st-jean-vianneyAs well as the Roman Catholic Church, many Anglican churches celebrate St John Vianney on August 4. This year it is 150 years since the death of the priest who is known more commonly by his title “Curé d’Ars” (the parish priest of the village of Ars-sur-Formans). He is the patron saint of parish priests, and the Pope has announced this year as a Year for Priests in honour of “the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d’Ars, Jean-Marie Vianney, a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ’s flock”.

Some points worth reflecting on:

  • the concept of vocation – so quickly (too quickly in my opinion) the word vocation is applied to priesthood and “religious life”. Should not vocation be primarily applied to our baptismal calling to holiness and after that to discernment of our particular way of living out our baptismal vocation to love?
  • the understanding of God’s will – the impression is too quickly given in my opinion that God has a particular pathway planned out for us and should we deviate from this in any way our present happiness, let alone our eternal salvation, is in jeopardy unless and until we return to where we branched off God’s determined pathway and get back onto the correct path. This would have God intending you to marry Sarah and should you marry Martha instead, then you will be unhappy in this life not to mention the next… God intended you to be a Franciscan, but you misheard the call and became a Dominican – not until you leave the Dominicans and join the Franciscans will you be following God’s will for this life (and the next)… Possibly God’s will is more general than that – possibly it is more about searching out the deepest God-given yearnings of our God-given heart?
  • Priesthood as primarily a call to enable the baptismal life of the Christian community. The NZ Prayer Book ordinal says it well, in my opinion,

By the Holy Spirit all who believe and are baptised
receive a ministry to proclaim Jesus as Saviour and Lord,
and to love and serve the people with whom they live and work.
In Christ they are to bring redemption,
to reconcile and to make whole
They are to be salt for the earth; they are to be light to the world.

After his resurrection and ascension
Christ gave gifts abundantly to the Church
Some he made apostles, some prophets. some evangelists.
some pastors and teachers; to equip God’s people
for their work of ministry and to build up the body of Christ.

We stand within a tradition
in which there are deacons priests and bishops
They are called and empowered to fulfil an ordained ministry
and to
enable the whole mission of the Church.

  • This might also be a year in which we can discuss more deeply what priesthood means, what diaconate, and laity, and episcopate means, and whether people should be ordained directly to the order to which God calls them (per saltum)?

John Vianney lived and ministered in the aftermath of the French Revolution. He struggled with the academic formation required for priesthood. He greatly stressed the love and mercy of God and also the value of personal discipline. His popularity grew so that Lyons railway station had a separate booking office for trains to Ars. Close to 100,000 individuals came to hear him preach in the last year of his life.

Once, when he was arguing with a Protestant peasant woman in his village, he asked her, “Where was your Church before the Reformation?” She promptly replied, “In the hearts of people like you.”

Heavenly Father,
Shepherd of your people,
we thank you for your Servant John,
who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock;
and we pray that,
following his example and the teaching of his holy life,
we may by your grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Everliving God,
you gave to your servant John Vianney
 gifts of discernment and wise counsel;
grant to all pastors 
a full measure of your wisdom and your love,
that through their ministry 
your truth may be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Good shepherd,
yours was the strength which kept Jean, Curé d’Ars,
praying and reconciling year after year;
protect us too, we pray,
from fatigue which shrivels up compassion;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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