Feast of St. John Vianney
Building the Church
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus’ question to his disciples long ago continues to challenge people in the 21st Century – as does His follow-up question: “…who do you say that I am?” Hopefully we can chime in with St. Peter and faithfully respond “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus used this encounter with his disciples to share his divine plan for the building up of the Church, his Body on earth. As this selection from Matthew’s Gospel states, “building up the Church” included Jesus’ rejection, suffering and death…and even the hindrance of the disciples in walking with Jesus in his toughest hours. Again Peter spoke from his human heart when he cried out that “God forbid, Lord…no such thing shall ever happen to you!” Yet Jesus would freely embrace his suffering and death on the cross, and rise from the dead; later the outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave life to that small group of followers…and here we are today, Jesus’ Church of the 21st Century, embracing the opportunities and challenges that are ours.
Today we celebrate the life of a faithful minister and disciple-builder of the Church from the 19th century, St. John Vianney. He was a simple man with a humble background, an unsophisticated theology – and a zeal to spread God’s love and build up the Church! He is 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 merciful 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. Saint John Vianney truly witnessed the age-old, merciful love of the Jesus — so much so that in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI named him patron of priests.
Jesus and St. John Vianney pose questions for us as we are today called to help build up the Church: How zealous are we for our faith? Do we offer forgiveness to those who hurt us? Do we really listen to those who come our way? Do we zealously and tirelessly give of ourselves in service to our sisters and brothers? Do we personally take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially in this Jubilee Year of God’s Mercy?
And today, as we honor the “patron of priests”, let’s pray for priests — active, retired, deceased — and for those discerning a priestly or religious vocation: for a deepening faith and a greater, zealous love. Together we proclaim Jesus as the Son of the living God, and continue to build the Church!
Fr. John Schork, C.P. is a member of the Passionist community in Chicago, Illinois.