Tag Archives: Cure of Ars

Priest Under Fire — An Interview of Father Michael Rodriguez

[ED.] Where in the entire world of Catholicism are more priests like this to be found?

(www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Michael J. Matt (MJM): First off, Father, I’d like to thank you for the stand you’ve taken in recent months in defense of the Church’s moral teaching, especially with respect to so-called ‘gay marriage’.  Catholics all across the country have been following your case, and we’re delighted to have a chance today to ask you a few questions. Before we get into the “controversy”, however, I wonder if you’d mind telling us a little something about your personal background?

Father Rodriguez (FR): Not at all. I was born in El Paso, Texas, on August 23, 1970, the middle child of five. Many years later my parents adopted a sixth child, my youngest sister. As I grew up in the early ’70s, I was completely unaware of the disastrous post-Vatican II revolution that was sweeping throughout our beloved Catholic Church. Thanks be to God, I was raised by parents who were staunch Catholics with their childhood roots in the pre-Vatican II Catholicism of México. An example of the depth of these roots is that my maternal grandmother (born in 1906, in Aguascalientes, México) never accepted the Novus Ordo. She left this passing world in August 2002, always true to the Ancient Rite. Requiescat in pace. Even though my parents had accepted and adapted to Novus Ordo Catholicism during their post-collegiate years, they nevertheless raised us similar to how they had been raised: fidelity to Mass (albeit the Novus Ordo) and Confession, praying the Holy Rosary at home in the evenings, praying novenas and the Stations of the Cross, etc. As I reflect back on my childhood, it was a time of great grace and blessings. Even though my parents failed to hold fast to all the venerable traditions of our Faith and the Ancient Rite, they still did an excellent job of instilling the Faith in us. Interestingly enough, we four older children (born between ’67 and ’74) are now ardent supporters of the Traditional Latin Mass, even more so than our parents.

MJM: And are there one or two persons in your life that mentored you and helped you to remain open to God’s call?

FR: My parents, Ruben and Beatrice, were the ones who were most instrumental in my eventual discernment of a vocation to God’s holy priesthood. Through my father, God blessed me with discipline, fortitude, perseverance, and a love for study. Through my mother, God graced me with the convictions of faith, awe for the Catholic priesthood, a tender devotion to our Blessed Mother, and a love of religion.

MJM: At what point in your life did you know you had a vocation?

FR: I was raised in El Paso, TX, but spent four years (1981-1984) living with my family in Augsburg, Germany. We returned to El Paso, and I began high school. Following my junior year, I spent the summer (1987) at M.I.T. University in Cambridge, MA. I was participating in a special program for gifted minority students from around the nation. The program was geared to recruiting us to study engineering and science at M.I.T. as undergraduates. Well, our good God had different plans for me! I left El Paso that summer thinking I’d study electrical engineering (like my father) upon graduating from high school, only to return from Boston six weeks later, announcing that I wanted to enter the seminary! My mother was overjoyed.

MJM: Clearly, someone was looking out for you. Do you have a favorite saint, by the way?

FR: My favorite saints are: St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist (largely due to my 9 1/2 years at this El Paso parish), St. Paul the Apostle, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and, to no surprise, the holy Curé of Ars. I have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under three of her specific titles: Immaculate Conception (I was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 8, 1996), Mater Dolorosa, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

MJM: And, liturgically—where would you place yourself?  I know you offer the traditional Latin Mass, but is it accurate to describe you as an outright “traditionalist”?

FR: Liturgically, I’m 100% behind the Traditional Latin Mass, which is without question the true Mass of the Roman Catholic Church. Theology, liturgy, Catholic spirituality and asceticism, and history itself all point to the obvious superiority of the Classical Roman Rite. Unfortunately, all of my seminary formation was in the Novus Ordo, and I only “discovered” the Latin Mass about six years ago, so I still have a lot to learn in terms of “real Catholicism,” i.e. “traditional Catholicism.”

