Saturday, August 22, 2009

If St. John Vianney Were A Pastor Today...

Incorrupt body of St. John Vianney

Here is a wonderful quote from a letter by Bishop Robert Vasa:

"It comes as no surprise to any pastor that St. John Vianney was severely abused and derided because he called his people to chastity when debauchery was the norm, to sobriety when drunkenness was rampant, to holiness when secularity was much more popular. Because he loved, however, he did not cease to challenge sinfulness and call his people to repentance. He did this at great personal cost because of his determined love for souls. I strongly suspect that if St. John Vianney himself were in many of our American parishes there would be an abundance of letters from concerned parishioners about the direction in which he was taking the parish. This in no way implies that letters about priests to chanceries all across this country are not sometimes warranted and it in no way implies that our priests are comparable to St. John Vianney. It does imply that most of us do not respond well when the sinfulness of our own lives is challenged."

Very true indeed. To read the whole article (and I suggest you do) click here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Today is the memorial of St. Clare of Assisi, the holy companion of St. Francis and, with him, the founder of the Poor Clares. This past June I had the privilege of visiting Assisi and praying before the incorrupt body of St. Clare and visit the monastery in which she lived and died. What struck me about it was the absolute poverty in which she and her sisters lived. They embraced voluntary poverty as a way to holiness. Relying upon God for everything, even day to day needs such as food and clothing, they grew in holiness.

When I as in Assisi, I also noticed a small band of Franciscans who took the call to poverty quite literally. All one had to do was observe their way of dress, their bare feet, and their joy to know that these were men who embraced poverty just as St. Francis and Clare did.

Today as I reflect on these things it makes me wonder if I, as a diocesan priest, am called to some form of voluntary poverty. So I turned to Pope Benedict's letter to priests for the Year for priests. The Holy Father hold us up for priests the example of St. John Vianney, and points out the choice this great patron of priests made to live in poverty. This is what the Holy Father said:

It was complete commitment to this “new style of life” which marked the priestly ministry of the CurĂ© of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii nostri primordia, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the “three evangelical counsels” which the Pope considered necessary also for diocesan priests: “even though priests are not bound to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of the clerical state, these counsels nonetheless offer them, as they do all the faithful, the surest road to the desired goal of Christian perfection”.[35] The CurĂ© of Ars lived the “evangelical counsels” in a way suited to his priestly state. His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realized that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his “Providence”,[36] his families of modest means. Consequently, he “was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself”.[37] As he would explain: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back”.[38] When he lacked money, he would say amiably to the poor who knocked at his door: “Today I’m poor just like you, I’m one of you”.[39] At the end of his life, he could say with absolute tranquillity: “I no longer have anything. The good Lord can call me whenever he wants!”.[40]

So what do you think? Would you like to see your priest embrace voluntary poverty in order to more closely follow Jesus, or is that just too much? Let me know in the comments what you think.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bishop Tobin Strikes Again

The following is from an article by The Most Reverend Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence published on September 1, 2000. My emphasis and [comments] are added:

During vacation this summer I followed my normal practice of attending Sunday Mass as a “private citizen,” that is, in secular attire, with the congregation, in the pews. Even though I truly cherish the privilege of leading the liturgy as I do almost every Sunday, it is also refreshing once in awhile to be on the other side of the altar. Doing so allows me to avoid the public spotlight, eliminates the pressure of having to prepare a homily, and helps me to return to the ministry relaxed and ready to go. [I'm not so sure how I feel about this. I have no problem with a priest sitting in the pews if at some other time during the day he offers Mass.]

Whenever I join the rank-and-file, it’s amazing how quickly I assume the characteristics of what might be considered the “typical Catholic.” I planned my schedule so I wouldn’t arrive at church too early. I sat toward the back of the church to avoid special involvement. I complained, at least mentally, about the length of the sermon. I was dismayed to learn there would be a second collection —- and yes, I did pry open my wallet to contribute to both! And I was appropriately irritated by the log jam of traffic in the parking lot after Mass.

Forget my need for “full, active and conscious participation.” I was on vacation. I wanted something short, sweet and to the point, just enough to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

These bad habits aside, there were also some more beneficial lessons to be had from sitting in the pews. Doing so created a broader perspective for me and a renewed appreciation for the truly “faithful” who come to Mass Sunday after Sunday. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the nature of the Church and the function of the liturgy.

As I sat in the Florida church that warm summer evening, I was gratified by the large number of people who took time out of their vacation to attend Mass. While a few were obviously local residents, it was apparent that most of the people in church were visitors from other parts of the country, even other nations. In the congregation were young couples (I imagined them to be on their honeymoon), families with restless kids and sullen teen-agers, college students participating silently, senior citizens, and folks with disabilities for whom it was a real personal sacrifice to attend Mass. But there they were!

Reflecting on the assembly I asked myself: Why do these people come to Mass Sunday after Sunday? What are they looking for? What do they want? What do they need?

