Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For all parish priests, the heart of their vocation lies in pastoral charity for God’s people, most clearly expressed in the celebration of the Eucharist. The busy life of every priest is marked by a ministry that begins and ends with the Eucharist.

There is no better example of the centrality of the Eucharist and love for souls than in the Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney. This saint’s relationship with the people he served was rooted in the Eucharist. For John Vianney, to love God was to love his people and labor for their souls’ salvation.

From the very beginning of his vocation, John Vianney was not what you would call an ideal candidate for the priesthood in some ways and an ideal candidate in others. While he wasn’t a successful student, he embraced his vocation with sincere zeal to lead souls to God. For him, saving souls became an unquenchable thirst, and he spent up to 18 hours a day in the confessional. This dedication resulted in his depriving himself of nutrition and sleep. While his ministry was first exclusively to the souls of Ars, it eventually reached beyond to all of France and then to most of Europe. Up to 100,000 people a year would seek the saint’s counsel and blessing in the confessional.

Pope John Paul II described the parish priesthood as an "office of love" reaching out and serving with pastoral charity to all. Clearly, this was achieved in the work of Saint John Vianney.

The saint’s pastoral charity led him to encourage the faithful to look at themselves from God’s point of view. Instead of dwelling on the material comforts we have or would like to have, instead of seeing ourselves as having achieved particular careers or successes, we are to look at ourselves as the Creator sees us, as his children. As he counseled in his sermon on pride: "My children, we are in reality only what we are in the eyes of God, and nothing more."

This is a theocentric (God-centered) way to look at oneself, others and the greater world beyond. John Vianney’s pastoral mission was to direct the souls of his flock to God. His unique and simple way of leading a soul to conversion was to introduce the faithful to an experience of everyday mysticism – looking at everything in one’s day and life from the perspective of God.

This everyday mysticism is a recurring theme in Catholic spirituality. A modern mystic herself, Adrian Von Spear explained that there are two conflicting ways to look at the spiritual life and the making of a spiritual retreat. Either you look at your annual retreat experience as a pleasant respite for spiritual renewal and time alone with God that interrupts your daily life, or you look at the days of a retreat as your true reality and the "stuff" of everyday life as the intrusion on your spiritual journey.

For Saint John Vianney, being in communion with God and directing all one’s efforts to those things that are of heaven is the authentic life for the Christian, and everything else is a secondary distraction. The faithful soul has priorities that lead his or her life toward heaven.

All the little demands on our time that pile on the stresses of modern life must be subjected to the greater and more important goal of our lives. In other words, our lives are to celebrate God. As we learned in the catechism, the end of life is union with the God who created us. Saint John Vianney offers practical advice in his Joys of the Interior Life: "We ought in the morning on awaking to offer to God our heart, our mind, our thoughts, our words, our actions, our whole selves, to serve His glory alone."

Father Hinkley is the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and School and rector of the Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.