Written by Father Michael
Last night I went out to dinner with friends. One member of our party always makes it a party with the latest chapter of her life which is never dull. The tears of laughter that stream down our cheeks salt our meal to make a delicious feast. In the calmest creek she finds the choicest most favorable fish.
The tale starts with a comment that she is wearing a nice necklace. She reveals that she bought it at the carwash that day. The car wash in St. John also has a coffee lounge and a glass enclosed bay for detailing cars. She walked by the bay and saw an expensive sport car being cleaned and a gentleman watching the work. She comments to him that the car is a beauty and asks him “Is it yours?” He replies that it is not, but what if it was. She says: “If it was yours I would ask you your name.” They both laughed and went their ways. As she told the story her husband also was in tears.
That ability to be spontaneous and fearless in seeing the spice of life around us makes most of us bland. It has been four weeks since my retreat at Glastonbury Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Hingham, Massachusetts. Yearly I go with a few of my classmates from Mundelein Seminary for a week of reflection and rest. This year we chose the life of St John Vianney, the Cure’ of Ars as our theme for reflection. John Vianney was the humblest of priest, very dull and bland by some taste. He is the patron of parish priests.
Our retreat was self directed. We read a biography of the Cure’ and met three times a day to discuss it. We prayed the hours with the monks and celebrated the Eucharist with them. Chanting the Liturgy of the Hours in community is an experience I recommend for everyone. The full meaning of the words, “I lift up my soul to You. O Lord” becomes a reality in that setting. I did not expect to meet “John Vianney” in person. But I did meet Fr. Gerald and the monks at Glastonbury Abbey.
John Vianney was ordained in 1815 and for the next 45 years he served 259 people of God in a remote village in rural France. Humble and simple with no awareness of his own holiness people from all over France flocked to him for reconciliation. By the end of his life a railroad line was extended to Ars. Hotels were built to accommodate the influx of over 300 people daily that came to see him and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. He would spend 16 hours, on some days, hearing confessions. Why did they come to him? What did he say to them?
I do not know. What I do know is that my fellow retreatants and I met a John Vianney who could make a common ingredient of any retreat, reconciliation, and make it into a heavenly confection. Fr. Gerald’s words changed us immediately. His salt flavored our discussion, renewed our taste buds, and brought us to new level of our own priesthood. His humble assurance that with God’s help we can feed others renewed our priesthood and challenged us to see in the humble, the glory of God.