The Gift of a Good Shepherd
4 August 2017
Today being the 4th of August is the feast of St. John Vianney – the patron saint of parish priests. He was born in 1786 and died in 1859 in France. He was a simple man, lacking education in his early life, but rising to the challenge of priestly studies when given the opportunity.
He was sent to the small village of Ars, just out from the city of Lyon in 1818, and stayed there for the whole of his priestly life. His parish became a place of pilgrimage for literally hundreds of thousands of people. He was a renowned confessor and spent many, many hours hearing the confessions of the faithful.
The French government awarded him, in 1848, the Legion d’Honneur, but he was not interested and gave it away to help the poor.
In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a year of the priest. In his Letter, he cited a saying from St. John Vianney. When I first read this quote, I thought it was over the top. See what you think:
A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.
Being a priest myself, this seemed to be far too onerous. But upon reflection, I began to see the truth of this saying.
After all, in all the studies of parish renewal that are on offer, they all universally mention three things: Good community; Good Preaching; Good Music. I would also add Good Youth Ministry.
The priest is in a position of real responsibility. His servant leadership is critical for the ongoing development of the Christian community – the touchstone of which is the love we bear one another.
A good mate of mine thinks that the priest’s homily sets the culture of a parish. This too seems sensible enough.
It is worth our while praying for priests. We tend to think, even amidst the revelation of clerical abuse, that priests are a “rare breed,” a “cast apart,” the “SAS of the Church.” But in fact, they are just human beings with all the flaws and weakness that we all have.
They need our prayers. Why not hold up your Parish Priest in prayer this day and each day for a few brief moments? We’ll all benefit.