Feast of St. John Mary Vianney
With Age-Old Love I Have Loved You
In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who wanted help for her afflicted daughter. Historically, the Canaanites were viewed as wicked and sinful by the Israelites — feelings dating back to the time of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. This woman had enough faith to come and ask Jesus for help — and even Jesus’ disciples urged Him to get rid of the woman! Jesus’ first words to the woman seemed to be a shocking put-down, yet they merely represented the feelings of then-contemporary Jews towards the Canaanites. Jesus’ own response was one of love, as seen in the fact that He granted her request and cured her daughter.
The story isn’t specifically about Canaanites, for the woman stands for anyone who is disliked, hated, or despised. Jesus constantly preached that love is not exclusively for those who are dear to us; He proclaimed that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…following His example of all-inclusive love. We are to live lives of love, as does Jesus…a love that forgives, encourages, welcomes and gives life.
Today the example of the 19th century saint, St. John Mary Vianney, is held up for us 21st century disciples. He was especially known for his gracious and generous ministry of the Sacrament of Reconciliation at his parish in Ars, France — regularly spending hours sharing God’s love through the Sacrament with thousands of penitents who traveled great distances for those few graced moments with him. His loving ministry flowed from an intense spiritual life based on prayer and mortification. St. John Mary Vianney truly witnessed the "age-old love of the Lord…the mercy" recalled by the Prophet Jeremiah in today’s 1st reading. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI named him patron of all priests worldwide.
Jesus and St. John Mary Vianney pose us some questions: How do we welcome the stranger? Offer forgiveness? Overcome prejudice? Deal with our enemies? Really listen to those who come our way? Do we zealously and tirelessly give of ourselves in service to our sisters and brothers?
Our responses – and our lives – hopefully celebrate the "age-old love of the Lord"!
Pray this day especially for priests — active, retired, deceased — and for those discerning a priestly or religious vocation: for a deepening faith, and a greater love.
Fr. John Schork, C.P. is the local leader of the Passionist community in Louisville, Kentucky.