Today, 4 Aug 2012, is the feast day of St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests and of all priests. The way he won the hearts of his parishioners over to the Heart of Jesus is worth studying. Of even greater value is imitating his methods. Let’s look at them….
1. He placed the names of each one of his parishioners into a heart shaped receptacle that hung over a statue of Our Lady in the parish church. Doing this was a way of entrusting each one of them to Our Lady’s intercession. It is a wise parish priest who gets the best intercessor in heaven praying for his parishioners.
2. He prayed for his parishioners. This was not ‘prayer on the run’. In addition to his regular prayers, St John Vianney would add fasting, corporal penance, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, extended times of prayer and Holy Mass.
3. He got to know his parishioners well enough through short visits, that he could tailor his sermons to those aspects of the Christian life which would do them the maximum good. Not only did St John Vianney determine the major things which were preventing his people drawing closer to God, he took practical steps to help them. He would not only preach against dances and working on Sunday (for example), he would also provide clean and wholesome alternative activities.
4. He went to good sources for inspiration. It takes not only prayer but also study to prepare a homily packed with spiritual goodness. From the library at Ars it can be seen that St John Vianney received a lot of inspiration from the church fathers.
5. He didn’t spend money on himself, but he did spend money on increasing the dignity of the outward trappings of the Mass : chasubles, chalices, altar linens etc. Outward signs and reverence help human beings to appreciate the wonder and magnitude of what takes place in the sacred liturgy.
6. He was well aware that ignorance of the teachings of the Catholic faith was one of the major reasons why souls were not progressing in their relationship with God. To combat this St John Vianney conducted frequent and regular catechism classes. In these classes He would explain the truths of the Faith in easily comprehensible language and would ‘tell it to them straight’ without any watering down of the demands of the Gospel.
7. He not only followed in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles by preaching repentance, he also dedicated himself to providing the means of reconciliation with God. For hours on end St John Vianney would minister the healing and reconciling Sacrament of Penance. So pleased was Jesus with his work in the Confessional that He gave St John Vianney the gift of being able to read souls, thereby making his ministry in the Confessional even more effective.
8. He looked at the needs of the most needy in his parish and initiated works of mercy to assist them. The most notable of which was the House of Providence which looked after the orphans in the parish.
9. He encouraged devotion to the Saints, especially St Philomena and St John Francis Regis.
10. He had great faith that God would provide for all his personal needs, and for the needs of all those entrusted to his care. More than once God miraculously multiplied food for the hungry members of the House of Providence, at St John Vianney’s request.
Throughout these 10 methods, the prime motivations for St John Vianney were the salvation of souls, and the glory of God .
St John Vianney, pray for us.