None of the dangers, toils and snares afflicted him for long.
Not even earthy death could corrupt the heart of St. John Vianney — the “Curé of Ars,” patron saint of parish priests — once he accepted his priestly calling and set about executing it with his whole being.
Hundreds of people made a pilgrimage to Jefferson City March 16 to venerate his incorrupt heart, reserved in a dignified reliquary; to adore Christ fully present in the Most Blessed Sacrament; to be reconciled with Him in the sacrament of reconciliation; to worship Him at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
All the while praying for priestly vocations for this diocese.
“If I could sum up the day in one word, it would be hope,” said Father Joshua Duncan, associate pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jefferson City and assistant vocation director for the diocese.
“Constant lines of people are taking advantage of the sacrament of confession and the veneration of St. John Vianney,” he said. “The people are still hungry for the sacraments and for the sacraments to continue. So we continue to pray and to promote vocations within our own family.”
The message was timely and relevant.
“I think the timing is right,” said Cathedral of St. Joseph parishioner Dala Hemeyer.
She and her mother, Victoria Sallin of St. George parish in Linn, said the daylong veneration service was powerful.
Mrs. Sallin called it an “emotional surprise.”
She said she has been searching for ways to deepen her faith and felt called to take part in the veneration.
As she approached the heart of the saint, her own heart began to beat harder and she was stirred by the emotion.
Mrs. Hemeyer had a different reaction to being in the presence of the relic: it made her feel peaceful and calm.
“Bringing people back”
Father Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic High School and administrator of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in St. Thomas and St. Cecilia parish in Meta; and Father Jason J. Schumer, vice rector and assistant professor of liturgical and sacramental theology at Cardinal Glennon College (Seminary) in St. Louis, gave reflections on the relevance of St. John Vianney’s life and priestly ministry.
St. John Vianney ministered in the village of Ars, France, during the first half of the 19th century.
Deeply mystical and spiritual, he relentlessly summoned pilgrims and parishioners alike to greater intimacy with Christ and complete reliance on His mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation.
He endured many setbacks in his pursuit of the Priesthood and his ministry to the people of Ars.
Upon first arriving in that village in France, he found a lifeless church in near-ruin and a generation of people who had abandoned the substance and practice of their faith.
He would not relent.
“It was this attribute of perseverance which, coupled with a burning desire to convert hearts, was at the core of Vianney’s entire life and ministry,” Fr. Jones stated.
St. John Vianney was consumed with the desire to convert hearts, save souls, offer the Eucharist and free people from their sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.
“He spent between 12 and 18 hours a day in the confessional, reconciling penitents, converting hearts, bringing people back to the Lord,” Fr. Jones noted.
The humble priest would liken making a good confession to un-nailing Jesus from the cross, “for it was our sins which put Him there in the first place.”
“The Lord is more anxious,” he would say, “to forgive our sins than a woman is to carry her baby out of a burning building.”
St. John Vianney remained driven, even when confronted by unreceptive parishioners, jealous fellow priests and even nightly battles with the devil and his minions.
“But despite these torments, despite his exhaustion, he kept going!” said Fr. Jones.
And that’s something modern-day Christians can learn from the Curé of Ars and ask him to help bolster through his powerful intercession in heaven.
“If you are struggling with the burdens of busy-ness today, ask his prayers,” said Fr. Jones. “If you are struggling to persevere in faith today, ask for his prayers. If you are struggling to understand and accept the vocation to which God may be calling you, ask for his prayers.
“In all things — struggles and victories — turn to Jesus Christ and His presence in the Eucharist, seek to convert and transform your hearts, and ask for the prayers of the saints,” he said.
“The way to heaven”
In his reflection, Fr. Schumer pointed out that St. John Vianney spent his childhood in the middle of the French Revolution, when the Church was being persecuted and priests and religious were dying as martyrs.
Moved nonetheless to be a priest, he struggled with Latin in the seminary, which almost got him kicked out.
“The vicar general of Lyons said he should be ordained because he’s a holy man, and the grace of God will do everything else,” Fr. Schumer noted.
And he wasn’t too proud to stop and ask for direction.
“He stopped and asked a little boy, who pointed the way for him,” said Fr. Schumer. “And he replied, ‘You’ve shown me the way to Ars. I will show you the way to heaven.’”
