By Holly Gustafson
I love reading about and learning about the saints, but there are a couple of them that I have become particularly close to – I feel like if we’d been alive at the same time, we probably would have been friends! St. Faustina Kowalska is one, who died nearly forty years before I was even born, but whose diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, feels less like spiritual reading, and more like a conversation with a wise and compassionate friend. I turn to her diary often seeking solace and advice.
The other saint with whom I have formed an intimate bond is St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. I received him randomly as my patron saint one year (Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator is a good place to go to have a patron saint randomly selected for you), and felt somewhat disappointed; it seemed that all my friends had received cool, popular or current female saints (think Thérèse of Lisieux, Catherine of Siena, or Edith Stein) and I was stuck with an eighteenth-century priest with whom I was sure I’d have nothing in common. I learned only the basics about the Curé of Ars that year, biding my time until the next year when I could choose a new – and hopefully “cooler” and more “relevant” – patron saint.
And, alas, when I received St. John Vianney as my randomly-selected patron saint for the second year in a row, I knew that God was trying to tell me something, or rather, that God knew that the little Curé of Ars had something to tell me. So I consented to lean in, and learn about him.
And in my reading about the life of St. John Vianney, I slowly but surely fell in love. I rooted for him to become a priest (his studies were interrupted by the French Revolution). I empathized with him as his tiny parish grew, to the point where he, who had always yearned for a quiet contemplative life, tried to run away from Ars four times (as a young mother who was sometimes overwhelmed by the unrelenting duties of caring for a growing family, I knew the feeling!). And as I read about the hot August days in which he lay in his bed dying, while his parishioners draped wet tarps over the roof to cool the house and keep him with them a little while longer, I too felt like I was losing my beloved parish priest, and would have done anything to keep him with me a few more days.
“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 here on earth,” says St. John Vianney, the official patron saint of priests. “The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door.”
I’ve been thinking of our priests often lately, as they navigate through ever-changing protocols to bring the sacraments to their parishioners and be the shepherd that God has called them to be. It certainly can’t be easy. Several months ago, I spoke with a priest whose parish is in the heart of New York City, which was, at the time of our conversation, the global epicentre of the pandemic. His parish was closed, as was the neighbourhood surrounding the church – the once-busy streets were empty of pedestrians and sidewalk vendors, and the restaurants, art galleries, gyms and cafés were all boarded up. While he missed celebrating Mass and making home visits to the elderly parishioners in the area, he knew that his biggest challenge was yet to come – bringing people back to the Eucharist, and returning his parish to the thriving community it once was.
“The priest is not a priest for himself,” St. John Vianney tells us, “he is a priest for you.” Our priests, who continue to celebrate the Eucharist for us, even in our absence, and do all they can to administer the Sacrament to us in a safe and prudent way, need our prayers more than ever.
EUCHARISTIC CHALLENGE OF THE MONTH
Join me in a 12-month challenge to grow closer to the Eucharist this year. This month, pray for the priests in our diocese, who celebrate the Eucharist with us and for us.
Holly Gustafson lives with her husband, James, and their five children, in Regina, where they attend Christ the King Parish. Holly received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba, and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, "Always ask Love. It advises best."
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