Wednesday, August 04, 2010

"Priesthood: A Full-Contact Sport"

Today is the feast day of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. So, happy feast day to all parish priests! Last week, I spoke at “Theology on Tap” in Alexandria. The title of my talk was “Priesthood: A Full-Contact Sport”. I told stories from the priesthood which included some from St. John Vianney. Priesthood was indeed a full-contact sport for him; he did battles with the Devil directly. Satan was so upset with Fr. Vianney because he brought so many people to Christ that he shook his rectory, set his bed on fire, etc.

Here is a brief summary of the life of St. John Vianney from

A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies.

His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained.

Situations calling for “impossible” deeds followed him everywhere. As pastor of the parish at Ars, John encountered people who were indifferent and quite comfortable with their style of living. His vision led him through severe fasts and short nights of sleep. (Some devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.)

With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. Only a man of vision could have such trust that God would provide for the spiritual and material needs of all those who came to make La Providence their home.

His work as a confessor is John Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he was to spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months this time was increased to 16 hours. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self day after day.

Many people look forward to retirement and taking it easy, doing the things they always wanted to do but never had the time. But John Vianney had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. Even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep were disturbed frequently by the devil.

Who, but a man with vision, could keep going with ever-increasing strength? In 1929, Pope Pius XI named him the patron of parish priests worldwide.


Indifference toward religion, coupled with a love for material comfort, seem to be common signs of our times. A person from another planet observing us would not likely judge us to be pilgrim people, on our way to somewhere else. John Vianney, on the other hand, was a man on a journey with his goal before him at all times.


Recommending liturgical prayer, John Vianney would say, “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”

1 comment:

Cammie Novara said...

"Satan was so upset with Fr. Vianney because he brought so many people to Christ that he shook his rectory, set his bed on fire, etc." Fully coherent with my own experience. There's a really animated debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at