MJM: What was it initially that led you to begin offering the old Mass?

FR: About six years ago, several members of the faithful began asking me if I would be interested in offering the Traditional Latin Mass. At the time, there was serious concern on the part “El Paso’s remnant” of traditional Catholics that the Jesuit priest who was offering the Latin Mass twice a month (under the 1988 Ecclesia Dei “Indult”) was going to be transferred. Thus, they were looking for another priest who would be willing to offer the Latin Mass. At first, I declined, not so much because I wasn’t interested, but due to the immense workload which I was already carrying.

As the weeks passed, I began to study the prayers and theology of the Traditional Latin Mass. The more I studied, the more my awe and amazement grew. I was “discovering” not only the true Catholic theology of the Mass, but also the true Catholic theology of the priesthood, and so much more! Throughout my first nine years of priesthood, I had struggled to make sense of the very serious problems which exist in the Church. At this point, it was obvious that anextreme crisis pervaded the Church and her hierarchy, but why? I just couldn’t quite understand how all of this “diabolical disorientation” had come to pass . . . until the brilliant light of the true Catholic Mass (“Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam . . .”) began to penetrate my priestly soul. This “discovery” of the Traditional Latin Mass has been, by far, the greatest gift of God to my poor priesthood.

MJM: So this gives us an idea of how Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum can and does impact priests who might otherwise never  have had the opportunity to discover this great treasure. Given how it impacted you, how do you believe Summorum Pontificum will impact the Church long term?

FR: Unfortunately, both Summorum Pontificum and Universæ Ecclesiæ have plenty of weaknesses. Nevertheless, these documents do represent an initial step in what will probably still be a long and arduous “Calvary,” i.e. the quest of traditional Catholics to restore the Cross, the Mass, the kingship of Jesus Christ, and true Catholic doctrine, outside of which there is no salvation. In Article 1 of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI writes that “due honor must be given to the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V for its venerable and ancient usage.” This directive of our Holy Father is currently being disobeyed almost universally. In the accompanying letter to the world’s bishops (July 7, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI writes, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” These remarkable words of our Holy Father are also being disrespected and disobeyed almost universally, especially by many bishops. Finally, Universæ Ecclesiæ, No. 8, states very clearly that the Ancient Rite is a “precious treasure to be preserved” and is to be “offered to all the faithful.” Where in the entire world of Catholicism is this directive actually being obeyed? The same number fromUniversæ Ecclesiæ emphasizes that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy “is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees.” This is an astounding statement. This statement from Rome means that the use of the 1962 Missal doesn’t depend on a particular bishop’s liturgical views, preferences, or theology. It’s not about the bishops! On the contrary, it’s about the faithful! Where in the entire world of Catholicism is this directive actually being obeyed?

MJM: Are you now able to offer the old Mass exclusively? 

FR: Since I began my new assignment (Sept. 24, 2011) out in the rural, isolated missions of the El Paso Diocese, I’ve offered the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively. I consider this to be a marvelous and unexpected blessing from Providence in the midst of a very difficult trial. I hope to continue offering the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively. If it were strictly up to me, I would never celebrate the Novus Ordo Missæ again. However, the sad reality of having to “obey” in the Novus Ordo Church that has largely lost the Faith, and the need to reach out patiently to Novus Ordo faithful who have been so misled, means that I will probably be “forced” to celebrate the Novus Ordo occasionally. In these instances, however, it will be the Novus Ordo ad orientem, with the Roman Canon, the use of Latin, and Holy Communion distributed according to traditional norms.

MJM: Up until last year, I believe, things were pretty quiet in your priestly life.  What happened to change all that?

