"I have appointed you a watchman"
Today is the Memorial for St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney was a simple man who struggled with his studies to become a priest. When he was finally ordained, he was assigned the pastorate of a small village parish called Ars in France. When he arrived in Ars, he did not find the people fervent in their faith. In fact, he found that such fervency was terribly lacking on account of numerous sinful practices of the people. He labored incessantly for their conversion, but it only brought more grief as the people began to resent him. But St. John Vianney was a man of prayer. He prayed for hours and fasted so regularly that it became his regular diet to eat very little. Slowly the situation in Ars began to change. Many began to seek the saint out to hear their confessions. His reputation as a confessor grew to such an extent that people from all over the world would come to make their confessions. At one point, he was hearing confessions for about 16 hours a day. St. John Vianney died in 1859. He is the patron saint of priests. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death, the Holy Father has declared this year to be the year of the priest. We are especially reminded to pray for our priests.
St. John Vianney embodied the exhortation to be a watchman found in today's first reading for the saint's Memorial. He could have easily settled for a life of ease in a little village parish, being well liked and well thought of by all the people. Instead, he endured the difficulties and obstacles with an eye towards the salvation of the souls under his charge. His sermons were filled with powerful rebukes against very many sins prevalent among the people of Ars. Contrary to popular perception, such is the true heart of a priest who loves his people because such is the heart of God. It was prayer and the faithful preaching of the Word that brought Ars to a true conversion. It is ever the same in every place today.
These exhortations are not for priests alone. For all believers in Jesus Christ have inherited a share in His priesthood. It is our responsibility to proclaim His Word to every creature and to pray fervently for an outpouring in our nation such as was seen in Ars. But who will pay the price? Who will endure the ridicule? Who will risk the loss of friends or popularity? Who will undergo such fasts and commit hours to prayer rather than the televesion or a host of other inane distractions competing for our attention? Who? Will it be you? Will it be me?
As long as we are content to leave such stories on the page and bask in the warm afterglow of their thoughts, nothing will change. When we take them as our own and recognize that the God of Ezekiel, and the God of St. John Vianney is our God today. He has not changed. If we will be so committed to the care of souls around us, we may count on His power to fall once more.
God grant that we will be watchmen and grant an outpouring of Your grace upon us! Amen!