I will show you the way to heaven
On the fourth of August each year the Church honours St John Vianney, known as the Curè of Ars. He is the patron saint of priests, particularly those working in parishes. St John Vianney was an indifferent scholar during his seminary education. He struggled with Latin and there was questions as to whether he would make a competent priest. He was ordained and sent to the isolated parish of Ars with a population of merely 200 people. He was a priest with an ardent love for Christ.
The people of the village came to experience a priest who spoke simply yet with a conviction that stirred their hearts. He preached about Christ and his death on the cross, about forgiveness being available to those who turn back to God, and the ultimate human destiny being heaven. They were simple themes but more and more people came to listen to his sermons on Sunday mornings.
He lived in his presbytery next to the church in a most humble manner: just eating bits of bread and boiled potatoes. He embraced prayer, fasting and penance for the sake of the conversion of his parishioners. He was a true father to the people who experienced his gentleness and kindness. Even those far away from God found themselves attracted to him. His priestly ministry in the confessional expanded as more and more people sort him out.
The spiritual tenor of the town began to change. Indeed the small village began attracting people from all over Europe and as far away as America who had heard about this extraordinary priest.
St John Vianney models the ideals of the Catholic priesthood. He did the basic things of priestly ministry, and did them well: daily Mass, preaching, catechism lessons, being a confessor. He is an inspiration for all diocesan parish priests.
This year on his feast day I circulated a letter to all priests in the Archdiocese. It was a letter of encouragement. At this time there are many challenges that priests face, not least the decline in the public standing of priests in the community because of the widely publicised sins of sexual abuse. Priests also face the challenge of diminishing congregations. It is not an easy time to be a priest.
The letter focused on the theme of holiness, inspired in part by the letter of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exultate, which addressed the subject of holiness in the life of every Christian. St John Vianney was an evidently holy priest and his holiness was attractive and drew many back to the practice of the faith. Above all else I believe that Catholics want their priests to be holy, to be men of God.
When St John Vianney, pushing a simple cart with his worldly possessions, was making his way to his parish, he got lost and asked a young lad the way to Ars. The young lad pointed out the village off in the distance. The newly ordained priest knelt down and prayed for a short while. He then said to the boy, “Thank you for showing me to the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven.” This ultimately is the mission of the priest: to help the faithful get to heaven.
St John Vianney would spend his whole priestly life in this one parish, and led many on the path to heaven. This is the job of the priest: to help people find their path through life which will take them ultimately to heaven.
Please remember to regularly pray for your priests, that they may be holy men and be able to assist you in finding the way to heaven.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
August 19, 2018