the French Revolution, so many souls had been deprived of catechesis and of the sacraments, that it was not uncommon for such sacramental marathons to take place. From that day forward, John Mary Vianney signed his name John Mary Baptist, or John Baptist Mary. The identification with the Forerunner of Our Lord was a mysterious portent of things to come.

Twenty years later as crowds of pilgrims descended upon Ars, one might have put to them the very words of Our Lord concerning Saint John the Baptist: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in king's houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." (Mt 11:7-9). Yes, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, John Mary Baptist Vianney was a prophet -- but he was more than a prophet. He was a priest of Jesus Christ.

Nothing of the Showman About Him

Naturally speaking, there was nothing in the parish priest of Ars to draw crowds. He had nothing of the showman about him. He wasn't surrounded by publicists. There were no sophisticated lighting and sound systems. He wasn't, for example, anything at all like a Joel Osteen, or a Dr. Billy Graham, or even like the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. One would not have described him as handsome, although a childlike purity of heart shone in his eyes, and there was about his face something of a supernatural radiance, especially when one observed him in prayer. His clothes were more or less clean, but shabby; an old patched cassock and shoes totally unacquainted with polish. He wore his hair in the clerical fashion of the day: shoulder-length and pushed straight back. Once at a meeting of priests, a more fastidious clergyman refused to sit next to him for fear of catching something from Vianney's greenish, soiled hat.

Not the Typical Priest

Many of his brother priests found him eccentric, even odd. With raised eyebrows and knowing smiles, they murmured among themselves about his notoriously deficient seminary training, about his lack of sophistication, his very rudimentary Latin, and -- to their mind -- excessive piety and fasting. The numbers of penitents drawn to his confessional disconcerted them. Were they not better educated than the parish priest of Ars? Had not they more respectable credentials, a sense of propriety, and the ability to ally their priesthood with life's finer pleasures, those of the palate, of the eye, and of the mind? Why then were veritable caravans of souls making their way to the parish priest of Ars, and returning from him transformed, converted, repentant and joyful?

John Mary Vianney might have answered their queries with the words of Saint John the Baptist: "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:28-30).

Freely You Have Received

In these few lines one finds a portrait, not only of Saint John Mary Vianney, but of a universal, that is, a Catholic priestly holiness. The grace of the priesthood, and the charisms that, by God's gracious will, sometimes accompany it come from heaven. They are pure gift. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift," says Saint James, "is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:17). The priest gives what he himself has received. What were, after all, Our Lord's instructions to his first twelve priests-in-training? "Preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely have you received; freely give" (Mt 10:7-8).

Another Christ

The priest is another Christ: a representation of the Divine Original, invested by the Holy Spirit with a three-fold gift and power to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. The priest images Christ as Bridegroom of the Church; Christ as Head of the Mystical Body; Christ as Shepherd of the flock of God; Christ as Sower of the Seed. The priest makes Christ. present. He reveals his Face, His Heart, and His Hands. He acts in the Name and in the Person of Christ.

The priest bears within himself a mysterious sacramental imprint: the indelible character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, that nothing and no one can erase. In heaven, the indelible character that marks the soul of the priest causes him a glorious joy beyond description; in hell, which God forbid, that same indelible character causes the priest an everlasting torment.

Oh, How Great Is the Priest

Saint John Mary Vianney was aware of the immense dignity of the priesthood. He was humble: not denying the gifts he has received, but glorifying their Giver. Listen to him preach on the priesthood:

"A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy. Oh, how great is the priest!" he said. "If he realized what he is, he would die... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host."

Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he said:

"Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is."

Stand Up, and Kneel Down for Your Priests

It is time, brothers and sisters, for us to reclaim and recover a sense of awe in the face of the priesthood. It is time for us to rediscover the beauty of the priesthood. It is time for us to stand up for our beloved priests and, even more importantly, to kneel down for them before Christ in grateful adoration and supplication.

The priesthood of Jesus Christ has, over the past decade, been dragged through the mud. The sins and weaknesses of a few -- and these cannot in any way be minimized, rationalized, or condoned: they can only be humbly confessed and mercifully forgiven -- these sins and weakness have, in fact, covered the Face of Christ the Priest with filth, and caused His Bride the Church to weep tears of bitterness and shame.

Say what you will, the promises of the Lord uttered through the mouth of His prophet remain, because the Word of the Lord endures forever: "Her priests I will clothe with holiness, and her faithful will ring out their joy" (Ps 131:16).

The Priest Continues the Work of Redemption on Earth

In declaring this Year of the Priesthood, the Holy Father has invited us to listen to the teachings of the parish priest of Ars, and to take them to heart. Here is the remedy we have been waiting for: the words of a holy priest on the priesthood:

"Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you."

A Sacerdotal Pentecost

No priest is for himself. Each and every priest is for you. You then, be for your priests, first of all by praying and fasting for them. Beseech the Father to glorify the priesthood of His Son by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over the priests of the entire world. Ask boldly for a Sacerdotal (Priestly) Pentecost. Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will we priests be "sanctified in the truth" (Jn 17:17). Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will we priests recover the ardour of our first love and the zeal of the prophets and saints.

These three consecutive evenings of prayer in honor of Saint John Mary Vianney, unites us to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to His Excellency, Bishop Slattery, and to all the priests of the Diocese of Tulsa and of the world. I pray that they will give a dynamic impetus to the Year of the Priesthood in every parish of the diocese and, to this end, I ask Bishop Slattery, to bless this statue of Saint John Mary Vianney. After this Triduum it will travel from parish to parish in the Diocese of Tulsa: a visible reminder of the mystery of the priesthood, and of our responsibility for so amazing a gift.

Statue stjohnvianney.JPG

Blessing of the Statue of Saint John Mary Baptist Vianney

V. Our help is the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Let us pray.
Almighty and ever-living God,
You inspire us to fashion images of Your saints,
so that we, in beholding them,
may be led to imitate their virtues
and seek their intercession.
Wherefore, we beseech You,
to bless + and sanctify + this statue of Saint John Mary Baptist Vianney, Priest.
Mercifully grant that as this statue is displayed for veneration
in the parishes of our diocese,
our priests may be clothed in holiness
and your faithful ring out their joy.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

The statue is sprinkled with holy water.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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