FR: The local, and even national, “controversy” that has engulfed me is due to the fact that I have been vocal in promoting what the Roman Catholic Church teaches in regard to the whole issue of homosexuality. It’s a disgrace, but the City Council of El Paso has been adamant in trying to legitimize same-sex unions. This goes completely contrary to Catholic Church teaching. I’ve made it clear to the Catholics of El Paso (and beyond) that every single Catholic has a moral obligation before God Himself to oppose any government attempt to legalize homosexual unions. A Catholic who fails to oppose this homosexual agenda, is committing a grave sin by omission. Furthermore, if a Catholic doesn’t assent to the infallible moral teaching of the Church that homosexual acts are mortally sinful, then such a Catholic is placing himself / herself outside of communion with the Church. These are the Catholics who are actually excommunicating themselves, not the Society of St. Pius X!

MJM: I can understand why the civil authorities and media might find this “controversial”; but why would your ecclesial superiors find it so?

FR: The dismal response of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities to the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church in regard to homosexuality demonstrates how extreme the current crisis of faith actually is. It really can’t get much worse. There’s hardly any faith left to lose! Even a pagan, bereft of the light of faith, can arrive at the conclusion that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. Reason, natural law, and consideration of the male and female anatomy more than suffice to confirm this moral truth.

MJM: And yet you must go where the bishop tells you to go.  Is this difficult for you?

FR: In my particular circumstances, obedience to my bishop has been incredibly difficult. Nevertheless, obedience is essential to the priesthood, and I intend to be obedient. One consoling aspect of “sacrificial,” “death-to-self” obedience, is that the Holy Ghost will always come to one’s assistance. I’m reminded that my poor sufferings are nothing compared to those of Mater Dolorosa and our Divine Redeemer. If I’m counted as one even slightly worthy to suffer for the Faith and the Traditional Latin Mass, I will consider myself profoundly blessed. God is so good.

MJM: As you are already living through a form of persecution, I assume you foresee more to come not only for you personally but for all Catholics who stand in defense of Church teaching. But what about the future?  Any hope?

FR: Yes, I do foresee plenty of persecution still to come for all those who remain steadfast in the Faith and in their adherence to the Ancient Rite. However, the promise of our Savior cannot but fill our souls with hope, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for My sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.” (Mt 5:10-12)

MJM: How can lay Catholics best survive this crisis of faith?

FR: In order to overcome this crisis of faith, we must (1) do everything in our power to recover the Catholic Faith: the Ancient Rite, traditional Catholic teaching in doctrine and morals, the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, traditional Catholic piety and devotions, and a traditional Catholic “code of living” or “rhythm of life.” (2) On a daily basis we must strive to pray, study, fast, do penance, and practice charity with the aforementioned goal in mind. Finally, I strongly urge all faithful Catholics to (3) pray the Holy Rosary daily and heed our Blessed Mother’s Message at Fatima.

One of the hallmarks of the Traditional Latin Mass is its exquisite and concentrated focus on eternity. If we are to survive and overcome this terrible crisis of faith in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, we have to keep our intellect and will focused on eternity. We cannot lose hope when, from a worldly perspective, all seems lost. Jesus Christ promises “the kingdom of heaven” to those who endure persecution, and “a great reward in heaven” to those who suffer for His sake. (Mt 5:10-12) The final goal is heaven! Like St. Paul, we must press ahead towards the ultimate “prize” (Phil 3:14) and never cease to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1)

MJM: Like so many others, Father, I find myself deeply moved by your powerful witness not only to the Faith itself but also to the Catholic priesthood, which, as you know so well, is under diabolical attack. Thank you for this example of what it means to be a Catholic in an era of persecution. May all of us have the courage to follow your lead through the rough seas still ahead.

Letter to Clergy for the Year for Priests (Full Text) | Pope Benedict XVI | June 18, 2009

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From the Vatican Information Service:

VATICAN CITY, 18 JUN 2009 (VIS) – The Pope has sent a Letter to the priests of the world for the occasion of the Year for Priests, which has been called to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.

Tomorrow, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and day of prayer for the sanctification of the clergy, Benedict XVI will inaugurate this Jubilee Year for Priests during Vespers in the Vatican Basilica.

