A friend once made a pilgrimage to Ars in France, home of the fabled Curé d’Ars, St John Mary Vianney.
What fascinated me at the time, as a young adult, wasn’t so much his priestly ministry, which was impressive enough: 16-18 hours a day spent in the confessional, epic battles with Satan and radical asceticism.
It was the photos of the Curé, who died in 1859, taken by my friend. I’d not heard of incorruptibles before; that is, deceased people whose earthly remains only partially decompose as a sign of sanctity.
Well, there he was!
Champion of the Priesthood
Famously lacking in Latin erudition, less well known are the saint’s sayings about the priesthood. St John Vianney was not only a champion priest; he was a champion of the priesthood.
Here, the Curé testifies to the splendour of priestly ministry:
“O how great is the priest! If he realized what he is he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from Heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host. Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest—always the priest. And if the soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again the priest. After God, the priest is everything. Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is.”
Priests raise up and sustain Catholics at key moments, like births, deaths and marriages, but also day-to-day, nourishing us and reconciling us with God. Their ministry is unique, indispensable and divinely instituted.
Let us show priests our thanks and encouragement at this year’s inaugural Support Your Priest Sunday.