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Saturday, February 10, 2007

St John Vianney's Pastoral Plan

St John Vianneys Pastoral Plan retells the story of Fr. John Vianney (1786- 1859)- or St. John Vianney to the Roman Church - who is called the "patron saint of parish priests".

I was first introduced to this man's example by a charismatic episcopalian priest who was attracted to Vianney's gift of spiritual discernment which was described to me as a prophetic intuition that God used to bring people to repentance.

This article however does not address that subject or even acknowledge it. (Making me wonder about the first representation I received! I've lost the web site addresses where I read them!)

Instead, this study delves into what faithful ministers can do to serve the Lord and revitalize a parish.

It focuses on what pastors can be responsible for - their ministry in public and private - not that which they cannot be held responsible for, i.e. charismatic and prophetic gifts which are the Lord's to dispense.

So in this way Vianney becomes a Roman version of Richard Baxter or possibly Vianney's Lutheran contemporary in France Oberlin who likewise ministered during a time of France's struggles with the aftermath of the French Revolution's growing secular influences.

This article comes just in time for ministers of our day serving in the midst of America's resurgent unbelief.

May the Lord bless it to us all.

As you read the article with discernment, perhaps you'll note some of these gems and perhaps many more:

When we hear about pastoral plans, we often think first of implementing some packaged program motivating parishioners to “get involved.” St. John Vianney’s plan did not begin with the parishioners in what they needed to do, nor did it begin with what he needed to implement for them. He began with what he needed to do within his own life.

Coming upon the boundary of his new parish for the first time, Father Vianney knelt down and prayed. He was acutely aware that the mission given him was completely beyond his ability. If his priestly ministry was to be fruitful, it would come from Jesus working through him. For this reason we find him face down on the floor of his church early in the morning and late at night begging, even crying, for the grace of conversion for his parish. “My God,” he was heard to pray before the tabernacle, “grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer all my life whatsoever it may please thee to lay upon me; yes, even for a hundred years am I prepared to endure the sharpest pains, only let my people be converted” (p. 118). Only a priest who understood himself as a true father, and not a hireling could utter such a prayer. A hireling easily finds a way to avoid responsibility while a father takes responsibility. If the people were not holy, it was his responsibility to do something about it.

When the people began living their lives centered on God and not on work and pleasure, the symptoms of destitution and loose living began to disappear. One deacon related that Vianney did not begin by saying, “I’m going to end poverty in Ars.” Rather he began with a campaign to honor the Lord’s Day. This point does not insinuate that it is “either or” solution: either focus on Sunday or act in a more direct manner to alleviate society’s problems, but the solution is “both and.” Without the primacy of orienting one’s life toward God, however, the other efforts at societal reform, though noble, will not ultimately succeed. It should also be noted that his efforts required much time and patience. The rebuilding of respect for the Lord’s Day and the closing of the taverns took eight years of ceaseless effort, and even so was not completely successful. Nevertheless, a majority did re center their lives on the Lord, and destitution largely disappeared.

To convert the people of Ars, Vianney did not have to become a psychologist, a bureaucrat, or a social worker. The effectiveness of his plan also did not come from his charisma or “cult of personality.” He was simply their priest, the CurĂ© of Ars. All that was required was that he strive to become the man and priest Jesus had made him to be.