National Vocations Awareness Week runs from 4 to 11 August.
This is part three of three of Fr Walter Fogarty’s reflections on St John Vianney.
Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
150 years after the death of the Curé of Ars, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed John Vianney as “an example for priests of our day,” his “existence was a living catechesis.” Fifty years earlier, St Pope John XXIII urged “each and every priest… to devote all their attention to a consideration of the wonderful example of this holy man.”
Acknowledging differences in the eras in which the Curé lived and his own, Pope Benedict stated that priests today face “the same fundamental human and spiritual challenges… [that of developing] a lifestyle and a basic desire that we are all called to cultivate… [that of a] humble faithfulness to the mission… a constant abandonment, full of trust, to the hands of divine Providence.”
Amid the “surging currents of the world”, John XXIII characterised Vianney as “an outstanding model of priestly asceticism, of piety, especially in the form of devotion to the Eucharist, and… of pastoral zeal.” His “various works of priestly asceticism still point out the safest path [for priests] to follow.”
Pope John explains that the “ascetic way of life… does not enclose the priest’s soul within the sterile confines of his own interests, but rather it makes him more eager and ready to relieve the needs of his brethren,” here echoing his call to the Church to be “attentive to the signs of the times”.
St John Paul II, writing to priests during the 200th anniversary of Vianney’s birth, declared “More than ever we need his witness, his intercession, in order to face the situation of our times.”
Three decades on, in our present times, dominated by sexual abuse scandals, Vianney’s thoughts on priesthood are apposite: “The priest must always be ready to respond to the needs of souls. He is not for himself, he is for you.”
Pope John Paul explained, “The priest is for the laity: he animates them and supports them in the exercise of the common priesthood of the baptised, to bring people into the new life made accessible by Christ,” noting that there exists a danger in priests being remote from people and their concerns, “he must be very near to them… [as] witness.” Similarly, Pope Francis teaches priests ought to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”
Considering the importance of Vianney’s example for today, Pope Benedict noted how the Curé responded to a “dictatorship of rationalism”, which “failed to take into account human limitations,” while making “reason alone the criterion of all things, transforming it into a goddess” and how “in [our] current epoch a sort of ‘dictatorship of relativism’ is evident” in which “relativism humiliates reason because it arrives de facto at affirming that the human being can know nothing with certainty”.
Like Vianney, Pope Benedict, referencing Vatican II, suggests this current “dictatorship” can be addressed by priests, responding to humanity’s “constant quest of exhaustive answers to the basic questions [of life],” becoming “‘as instructors of the people in the faith’, to see to the ‘formation of a genuine Christian community’, that can ‘smooth the path to Christ for all [people]’.” In order to achieve this “the priest must create an intimate personal union with Christ” so, as Vianney said himself, “that they may lead everyone to the unity of charity, ‘loving one another with mutual affection’ (Rom 12:10).”
Fr Walter Fogarty is the parish priest of Sacred Heart Parish, Westmead.
For more information about Vocations in the Diocese of Parramatta, please visit: www.parracatholic.org/vocations/