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Pontifications

Cure d'Ars.jpgBenedict XVI’s rather pious letter opening the Year for Priests is beginning to elicit some reactions–diplomatic but also clearly stating that the pontiff’s invocation of the Cure’ d’Ars as a model priest may not be terribly relevant for working priests today. The Cure’, a.k.a. St. Jean Marie Vianney, was a nineteenth-century French priest whose quasi-monastic existence hardly compares to that of today’s pastors.

At the CNS blog, a really fine priest and good guy, Father Ken Doyle of Albany, engages the pope’s message but then shows how his frenetic schedule doesn’t really comport with Vianney’s static existence. Not all priests are monks:

I’m not saying that the life of the priest is all work and no play; if you let it be that, you’ll soon be in trouble. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m going to Baltimore with two high school classmates who are also fellow inveterate Red Sox fans to see Boston play two games against the Orioles. (Tickets at Fenway Park are nearly impossible, but at Camden Yards you can walk in off the street.)

What I am saying is that a monastic spirituality, with a large dose of quiet built in, just doesn’t work for today’s parish priest. Instead, how about this as a practical alternative: 10 minutes a day, early in the morning before the craziness begins, 10 minutes to talk things over with God, to measure progress on our journey to heaven. Let’s do it just for a year — the Year for Priests. It could even become a habit.

In the latest Tablet, from London, Father Shaun Middleton, parish priest of St Francis of Assisi Church, Notting Hill, west London, writes:

I often get the feeling that John Vianney was a tortured soul. There is no doubt that he wanted to show those entrusted to his pastoral care the way to God but I wonder if his view of humanity was coloured by the Jansenism that was so prevalent in France at that time.

The Jansenist heresy, it should be remembered, had a contemptuous disregard for human nature, which it saw as fundamentally depraved. The Curé d’Ars was a devoted priest and because of this he was raised to the altars. Yet a retreat into the cultic aspects of priestly ministry, which were so precious to St John Vianney, is perhaps too safe a place to be.

Surely holiness is not only to be found as the priest stands at the altar of sacrifice or ministers in the confessional or brings God’s healing to the sick. It is also to be found in taking a risk: in going to those places and entering into those situations where one is deprived of the comfort and reassurance of that which is sacred and familiar.

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