Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury welcomed the heart of the Curé d’Ars today with a Mass celebrating the gift of the priesthood.
In his homily at St Anthony’s church in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, he said that without priests we would not have the Lord.
The Mass followed the veneration of the relic and the hearing of Confessions.
Quoting St John Vianney, Bishop Davies said: “In his direct way of speaking the Curé of Ars invited his parishioners to make a similar list in order to lead them to what seems an astonishing conclusion: ‘Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders,’ he said, ‘we would not have the Lord.’
“He explained this by begging these questions: ‘Who put him in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest/the deacon. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for life’s journey? The priest. Who will prepare you to appear before God, bathing your soul one last time in the Blood of Jesus Christ? The priest. The priest, always the priest,’ he said. ‘And if this soul should die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace. Again the priest.’”
St John Vianney grew up amid religious persecution in France after the Revolution, and was a parish priest in the French village of Ars, where his reputation as a confessor and director of souls made him famous across the world.
The patron saint of priests was canonised in 1925 by Pius XI and Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year for Priests in honour of the 150th anniversary of his death.
The visit follows a request by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, who petitioned Bishop Guy-Marie Bagnard in September when he and his clergy visited Ars. Bishop Bagnard later wrote to Bishop Davies to confirm that the heart of St John Vianney could be transported to Shrewsbury.
Bishop Davies told the congregation in Wythenshawe that the visit of the relic of St John Vianney was a time to remember what the Catholic priesthood is about.
He said: “Tonight we remember such a priest, a parish priest who belongs to us all in the communion of saints and helps us to see what is at the heart of the Catholic priesthood yesterday, today and to the end of time. It is a vital moment to see anew what is always at the heart of the priesthood after events of scandal have involved the ordained ministry and left hurt and confusion in their wake.
“We need so often to re-set our course with the saints who show us a heart truly given and encourage us in the words of Scripture to ‘keep running steadily in the race we have begun’.
“Together with the jubilarians who represent more than 200 years of ordained ministry between them, we begin this pilgrimage of prayer tonight. We set out in the company of St John Mary Vianney to pray for fresh heart in the priesthood and diaconate, in the mission of our parishes and for those called to continue the sacred ministry for generations still to come.”
The Bishop of Shrewsbury re-emphasised the significance of recent scandals surrounding the priesthood. He referred to the “dark shadows” which have tarnished perceptions of the priesthood and have consequently prompted questions about the real heart of the priesthood. He said: “Public perception can be distorted by the grave sins and failures of a few, by those who have drifted in their doctrine or their moral life, and by those who have grown lax or who no longer seek to live out the ideals.
“While we would never wish to minimise evil, we know this is never the true face of the Catholic priesthood as it has been given to the Church and lived in countless, often heroic lives. ‘What is most helpful,” the Holy Father said, ‘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… here the teaching and example of St John Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all.’”
The Bishop of Shrewsbury said the vocation of priestly ministry depends upon the Mass for strength. He said: “St John Vianney, with the incisive prognosis of a physician of souls, had no doubts where problems begin for us. The reason we grow lax in our vocation ‘is because we do not pay attention at Mass,’ we are not attentive to the Holy Eucharist, he said.
“The Second Vatican Council would repeat this conclusion in its teaching that the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life and that it is from the Sacrifice of the Mass that the whole priestly ministry draws its strength. If the Blessed Eucharist is not at the centre of our lives then we have no strength, no life. If we begin becoming careless or neglectful of the mystery and reality of the Eucharist it is from this, the Curé of Ars warns, that coldness, indifference, the loss of apostolic energy follows.”
The relic is due to visit Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool tomorrow with Mass at noon. It will then travel to St Michael and All Angels church on the Wirral.
During the weekend it will visit Shrewsbury Cathedral and then will travel to Oscott College in Birmingham, where a vocations festival will be taking place.