St. John Vianney

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/03/11 at 12:00 AM


Back in the corner standing sentinel above the confessional is the statue of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. He stands there because of his renown as a confessor – often spending 16 hours/day in the confessional of his parish in Ars, France.
While perhaps St. John’s greatest work as a priest was done in his confessional, he was also a marvelous preacher, and a man of great vision and determination who worked very hard for the salvation of his flock.
When he arrived in Ars in 1818, he found his parishioners ignorant and indifferent to their Catholic religion, often spending their Sundays either working in the fields or drinking and dancing in the taverns.
But by the time he died in 1859, St. John Vianney had transformed his parish into a spiritual oasis, attracting tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, who came to avail themselves of his saintly pastoral care.
In all ways St. John Vianney was truly the most remarkable of parish priests, and his incorrupt body testifies not only to his purity of life, but also to his extreme holiness. Today, August 4th, is his feast day.
So what was St. John’s secret to holiness? In addition to a life of deep prayer, St. John was perfectly formed by the messages we hear in our readings today from Sacred Scripture.
In a nutshell our readings today speak of the dangers of being attached to the things of this
world. Our first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that while worldly riches may alleviate some sufferings, in the end they bring on other sufferings – and thus the laboring for earthly goods is vanity.

Certainly the parable we hear from our Lord’s own lips today also reminds us of the utter foolishness of spending one’s life pursuing the things of this world – for we do not know when our earthly lives will end.
And as the parable reminds us, we will not be able to take our earthly goods with us into Heaven. The only things that we can take to Heaven are our virtues and good works. To be rich in these things is to be “rich in what matters to God.”
Truly, our readings today should cause us to ask ourselves how much of this world’s goods we really need. While it’s not a sin to be rich or to own many things, we must be aware that having and pursuing wealth poses some significant spiritual dangers.
You see, when we are blessed with an abundance of material goods, we can come to rely too much upon them and the comforts they provide, thus becoming less willing and able to endure suffering and hardship – while at the same time becoming more self-consumed.
And let us not forget that our salvation was won by the selfless suffering of Christ, and as His followers we must be willing to suffer, too. So if we lose our capacity or willingness to suffer, we will not become like Jesus.
Moreover, if we seek our happiness and joy in the things of this world, we will necessarily become greedy and materialistic, consuming whatever catches our eye with the hope of being sated.
And yet are we ever sated by the things of this world? Does anything this world has to offer ever produce real, lasting joy or peace? No! The peace and joy promised by the things of this world are a lie and a trap. That’s why it is vanity to pursue them.
They promise something they can never deliver, and worse yet, becoming attached to the things of this world makes us less capable of being attached to the One Thing that will give us real, lasting joy and peace: God Himself.
St. John Vianney understood all of this so very clearly. Thus, his was a life of fasting and penance, often eating nothing more than a raw potato in a day in order to keep up his strength.
If you visit St. John’s rectory in Ars today you will see that the only things of value he owned were the things he used for Mass: his vestments and his chalice and paten. He loved poverty, for he knew that poverty provided a freedom to be attached solely to God.
Refusing to be allured by the things of this world, and through much fasting and penance, St. John was able to “put to death the parts of him that [were] earthly.” And so must we.
But even more so, St. John Vianney followed the advice of St. Paul today to seek and think of what is above, of what is heavenly. He understood that God created us for Heaven, and so he spent his earthly life trying to get there – and to take others with him.
Thus we must remember the words of the Psalmist today that man is dust, and that we will eventually turn back to dust. Made out of a handful of clay, mankind is delicate and finite. In the light of eternity, the life of a man is no more than a blink of the eye.
So it is that we must be constantly prepared to meet our Maker! So it is that we must learn to cling to our Lord in this life, preferring Him and His most holy and adorable will over anything this world has to offer.
We must be willing to turn away not only from earthly goods, but also from all sin and impurity, as St. Paul counsels the Colossians today. And again, St. John Vianney provides a wonderful example.
As I mentioned earlier, St. John Vianney’s body is incorrupt, even though he’s been dead for 154 years! This is because St. John, like a handful of other saints whose bodies are incorrupt, maintained his chastity and practiced virtue throughout the course of his life.
And quite honestly, there is great joy and freedom in remaining pure and practicing virtue, a joy and freedom that cannot be matched by whatever fleeting pleasures sin or earthly things may provide.
As St. John Henry Newman once stated: “Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasure.”
My brothers and sisters, we live in a society that extols wealth and materialism with little or no thought to the dangers they pose to man. While it is a blessing to have an abundance of this world’s goods, it can also be a curse if we seek our happiness in those goods.
Thus, like the saints we must seek to be detached from all worldly things and pleasures, turning our minds to what is above, shunning all sin and vice, and remembering that we have died and that our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
By practicing the virtues of charity and generosity, through fasting and penance and prayer, may we become attached only to the things of Heaven.
And like St. John Vianney, may we learn truly to love our Lord above all things and to seek His glory rather than our own.
4 August 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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