The Letter has been published in Italian, French, Spanish, English, German, Polish and Portuguese. The complete text of the English language version is given below:

Dear Brother Priests,

On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 – a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy – I have decided to inaugurate a “Year for Priests” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the “dies natalis” of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide. This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”, the saintly Cure of Ars would often say. This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labours, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as “friends of Christ”, whom He has called by name, chosen and sent?

I still treasure the memory of the first parish priest at whose side I exercised my ministry as a young priest: he left me an example of unreserved devotion to his pastoral duties, even to meeting death in the act of bringing viaticum to a gravely ill person. I also recall the countless confreres whom I have met and continue to meet, not least in my pastoral visits to different countries: men generously dedicated to the daily exercise of their priestly ministry. Yet the expression of St. John Mary also makes us think of Christ’s pierced Heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it. I am also led to think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister. How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted, even at times to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?

There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgement of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realisation of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of St. John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Cure of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy”. He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realised what he is, he would die. … God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host”. Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the Sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest. … After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realise what he is”. These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the Sacrament of the Priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: “Were we to fully realise what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love. … Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth. … What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods. … Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshipping the beasts there. … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there”. As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ’s presence and to bear witness to His saving mercy: “[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!”. With this prayer he entered upon his mission. The Cure devoted himself completely to his parish’s conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of St. John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ’s saving activity was, and is, an expression of His “filial consciousness” which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to His will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Cure of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonising his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to “live”, physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: “Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed”.

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Cure also knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organised popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

His example naturally leads me to point out that there are sectors of co-operation which need to be opened ever more fully to the lay faithful. Priests and laity together make up the one priestly people and in virtue of their ministry priests live in the midst of the lay faithful, “that they may lead everyone to the unity of charity, ‘loving one another with mutual affection; and outdoing one another in sharing honour'”. Here we ought to recall the Vatican Council II’s hearty encouragement to priests “to be sincere in their appreciation and promotion of the dignity of the laity and of the special role they have to play in the Church’s mission. … They should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes, and acknowledge their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able together with them to discern the signs of the times”.

St. John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. “One need not say much to pray well” – the Cure explained to them – “We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to Him, let us rejoice in His sacred presence. That is the best prayer”. And he would urge them: “Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from Him in order to live with Him. … “Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!”. This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those present said that “it was not possible to find a finer example of worship. … He gazed upon the Host with immense love”. “All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass” – he would say – “since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God”. He was convinced that the fervour of a priest’s life depended entirely upon the Mass: “The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!”. He was accustomed, when celebrating, also to offer his own life in sacrifice: “What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!”

This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this Sacrament. In France, at the time of the Cure of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a “virtuous” circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become “a great hospital of souls”. His first biographer relates that “the grace he obtained [for the conversion of sinners] was so powerful that it would pursue them, not leaving them a moment of peace!”. The saintly Cure reflected something of the same idea when he said: “It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God Himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to Him”. “This good Saviour is so filled with love that He seeks us everywhere”.

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite”. From St. John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the Sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the “dialogue of salvation” which it entails. The Cure of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God’s forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Cure would unveil the mystery of God’s love in these beautiful and touching words: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, He already knows that you will sin again, yet He still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: He even forces Himself to forget the future, so that He can grant us His forgiveness!”. But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how “abominable” this attitude was: “I weep because you don’t weep”, he would say. “If only the Lord were not so good! But He is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!”. He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with Him and dwelling in His presence: “Everything in God’s sight, everything with God, everything to please God. … How beautiful it is!”. And he taught them to pray: “My God, grant me the grace to love You as much as I possibly can”.

