Medium: Coloured Pencil on Pastelmat
This image depicts the patron saint of parish priests, St. Jean Marie Vianney (1786-1859), keeping company with Jesus in Gethsemane. The “Curé of Ars” (as he was commonly known) exclaimed upon his deathbed, “How sweet it is to die if one has lived upon the Cross!” Having spent his priestly life in union with the Crucified, he had nothing to lose at death, and everything to gain: everlasting bliss with his Beloved Jesus, and the joy of having dragged to Heaven a multitude of souls through a life of penance – especially the grinding crucifixion of the Confessional, where he spent the greater part of his days.
In contemporary North America, the devout Catholic priest bears a formidable cross. The sexual abuse scandals of the past several decades have shattered the public perception of the Church. Moreover, popular culture is actively hostile to the Gospel, and this hostility exists within the Church as well. The majority of Catholics are “cultural Catholics” who have never been catechized, and no longer attend Sunday Mass. Genuinely holy priests who are unwilling to compromise the truth cannot help but feel alone, even among their brother priests; they must endure the slow martyrdom of popular opinion.
While these sufferings can be disheartening, they remain a divine invitation to enjoy a profound solidarity with the suffering Christ, and through that suffering, to become a saint. It was precisely because of his intimacy with the Crucified that the holy Curé succeeded in revolutionizing his parish, leading countless souls to the Divine Physician. Yet, even should a priest fail to meet with visible success in his apostolate, he can trust that if he bears his sufferings with love, the harvest of his sorrows will yield unimaginable fruitfulness – fruit that will be seen and savored in Heaven. The faithful priest is not alone; he is with Jesus in His Passion, and Jesus is with him. After all, the work of salvation is not advanced primarily through meetings, projects and successful initiatives. Rather, it came to fruition in the most unexpected way on the Cross, amidst the Lord’s heart-wrenching cry: “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46).
A PRIEST AFTER HIS HEART
(A poem by Adelaine, written for a priest-friend.)
The same fire,
The same Spirit and desire.
The same life,
The same atoning sacrifice.
The Body of Christ, the body of His pastor
Loving in the image of his Crucified Master;
Priest and Victim, Priest and victim
Your life freely offered with Him.
Your will is the altar of this union
Nourished by the day’s Communion
Through childlike humility, obedient docility
Your penance and your purity.
Submissive to the Father’s plan,
He is the Host in your sacred hands
And you are the host in His,
Consumed by the Mercy He is.
The same light,
The same divine transforming sight.
The same Word,
The same eternal truth is heard.
The Paraclete! –Your power and reason
To announce the Gospel out of season
Without revision or omission
Most loyal to your King’s Commission.
His message by this world so scorned,
He crowns you with His crown of thorns.
Your persecution’s secret wisdom:
Men of violence command the Kingdom.
Obtaining life by bearing death,
He feeds His lambs out of His own flesh
And you feed your lambs out of yours –
A martyr’s blood outpoured.