Feast of St. John May Vianney – Vespers: 3 August 2015

With this evening hymn of praise, we give thanks to God for all the blessings he has bestowed on us in the past year. We also present our prayers and petition to him for the coming year, hoping and praying that the Lord who has been so good to us in the past, will guide our noble desires to a positive.
The world has its own ideas about what the profile of a priest should look like. In fact two weeks ago, as Formators, we discussed a certain letter in the Southern Cross, supposedly written by a parent of a priest in which he outlines which qualities the priest should have. Among other things, he speaks of someone who has done studies in media, management and advertising. Unfortunately, nowhere does he mention the Eucharist and or the study of the scriptures and the lives of the saints who, by their lives, are the privileged exegetes of the Holy Scriptures. Today, further to the good example that John Vianney offers us as a path to holiness, I wish to look at the enigmatic figure of the beloved disciple presented in the gospel of John. It is my conviction that in this figure, we can create a profile of a priest.

In the first place, this figure, the beloved disciple, makes a dramatic entry into the gospel at the last supper, precisely at the moment when there is confusion about who was to betray Jesus. Peter signals to the beloved disciple as he reclines next to the Lord. This should be where every self-respecting priest should be. It should be a man who loves Jesus and is willing to be with him, spending time at the side of Christ, especially in moments of difficulty, confusion and disturbance. The Eucharist is the privileged place where we have an opportunity to be closest to Jesus.

The beloved disciple also finds himself at the cross together with the Mother of Jesus and some women. This presence at the cross remains a sign of the close friendship that he enjoyed with Jesus. He was prepared to be with him at the most sorrowful and painful of all moments. For him there was no fear of the Jews and he had no problem embracing suffering. A priest therefore, should also be a man who is ready to embrace suffering. It is easy to pity people in their sufferings and to be academic about it. What is needed from a man of God is far more than pity, but compassion. A compassion that does not look at suffering from a distance, but a suffering that calls to presence and action. The action of the beloved in this passage is very clear. “from that hour he took Mary to himself.” The action is instantaneous, without hesitation and without giving reasons on how he could not do as Christ had commanded.

After the burial of Jesus, news of the disappearance of the body of Jesus reached this disciple who at the time was together with Peter. He ran together with Peter, heading for the tomb but running faster. Upon arrival at the tomb he waited for Peter and only when Peter had arrived did he go on to inspect the tomb. The waiting, indicates his readiness to walk into the tomb together with Peter. This brings into sharp focus the virtue of humility in the beloved disciple, which should always form part of the profile of a priest. Ministry is always ecclesial and there is no place for a lone ranger. Failure to work together is normally a sign of pride and as we all know pride is one of the deadly sins. This reminds me of the Greek myth of Daedelus and Icarus. As the book Proverbs (11:2) teaches us, “when pride comes, then comes disgrace.” And in another part (Prov. 16:18) it says, “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The beloved disciple was also present together with the other apostles at the Sea of Tiberius at the encounter with the risen Lord which included the mission of Peter. At this moment, he remains in the sidelines and is proclaimed as the on who wrote all these things and his testimony is true. Evidently, giving testimony means having been in the upper room reclining next to Christ, having embraced suffering by standing near the cross and having shown humility. Only then can a man really and truly proclaim the gospel.

St. John Vianney is renowned as a great confessor. He stayed in the confessional for long hours reconciling people with the Lord. If we were to draw his profile, I am sure it would not be far off from the profile of the beloved disciple. John Vianney was a man who was profoundly in love with the Eucharist. One of his quotes: “I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master.” He embraced suffering as he struggled with the devil. When fame came his way, being a well renowned confessor, he remained humble. The feast of St. John Vianney invites us to go back to the basics and allow the Word of God to instruct us on what really matters. And as we continue with this hymn of praise, let us pray to God, that he may renew the much needed zeal in the life of priests the world over. At the same time, we pray for our seminarians here, that they may always keep their priorities in the correct order, valuing all the more the Eucharist, embracing an ascetic lifestyle so that they may be worthy witnesses of the risen Lord.
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