In his time the Cure of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love. Thanks to the Word and the Sacraments of Jesus, John Mary Vianney built up his flock, although he often trembled from a conviction of his personal inadequacy, and desired more than once to withdraw from the responsibilities of the parish ministry out of a sense of his unworthiness. Nonetheless, with exemplary obedience he never abandoned his post, consumed as he was by apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls. He sought to remain completely faithful to his own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism: “The great misfortune for us parish priests – he lamented – is that our souls grow tepid”; meaning by this that a pastor can grow dangerously inured to the state of sin or of indifference in which so many of his flock are living. He himself kept a tight rein on his body, with vigils and fasts, lest it rebel against his priestly soul. Nor did he avoid self-mortification for the good of the souls in his care and as a help to expiating the many sins he heard in confession. To a priestly confrere he explained: “I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place”. Aside from the actual penances which the Cure of Ars practised, the core of his teaching remains valid for each of us: souls have been won at the price of Jesus’ own blood, and a priest cannot devote himself to their salvation if he refuses to share personally in the “precious cost” of redemption.

In today’s world, as in the troubled times of the Cure of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: “Are we truly pervaded by the Word of God? Is that Word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that Word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this Word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?”. Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with Him, and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that “new style of life” which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.

It was complete commitment to this “new style of life” which marked the priestly ministry of the Cure of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter “Sacerdotii nostri primordia”, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the “three evangelical counsels” which the Pope considered necessary also for 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”. The Cure 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 realised that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his “Providence”, his families of modest means. Consequently, he “was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself”. As he would explain: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back”. 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”. 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!”. His chastity, too, was that demanded of a priest for his ministry. It could be said that it was a chastity suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist, who contemplates it blissfully and with that same bliss offers it to his flock. It was said of him that “he radiated chastity”; the faithful would see this when he turned and gazed at the tabernacle with loving eyes”. Finally, Saint John Mary Vianney’s obedience found full embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry. We know how he was tormented by the thought of his inadequacy for parish ministry and by a desire to flee “in order to bewail his poor life, in solitude”. Only obedience and a thirst for souls convinced him to remain at his post. As he explained to himself and his flock: “There are no two good ways of serving God. There is only one: serve him as he desires to be served”. He considered this the golden rule for a life of obedience: “Do only what can be offered to the good Lord”.

In this context of a spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels, I would like to invite all priests, during this Year dedicated to them, to welcome the new springtime which the Spirit is now bringing about in the Church, not least through the ecclesial movements and the new communities. “In his gifts the Spirit is multifaceted. … He breathes where He wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places, and in ways previously unheard of, … but he also shows us that He works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body”. In this regard, the statement of the Decree “Presbyterorum Ordinis” continues to be timely: “While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognise with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind”. These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well. The communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide “a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world”. I would also like to add, echoing the Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis” of Pope John Paul II, that the ordained ministry has a radical “communitarian form” and can be exercised only in the communion of priests with their bishop. This communion between priests and their bishop, grounded in the Sacrament of Holy Orders and made manifest in Eucharistic concelebration, needs to be translated into various concrete expressions of an effective and affective priestly fraternity. Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles which accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated.

The Pauline Year now coming to its close invites us also to look to the Apostle of the Gentiles, who represents a splendid example of a priest entirely devoted to his ministry. “The love of Christ urges us on” – he wrote – “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died”. And he adds: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him Who died and was raised for them”. Could a finer programme be proposed to any priest resolved to advance along the path of Christian perfection?

Dear brother priests, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney (1859) follows upon the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes (1858). In 1959 Blessed Pope John XXIII noted that “shortly before the Cure of Ars completed his long and admirable life, the Immaculate Virgin appeared in another part of France to an innocent and humble girl, and entrusted to her a message of prayer and penance which continues, even a century later, to yield immense spiritual fruits. The life of this holy priest whose centenary we are commemorating in a real way anticipated the great supernatural truths taught to the seer of Massabielle. He was greatly devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; in 1836 he had dedicated his parish church to Our Lady Conceived without Sin and he greeted the dogmatic definition of this truth in 1854 with deep faith and great joy”. The Cure would always remind his faithful that “after giving us all he could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us His most precious possession, His Blessed Mother”.

To the Most Holy Virgin I entrust this Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Cure of Ars. It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to His Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: “In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world”. Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Cure of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by Him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!