A priestly holiness model

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

On August 4 we celebrated the feast of St. John Mary Vianney, the Patron Saint of Priests. In a time where we priests are heavily criticized, partly due to our sins, it is all the more opportune to seriously review priestly exemplary lives, like that of the parish priest of Ars, in order that from our ministerial priesthood shall flow out the living waters of salvific grace.

After a great man there is always an outstanding woman. This has been the case with St. John Vianney. His mother’s great piety was absolutely decisive in her son’s progress in holiness. The Curé himself admitted: “I owe a debt to my mother. Virtues go easily from mothers into the hearts of their children, who willingly do what they see being done.” His mother’s love for God prevented him from evil. He confessed: “When I was young, I did not know evil. I was first acquainted with it in the confessional, from the mouths of sinners.”

Even if he was raised by a holy mother Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney perfectly understood that he needed to cooperate with God’s sanctifying grace. In everything he did he made sure that God would be its beginning and end. He said: “O what a beautiful thing it is to do all things in union with the good God! Courage, my soul, if you work with God, you shall, indeed, do the work, but He will bless it. You shall walk and He will bless your steps. Everything shall be taken account of – the forgoing of a look, of some gratification – all shall be recorded. There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold they offer their little sufferings to God. Oh! What a beautiful thing it is to offer oneself, each morning, as a victim to God!”

In a village wherein indifference if not disdain to what is Godly was rampant the holy Curé was convinced that such evil spirit can be driven out by fasting. That is why he courageously subjected himself to strict fasts. He would eat one meal daily. He abstained himself from alcohol, except wine at the Eucharist. He ate little black bread coupled with one or two boiled potatoes for entire weeks. St John Vianney even wore a particular penitential garment next to his skin that stained his body with a reddish brown colour. Furthermore he would sleep on bare mattress or on a bundle of wood down inthe cellar.

Later on in life he had this to say about the many mortifications he imposed on himself in order that his parishioners mend their ways and return to God. “My friend, the devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God. Oh! How often have I experienced it! Whilst I was alone – and I was alone during eight or nine years, and therefore quite free to yield to my attraction – it happened at times that I refrained from food for entire days. On those occasions I obtained, both for myself and for others, whatsoever I asked of Almighty God.”

Mortification fills the priest with Christ’s love and never his own for God’s flock. St John said: “If a priest is determined not to lose his soul so soon as any disorder arises in the parish, he must trample underfoot all human considerations as well as the fear of the contempt and hatred of his people. He must not allow anything to bar his way in the discharge of duty, even were he certain of being murdered on coming down from the pulpit. A pastor who wants to do his duty must keep his sword in hand at all times. Did not St. Paul himself write to the faithful of Corinth: ‘I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls, although loving you more, I be loved less.’”

May we priests pray and fast for the people put under our care. And you, dear people of God, pray for us to be holy like St. John Vianney!

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