St. Matthew Church | Glendale Heights, Illinois

Ars is a little town in France that would remind you of any sleepy farming town in Illinois, were it not for its gentle, rolling hills. But the crops are the same—a bit of corn here—and the weeds seem the same, too; velvet-leaf or buttonweed that I remember pulling up more of my fair share when I was a kid in Beecher. Now if you go up one of those gentle hills just outside the village, you will find a statue of its most well-known citizen: St. John Marie Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. The statue commemorates his first arrival to the town when he couldn’t even find it. Fr. Vianney approached a local boy, Antoine, to get directions. Then he told the youth, “You have shown me the way to Ars. I will show you the way to heaven.” And he did.

Ars was the only parish assignment of the holy priest. His Bishop warned him, “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there.” The villagers opposed him from the beginning; they loved their sinful dancing more than the Sunday Mass and they did not appreciate the call to conversion. But the simple priest won them over with his persistent, caring heart. He loved them more than their opinion of him; his love for them made them holy by the power of the love of Christ in the sacraments, especially Confession.

During Fr. Vianney’s first years at the parish, he spent long hours in an empty confessional, waiting for people to come. In his last years, he spent long hours in the confessional, now jam-packed as people waited for hours and even days to receive the mercy of Jesus from his hands. The work was wearing him out. Four times he tried to escape his parish assignment; not from laziness or cowardice, but to run to a monastery and pray and make up for his sinful life. Each time his parishioners had the good sense to track down the holy man and keep him at the parish—they finally realized they had a saint in their midst and they were the better for it. They discovered that, “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.” Why is the priest so important? Because “without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord.” (quotes from St. John Vianney)

This Friday, August 4, is the Feast day of St. John Vianney. Please take the time to pray for priests, especially your parish priests. Remember to pray for them every day—they do the same for you at their daily Mass. Pray that they will be faithful to the gift of their priesthood every day of their lives. If you love your parish priests, pray for them: “Thank you God for our priests! Keep them faithful.” If you hate your parish priests, pray for them even more: “Thank you God for our priests; look what you can do with sinful men. God, please, make them saints.” Believe me, I know how you feel; there are times when I can’t stand the pastor at our parish—and I have to live with him. But this is our mission together, given to us by Christ: to fill Glendale Heights with the holy love of Jesus. We must travel together, along the paths of Glen Ellyn Road and find there the path to heaven. This is our mission here and now, just as it belonged to St. John Vianney and his parishioners in France two hundred years ago. After forty years of service to his beloved parishioners at Ars, Fr. Vianney found the way to heaven—he is a saint. And heaven was found also by the little boy he first met along the way. Antoine died shortly after his holy pastor, the first parishioner to do so. Both Antoine and Fr. Vianney found Christ and loved Christ right there in Ars. For them, Ars was a doorway to heaven. As Fr. Vianney said, “The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.”

Pray that it may be so here at St. Matthew in Glendale Heights. Pray for your priests every day. Let us help each other get to heaven by welcoming our Lord here and now.

St. John Marie Vianney, pray for us!

Fr. Jerome