Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Year of The Priest: Persecution, Piety, and St. Jean-Marie Vianney

Before the Vatican II years, the priestly vocation was always presented as sacrificial, which brought deep and satisfying rewards. "Vocations appeals," wrote Church historian James Hitchcock, "always emphasized the spirit of self-denial expected of the priest, and many communities, such as those of cloistered monks and foreign missionaries, attracted vocations by offering almost nothing but a life of self-sacrifice." - Goodbye Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church, Michael Rose, p 230

My husband has a friend who is vehemently anti-Catholic. We've not spoken much about my return to the Catholic Church, but I know enough about him to know that he thinks Protestants are the only ones who go through "real" persecution. When I was a younger girl, attending Catholic schools, I would look at the priests almost as a nameless, faceless organization, all marching in agreement with whatever the Pope said. All serving their churches with the same amount of love and devotion. How wrong I was.

It hasn't been until recently that I've realized not all priests are on board with the Pope. And not all share the same devotion to serving their parishes as is required by their vocation. It is appalling that someone like Fr. Alberto CutiƩ isn't immediately removed from the priesthood. Fr. CutiƩ not only has confessed to having an inappropriate relationship with a woman for 10 years, he is completely unrepentant over being discovered frolicking with her on a beach. In his words, "I will never ask forgiveness for loving a woman.'' Absolutely breathtaking.

In light of Pope Benedict XVI's proclamation of The Year of the Priest, which will run from June 19, 2009 to June 10, 2010; I have perhaps been divinely led to focus on priests. Before I heard about the Pope's intent for this upcoming year, I had heard about Michael Rose's book and planned to read it. In fact, years ago, while still involved with non-denominational churches, I had heard about the 'Lavender Mafia,' the name given to active homosexuals in seminaries who had risen to positions of leadership and systematically blocked good, orthodox men from becoming priests.

For those who know me, I can be a fireball of passion. During my years away from the Catholic Church, I was heavily involved in the ministry. One of the ministries I was involved with was prayer and specifically, I felt called to pray for pastors, their wives, and families. No matter which church I was affiliated with, I always seemed to find myself being held in the confidence of the pastor or his wife and would dedicate many of my prayers toward their protection and spiritual health. Leaders are spiritually attacked on levels that few experience, and it's no surprise. The devil hates the church and her leaders are especially hated. The enemy's strategy is, "strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter." (Matt. 26:31)

In Rose's book, I have been introduced to the patron saint of priests, St. Jean-Marie Vianney. This humble priest was an amazing man. His piety was reviled by not only sinners, but those within the church. Interesting, isn't it - that oftentimes those who lead pious lives receive persecution not just from the world, but from those who call themselves believers in Christ. But Fr. Vianney would not be dissuaded. Arriving at the small village of Ars, he prayed and said, "I will show you the way to Heaven."

Fr. Vianney had a difficult time during his seminary days, for he wasn't seen as particularly bright. But his humble and contrite heart could have taught his teachers several important lessons if they had been paying attention. Instead, young Fr. Vianney was ridiculed for not throwing his lot in with Jansenism, which many of his teachers promoted. There were many mortifications Fr. Vianney endured, some self-inflicted, others inflicted by others; but they only purified his soul, preparing him for a beautiful lifetime of ministry with one goal: to see his village converted.

I'll be writing more about St. Jean-Marie Vianney as I discover more about his life. But for now, lift up the priest of your parish in prayer and ask God to bless him and keep him safe. There is a fierce spiritual battle being waged against them and I suspect having a year dedicated to them by the Pope will only bring more. Still, God's grace is sufficient and His Church will prevail!

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