John Mary Vianney was born into a peasant family in the small town ofDardilly, France on May 8, 1786. His family was poor in material possessions but rich in humanity and in faith. Baptised on the day of his birth, as was the custom in those days, he spent a lot of his childhood and adolescence working in the fields and tending the flocks, so that, at the age of 17 he was still illiterate. Nonetheless, he knew by heart the prayers his devout mother had taught him and was nourished by the sense of religion in the atmosphere he breathed at home.
His biographers say that since his earthly youth he sought to conform himself to God’s will, even in the humblest offices. He pondered on his desire to become a priest but it was far from easy for him to achieve. Indeed, he arrived at priestly ordination only after many ordeals and misunderstandings, with the help of far-sighted priests who did not stop at considering his human limitations but looked beyond them and glimpsed the horizon of holiness that shone out in this truly unusual young man. So it was that on June 23, 1815 he was ordained a deacon and on August 13, he was ordained a priest. At last, at the age of 29 years, after numerous uncertainties, quite a few failures and many tears, he was able to walk up to the Lord’s altar and fulfil the dream of his life.
The Curé of Ars as he became known always expressed the highest esteem for the gift he had received through the priesthood. He would say: “Oh! How great is the priesthood! It can be properly understood only in Heaven… if one were to understand it on this earth one would die, not of fright but of love!” (Abbé Monnin, Esprit du Curé d’Ars, p.113). Moreover, as a little boy he had confided to his mother: “If I were to become a priest, I would like to win many souls” (Abbé Monnin, Procès de l’ordinaire, p. 1064). And so he did. Indeed, in his pastoral service, as simple as it was extraordinarily fertile, this unknown parish priest of a forgotten village in the south of France was so successful in his ministry that he became, even in a visibly and universally recognisable manner, an alter Christus, an image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who, unlike the hired hand, lays down his life for his sheep (cf Jn 10: 11). After the example of the Good Shepherd, he gave his life in the decades of his priestly service. His existence was a living catechesis that acquired a very special effectiveness when people saw him celebrating Mass, pausing before the tabernacle in adoration or spending hours in the confessional (Edited from the homily of Pope Benedict XV1 on August 5, 2009, Year of the Priest).
What lessons can we all learn from St John Vianney?
It is important for us, catechists, to understand that there is a human hunger for truth and that all baptised persons share in the royal priesthood. By pondering this, we should be moved to respond as St John Vianney, tirelessly catechising through our very lives. We should seek and foster through prayer an intimate union with Christ. We can use the example of St John Vianney to help us. He honoured his gift of winning souls for Christ
The atmosphere we create through our catechetical classes must be fertile soil for vocation to the priesthood and religious life. Our archdiocese is in dire need for more priests. Each of us should take responsibility for creating an atmosphere that will nurture and produce religious vocations.
Let us pray especially for our priests. Let us use this feast day to remind ourselves to pray for all priests and for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
St John Vianney, pray for all priests in this Archdiocese of Port of Spain. Help them seek intimacy with Christ as you did and help them to have the grace of wisdom to shepherd the people as you did. Amen.
Bernadette Gopaul-Ramkhalawan, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office