Today we celebrate the patron of the priesthood as we honor the memory of Saint John Mary Vianney. John Vianney was a very holy, and to be sure, a very patient man. He was born shortly after the French revolution, during a peiod of extreme secularist thought. Faith and religion certainly had been shoved into the background during this time. Ordained in 1815, it is safe to say that John Vianney had an almost child-like faith as he assumed the pastorate the parish at Ars in 1818.
Ars was a back-woods sort of place that was openly hostile to religion and the Church. It was John Vianney's care and love for these people that drew men and women back into the church. He is best known for the many hours he spent in the confessional. In a very real way what he did went beyond simply celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, but offered spiritual direction and guidance to people's lives.
We often forget to mention that John Vianney was a man of immense compassion and engaged in many acts of charity and pastoral care. In these very simple but profound ways John Vianney revealed the mystery of the Church to many men and women, and articulated for them the 'Good News' of the Gospel. Through this holy saint, people began to associate the Church with God's love and care.
"Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross." These are the words spoken to the priest, by the bishop, at ordination, as the new Priest is given the bread and the wine. Like everything else in our Church we center ourselves on the Eucharist. The Priest is to be that living sign of the presence of Christ in the community he serves. He is the 'Father' and 'Pastor' to the people of God.
Since the time Christ sent his disciples out on mission, the ministry of Priesthood has remained to preach, teach, and to sanctify. There is a prophetic role here in which the Priest calls people to experience Christ through the celebration of the sacraments, and hearing the Gospel proclaimed. When I taught high school, and had to be a disciplinarian, the children would whimper, "I thought priests were supposed to be nice." Being "nice" includes challenging the lives and institutions that do not always include the love of God.
John Vianney certainly helps us understand the fullness of Christ Jesus in our priestly ministry. We pray that God continues to raise up holy men and women to be a living example of the paschal mystery.