A Priestly Heart
9/1/2018Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
The witness of St. John Vianney encourages us to grow in holiness, fidelity and love
THE ANNUAL Supreme Convention always concludes with the holy sacrifice of the Mass offered for fellow Knights, families and loved ones who died during the past fraternal year. Present at that Mass are relics of saints who are near and dear to the Knights of Columbus. This year, for example, we venerated St. John Paul II, our beloved K of C Mexican Martyrs and St. Edith Stein. We also venerated the relics of two saints who are part of the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native born citizen of the United States to be canonized; and St. John Neumann, who was ordained a bishop in 1852 at St. Alphonsus Church in downtown Baltimore.
Relics are precious and holy reminders of our closeness to the saints. They tell us that saints were flesh-and-blood persons, unique individuals, in whom and through whom God’s holiness shone forth. They spur us to strive, in God’s grace, to lead lives of integrity, virtue and charity.
One particular relic we venerated during this year’s convention touched me very deeply. It was the heart of St. John Vianney, the patron of priests. Vianney was born in 1786 in Dardilly, France, to parents who were poor but devout. In their home, the seeds of a priestly vocation were planted in their son’s heart, but his path to the priesthood was arduous as he struggled with his studies. Ordained to the priesthood in 1815, Vianney was soon appointed pastor of a parish in the remote village of Ars. Arriving there, he found that the faith was all but dead among the villagers.
Father Vianney’s priestly heart, however, burned with love for Jesus and for the people he was sent to serve. This priest, whose talents were regarded as mediocre, brought the parish at Ars back to life by bringing many of his parishioners back to the practice of the faith. He did so not by strategic planning, but rather by the force of his integrity and holiness, the fruit of his daily prayer centered on the Blessed Sacrament, his practice of self-mortification, his untiring love for his parishioners, his long hours in the confessional, and his confrontation with evil. Soon, his remote parish began to attract people from all over France and even from other parts of Europe. It was an unlikely place to become a center for reevangelization and renewal, but God, in his providence, raised up a good and holy shepherd to lead the way.
St. John Vianney, who had not been regarded as promising by his superiors, set a very high standard for every bishop and priest. Gazing upon his priestly heart, I was deeply moved. I was filled with gratitude and hope. At the same time, I was struck by my own shortcomings as a person and as a shepherd. I also could not help but think of how the Church’s mission of evangelization is harmed when her bishops and priests are mired in infidelity — either personal misconduct or failures of leadership.
By contrast, when in God’s grace a shepherd strives, like St. John Vianney, for authentic goodness and holiness, what a difference it makes. The faith is true, good and salvific — but it becomes credible when preached and borne witness to by shepherds whose deeds bear the marks of integrity, by shepherds who are firmly on the road to holiness, by shepherds who are filled with pastoral love.
In these days when the misdeeds of shepherds are so painfully evident, may I say a word of encouragement and thanks to you, the family of the Knights of Columbus? Your love of the faith, your practice of the principle of charity, and your support for the Church’s bishops and priests are a great gift. You help us live the vocation God has given us. As supreme chaplain of the Knights, I have experienced this time and again. Thank you. And please do pray for me, for your chaplains, and for all members of the clergy. Pray that we might have in us a priestly heart, like that of St. John Vianney — that is to say, a heart like unto that of Christ.