Benedict XVI Writes To Priests Worldwide

Source: FSSPX News

On June 16, in a letter addressed to all the priests of the Catholic Church, and published on the eve of the opening of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI recalled the “poverty”, the “chastity,” and the “obedience” of St. John Marie Vianney (1786-1859) to exhort his fellow priests: “Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!” 

The pope told them that: “the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel,”  and by “living fully the gift of celibacy.” Benedict XVI praised the “the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as ‘friends of Christ’, whom he has called by name, chosen and sent.” However, the pope observed that : “there are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection.”

On the other hand, the pope mentioned “the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister. How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted, even at times to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?”

In his letter, Benedict XVI wished to point out the “the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself.” Quoting the Curé of Ars: “The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods,” the Holy Father added: “Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney!” And he explained that from his example the faithful learned to pray, came to receive communion and went to confession. Yet, the pope recalled: “at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance.” The pope stated that we could not “overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister.” (Sources: apic/imedia/vatican)

The Holy Curé of Ars

Born on May 8, 1786, in Dardilly in the area of Lyons, the Holy Curé of Ars came to the world in a family of peasants. In his childhood,  John Marie was impressed by the fervor and love of his parents. During the French Revolution, he made his first confession near the great clock of his home, and not in the village church, and he received absolution from a non-juring priest. Two years later, he made his first communion in a barn during a clandestine Mass celebrated by a priest who had refused to swear the oath to the Civil Constitution of the clergy. At the age of 17, he chose to answer God’s call: “I would like to gain souls for the Good Lord,” he confided to his mother, Marie Béluze. But for two years his father opposed this desire because hands were too few to run the farm.

At the age of 20, he began to prepare for the priesthood under the guidance of Fr. Balley, parish priest of Ecully. Difficulties made him mature and grow: he went from discouragement to hope, and made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Francis Régis at La Louvesc. He deserted Napoleon’s army when was drafted to go to fight in Spain in 1809. He experienced great difficulties in schools, his scholarly achievements being limited to basic arithmetic, some history and geography. “The study of Latin was sheer torture for him”, his biographers relate. Yet, Fr. Balley knew how to help him through these trying years. John Marie knew no philosophy because of the fact that it was being taught in Latin, but his bishop, knowing his great piety, eventually ordained him a priest in 1815.

He was first a curate in Ecully, before being sent to Ars three years later. There he re-awakened the faith of his parishioners by his sermons, but even more by his prayer and way of life. He felt destitute  regarding the mission to be accomplished, but let himself be taken by God’s mercy. He restored and embellished his church. In 1824, he founded a school for orphan girls, the House of Providence, taking care of the most destitute. Very quickly his reputation as a confessor drew many pilgrims who came to him to find God’s forgiveness and peace of soul. Assailed by many trials and combats,   his heart was deeply rooted in the love of God and of neighbor, and “the salvation of souls was his only concern.” He died on August 4, 1859, at the age of 73.

Beatified on January 8, 1905, he was declared “patron saint of the priests of France.” Canonized by Pius XI, in 1925, the same year as St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and was proclaimed “patron saint of parish priests worldwide” in 1929.