Up Front and Personal

Patron Saint of Priests Is A Hard Act to Follow

By Msgr. Steven Ferrari

He had a hard time getting through the seminary, especially with learning Latin. He was thought too slow, too ignorant to progress in his studies. Would he ever make it as a priest? Where could he be assigned to do the least spiritual harm to his parishioners?

But Jean (John in English) Vianney persevered, and with the grace of God, was ordained a priest in 1815.

Three years later, he was appointed the parish priest in the remote, insignificant eastern French village of Ars, with a population of fewer than 250. What harm could he do there? Ah, but what good could and would he do there?!

Father Jean Vianney spent countless hours daily (even up to 16 or 18 hours!) in the confessional, reconciling repentant sinners with their all-forgiving God, with their neighbors, and with themselves. He preached simply the truth of the Gospel. People from all parts of France, and indeed all over Europe, flocked to Ars to be in his holy presence. Four times he ran away from his parish, seeking the quiet life of a monk. But the Lord, and his bishop, brought him back to serve God’s people in Ars.

At the age of 73, Father Jean Vianney died of exhaustion on Aug. 4, 1859. He had spent more than 40 years dedicated to his parishioners. Reports tell us that more than 300 priests and 6,000 people attended his funeral. Seventy years later, he was declared the patron saint of all parish priests. We celebrate his feast day each year on Aug. 4.

Jean Vianney is a “hard act to follow.” As a parish priest for most of the last 38 years of my priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn, I have never spent as many hours as he in the confessional.  I may never have ‘run away’ from my parish, but I do take my weekly day off every Friday. I may have gotten better grades in the seminary than he, but I certainly would never compare myself to him in holiness.

Yet, although I often fall short of being Vianney-like in my pastoral ministry and responsibilities, he and I, as well as all parish priests, share in the same joys and trials, highs and lows, of serving God’s people. We priests are sometimes strong, and often weak. We get tired, impatient and fed up at times. And our parishioners may put up with a lot.

Then again, we are dedicated and prayerful, happy and fun-loving, at times singing, and yes, even dancing! (Have you seen me dance the merengue?)

We parish priests need the prayers and patience of our parishioners. We make mistakes, we get ill, we sin – we are human. We rejoice in the gift of priesthood bestowed upon us, like Jean Vianney, only by the will and grace of God.

Celebrating his feast day this weekend, we may pray: “Lord God, St. Jean Vianney was outstanding in his priestly zeal and concern for your people. Help our priests today, and in the future, to imitate, by example and prayer, his love for Jesus and for His brothers and sisters. Patron of priests, pray for us!”

Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s parish in Woodside.

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