All followers of Christ, and the Church as a whole, are called to be consumed with St. John Vianney’s passion for saving souls.
All Catholics, especially parents, must persevere in creating a culture of vocation, in which young people listen attentively for God’s call to the Priesthood, religious life, marriage or single life.
“It comes from the family, that we have to persevere, we have to encourage,” said Fr. Schumer. “You see that in John Vianney’s parents — how they encouraged him in the midst of trials and struggles.”
Fr. Schumer also spoke of praying as families and parishes for vocations, instilling in young people the desire to lead others to Christ, and of relying fully on God’s grace.
“God will provide,” he said.
Out of great respect
Mrs. Sallin and her daughter Mrs. Hemeyer said the reflection and remarks during the veneration gave them a greater understanding of the life of St. John Vianney.
Mrs. Hemeyer said the insights were all the more appreciated, given the Church’s recent struggles.
Father James Finder, a retired pastor who is engaged in volunteer hospital ministry, spent almost five hours hearing confessions.
“I wanted to do that because the Curé of Ars was known for hearing confessions for 16 hours straight,” he said.
Having just recently taught a lesson on relics to her fourth-grade religious education class at Our Lady of the Lake parish in Lake Ozark, Linda Adams traveled with her husband, Robert, to Jefferson City to venerate the major relic of St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart.
Husband and wife were moved by the experience.
As the Adamses waited in line to pray to God before the relic, which was located in cathedral’s chapel, they were impressed by the formality and solemnity of the occasion as members of the Knights of Columbus stood watch at each side of the relic.
A time to pray
The Shrine of Ars in France has entrusted to the Knights of Columbus the major relic of St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart for a national tour in the United States from November 2018 through early June 2019.
Peter Sonski of New Haven, Connecticut, was serving as the custodian of the relic, having already traveled to 21 states with it.
He said the tour was inspired by the experience of having St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart at the 136th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Baltimore last August.
He said it was important to bring the relic of St. John Vianney to congregations across the nation as a way to help heal the pain and confusion some Catholics are experiencing.
“It’s a time of hurt in the U.S. Church,” Mr. Sonski said. “People are bewildered. People are confused. Today we are praying for healing for those who are hurt, for those who are confused, for those who are feeling distant.
“We are praying for our priests and for our bishops. We are praying for a renewal in our Church.”
He said he was encouraged by what he saw at the day of prayer in the cathedral: many young families, long lines to view the relic, and long lines for confession.
“His spirit is certainly alive here as people are receiving the sacrament of reconciliation,” said Mr. Sonski.
Called through reconciliation
Father Christopher Aubuchon, diocesan vocation director and temporary administrator of St. Martin parish in St. Martins, said he has always been inspired by St. John Vianney’s great love for the sacrament of reconciliation and his complete faithfulness to celebrating it for the people of God.
“I felt the invitation to consider the Holy Priesthood as my vocation through the sacrament of reconciliation and always looked to St. Jean Vianney as a model of how to faithfully celebrate that great Sacrament in service of the Church,” Fr. Aubuchon stated. “I have felt God’s invitation to make it a goal in my priestly vocation to regularly preach about and encourage monthly confessions for the people of God.”
Fr. Aubuchon was therefore inspired to see so many of God’s people receiving the sacrament of reconciliation during the day of prayer, “in the presence of our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist and with the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney.”
Monsignor David Cox, pastor of Mary Immaculate parish in Kirksville and St. Rose of Lima parish in Novinger, was dumbfounded by his experiences that day.
“It was as if I could feel the presence of Saint John Vianney and through him the love of Jesus pouring out,” he said. “It was incredible!”
Pointing toward God
Relics are holy objects that are associated with saints who now live in God’s presence.
Veneration of the earthly remains of saints is a spiritual practice dating back to biblical times and the Church’s earliest years.
Catholic Christians venerate relics in recognition of the fact that God has worked through a saint, and that an object associated with a saint is holy and can help lead people to God.
The healing power of relics comes from God alone and never from the object.
Reference to an early form of relics can be found in the New Testament, when a women was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9:18-26) and when cloths touched by St. Paul were used to heal the sick and drive out demons (Acts 19:12).
A more developed use of relics began during the widespread persecution of the early Church, when the faithful would retrieve the bones of martyrs and place them under the altar for Mass.
To this day, Catholic churches place first-class relics in altar stones.