Come and see the heart of a priest!

Very soon, on Oct. 12 through 14, the Archdiocese of Boston will be blessed to welcome a major relic of St. John Marie Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. These days will afford a beautiful opportunity for diocesan and other priests and the religious and faithful of the archdiocese to come together in different geographical regions. Together, we will invoke the powerful intercession of the Curé of Ars, as he is commonly known. Before the preserved heart of this saintly diocesan priest, we will beseech God to give us what we need to grow in fidelity to our specific vocations in the Church of Christ. Men contemplating a vocation to the priesthood have special reason to take advantage of this important and unique opportunity.

St. John Vianney was born in Lyons, France in 1786. After overcoming many difficulties, he was ordained a priest and then entrusted with a parish in the French provincial town of Ars. There he cared for a small country parish in a marvelous way. His preaching, his personal mortifications, his prayer, and, in general, his works of charity earned him the admiration of even the most severe skeptics. The Curé of Ars was renowned especially for great skill in helping penitents, and so people came to him from even faraway regions in order to receive his spiritual counsel. He died on Aug. 4, 1859, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 31, 1925. During the canonization process, his body was exhumed and found to be intact. To this day, his incorrupt body remains under an altar at the basilica in Ars. The miraculously incorrupt heart was removed and placed in its own reliquary, which today sits on an altar in the basilica. This is only the third time that this precious relic has left its shrine in Ars.

Many things could be said about St. John Vianney. He was a simple man, and much dedicated to God. He possessed a true desire for holiness of life. He thus gave himself over to the care for souls. In short, heaven was his goal!

What inspired the Curé of Ars to such greatness? When we take a look at his life, his words, and the fruit of his labors, we catch a glimpse of what made the Curé of Ars a saint.

First of all, St. John Marie Vianney was a man of the Eucharist. He made Jesus, truly present under the appearances of bread and wine, the center of his spiritual life and the primary focus of his day. His understanding of the Eucharist gave him a unique perspective on the gift of the vocation to the priesthood that he had received.

Once, in an exceptionally perceptive homily, the Curé expressed the Catholic understanding of the priesthood with great simplicity of spirit:

Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office until heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love....the other benefits of God would be of no avail to us without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold if you had nobody to open the door for you. The priest has the key to the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God, the distributor of His wealth.

The Curé of Ars was a man of prayer. Only when through prayer we come to know God, can we then lead others to Him. When we pray, God allows us to get to know Him more intimately. The great saint once said: “Prayer is nothing else than union with God. In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart.”

St. John Vianney had a special relationship with Mary the Mother of God. Being the Mother of Jesus, the great High Priest, Mary is also the mother in a special way of all those called to take up the priesthood of her Son. The Curé of Ars depended on Mary, repeating often the words of the Hail Mary, imploring our Blessed Mother’s special care.

St. John Vianney was a man of mercy. This “Prisoner of the Confessional” recognized that most people of his parish did not go to confession on a regular basis, so he decided to do something about it. His preaching, penance, and personal example drew the flock entrusted to him to confess regularly. People came in great numbers from all over Europe to go to confession. It is well known that over a period of many years, John Vianney would sit daily in his cramped confessional for 12-16 hours a day, with people waiting sometimes several days to confess and receive absolution from the priest they held to be a saint.

It is a blessing for us to have the heart of the Curé of Ars come to Boston. By gathering together to venerate this relic of the saintly priest, we acknowledge his patronage for us in heaven. God alone is to be worshiped, but we see His glory evident in the lives of the saints. When we venerate the person of the Curé of Ars, it helps us to appreciate the power of God at work in the world, especially through the ministry of priests.

On behalf of the Archdiocesan Vocation Office, I invite you to participate in one or more of the events that have been scheduled to allow veneration of the relic of the heart of St. John Marie Vianney. Consult the times and places in the calendar section of The Pilot or on Come and see the heart of a priest! Come and pray for God to send more priests to serve our archdiocese! Implore the Curé of Ars to intercede for our diocesan priests. St. John Marie Vianney, pray for us!

Father Daniel Hennessey is Director of the Vocations Office for the Archdiocese of Boston.