I believe, first of all, that people come to Mass on Sunday to be part of the church, part of the Christian community. Please understand that by community here I don’t mean a “hello, my name is ____, what’s yours?” experience, but understanding something far more profound, an ecclesial community. Sometimes in the practice of liturgy we confuse the two.

The last time I attended Mass on vacation, the priest began by announcing: “As we begin today, folks, let’s take a few minutes to get acquainted with the people around you. Tell your neighbor your name, where you’re from, and what you do for a living.” And so the congregation sat down for this banal banter while the priest assumed his talk-show host persona and worked the middle aisle greeting people. Please . . . that’s not community; that’s a cocktail party! [Amen! This practice, which seems to be very common, is very annoying to me. It sets a tone for the Holy Sacrifice which is casual, noisy, and just plain not in keeping with the sobriety of what we are entering into. It reminds me of a story told about St. Pio. He was once asked how we should prepare for Mass. He responded by saying something like "we should prepare for Mass the way we would prepare to be at the foot of the Cross." Glad-handing, joking, and this sort of foolishness is no way to prepare for the terrible and awesome reality of Calvary.]

People want to belong to a Church community to be with and pray with other people who share their faith, their moral values, their liturgical practice. They want spiritual companions who will break bread with them and accompany them on their life’s journey. Ecclesial community doesn’t depend on personal, intimate knowledge of others, but on shared vision and values. As a member of the Church I am in community with people I’ll never know, never meet. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, nonetheless.

Secondly, it seems to me that people come to Mass on Sunday because they long to hear the Word of God preached with conviction and enthusiasm. They want homilies that are doctrinally sound, personally prepared and relevant to contemporary life.

It is a frequent complaint that our preaching has lost its spark, its zeal, that it has become too bland, cerebral and generic. Good preaching, on the other hand, needs to be clear, direct and simple. People seek moral guidance and want to learn the tenets of our Faith. They want to hear about the Ten Commandments, justice and peace, human life and family relationships, final judgment and eternal salvation.

In short, the faithful want preachers to preach as Jesus did, with power and conviction, challenging people, not avoiding difficult issues. People should leave Sunday Mass motivated to live the Gospel throughout the week, but confident they possess the spiritual means to do so.

Thirdly, Catholics come to Mass on Sunday because they want to receive the Eucharist. This is a foundational element of Catholic life.
Although national surveys have suggested that some Catholics lack proper understanding about the manner of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, I’m convinced that most practicing Catholics have a core belief that the Eucharist is really the Body of Christ. This “holy communion” is extremely important for them. Most members of the Church, while being unable perhaps to articulate the exact theology, know that the Mass is related to the Last Supper of Holy Thursday as well as the Cross of Good Friday.

It’s true that our celebration and reception of the Eucharist is far too casual at times. [Amen!] It’s true that we’ve tended to neglect the wonderful presence of Christ in the tabernacles of our churches. [You got that right!] But I don’t think our carelessness is a crisis of faith as much as a manifestation of our normal human nature. After all, we take many of our best gifts for granted all the time. Catholics believe in the Eucharist and fully realize how important it is for their spiritual lives. That’s one of the reasons they keep coming to Mass.

Finally, I believe Catholics come to Mass to find sanctuary from the turmoil of daily existence. Our lives are active, busy and noisy — but empty. We come to Mass to be refreshed, to find peace quiet and fulfillment. Catholics come to church on Sundays to pray not party, to converse with God, not chit-chat with their neighbors.

The church is, or should be, a true sanctuary. I’m convinced that some semblance of sacred silence is crucial, even when the community gathers together. I’m troubled that some of our churches have a free-for-all before Mass, with loud and distracting conversations and laughter, making it nearly impossible for people to pray, to be recollected before they enter into the presence of the holy. [I know a priest who shall remain nameless, who once, while hearing confessions, could hear the laughter and loud chatter from the Church in the confessional. He opened the door of the confessional and chastized the people by saying it "sounded like a sale barn" in there. Needless to say, the were quiet after that.]

The recently revised “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” makes the same point: “Even before the celebration itself, it is praiseworthy for silence to be observed in church, in the sacristy and adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves for the sacred rites which are to be enacted in a devout and fitting manner.” (#56)

People have enough, indeed, far too much, noise in their lives and the pilgrimage to church on Sundays should be peaceful, restful and refreshing. Churches should be a spiritual oasis in the midst of our secular desert.

So, authentic community, effective preaching, the Eucharist, and sanctuary — these are the things Catholics are seeking when they come to Mass on Sunday. It’s what they need for a faithful living-out of their Christian vocation. It’s what the Church should give them.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Happy Feast Day of St. John Vianney

Today is the 150th anniversary of the entrance into eternal life of St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney is the patron saint of priests, so today offer a little prayer for all the priests who you have encountered in your life; the priest who baptized you, who heard your first confession, who gave you your first Holy Communion, who witnessed your marriage. And if you really want to make a priest's day, give him a call to wish him a happy feast day and thank him for saying yes to God's call to the priesthood.

Also, during this Year for Priests you can gain a plenary indulgence on this day. For more information you can click on the title to this post or here.