10 Following St John Vianney! - Fr Anthony J Fernandes

posted Aug 1, 2018, 9:13 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Aug 1, 2018, 9:13 AM ]
It was surely a little like the expectations for the Croatian Football team going into the World Cup, where hope is set against experience, when the Vicar General sent a man who was considered the least able of priests to the smallest and most indifferent of parishes! The young priest was left in no doubt he would find a parish in a very sorry state. The Vicar General told the young Fr Vianney, "There is not much love of God in that parish; you will bring some into it." These words were remarkably prophetic, but at face value were hardly a ringing endorsement of the young Curé's future mission. On first seeing the tiny village of Ars where he would remain for the rest of his life, we can even note a certain disappointment in his words: "How small this is." A man with so great a heart had been entrusted with the tiniest corner of the Vineyard of the Lord, with a total population of just 230 souls! In a gesture which St John Paul II would learn from him, he embraced this mission, kissing the ground as he entered his parish.

We can glimpse his courage from his prayer—a prayer that many a Parish Priest would hesitate to ask of the Lord in its totality: "Lord, grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life." God answered that prayer and gave the radical conversion of that parish, and hundreds of thousands eventually journeyed to that tiny place on earth. It must have seemed like the beginning of a "new evangelisation." Yet to understand his confidence, we would need to glimpse the scene earlier each morning to know from where such confidence flowed: kneeling before the Tabernacle, the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, where he would be found at the beginning of every day.

The opposition to Vianney was immediate; the opposition at first was indifference as he began to speak. Preaching was an enormous trial for him, and there was a pretentious yawning in the church to show a complete and casual dismissal of whatever this new priest was trying to say. But that did not discourage him, because he had inner strength. In St John XXIII's strikingly, beautiful reflection: "The lengthy prayer of a priest before the adorable Sacrament of the Altar has … an effectiveness that cannot be found elsewhere or replaced." (SNP).

As a young boy, I was inspired by my Parish Priest who would take rounds in the church premises, praying his Breviary or Rosary. I truly believe that even today, people will be truly inspired not by the eloquence of our preaching, or conscientious visiting, or imaginative projects or skillful administration, but simply by seeing us praying. But unfortunately, some of us priests have cut down our prayer time, and replaced it with more and more projects. I believe what encourages people is the very priority glimpsed in this, the reliance not upon ourselves, but upon the Lord. There, fresh heart is found!