In this week dedicated to Vocations Awareness in Australia (2-9 August), today we are fortunate to celebrate the Memorial of a great man of God, St John Mary Vianney, who is the patron saint of parish priests. He is an inspiration for all those discerning their vocations in that he struggled to be accepted into the seminary and then struggled with the priestly studies and struggled again to be approved for ordination to the priesthood. However the grace of God was at work within him and he soon began to draw people back to the faith with his great prayer and devotion, his penitential life, heroically long hours in the confessional, and his simple wisdom learned from his hours spent on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.
Many years into his priesthood he had a desire to join the Capuchin Order but the friars counselled him to continue the great work he was doing in his parish and he instead became a member of the Third Order of St Francis and continued on in his parish ministry.
We can learn many things from him but I invite you today to consider the great love that he had in his heart for the Lord. This is manifest in two texts that I invite you to consider. The first is a prayer of his – his “Act of love” and the second is a teaching of his on prayer. Both, I think, will help you acquire a deeper love for the Lord and be helpful for your prayer – which is at the heart of all vocational discernment.
Act of Love of St John Vianney:
I love you, O my God
My only desire is to love you,
until the last breath of my life.
I love you, O infinitely loveable God,
and I prefer to die loving you,
rather than to live for an instant without you.
I love you, O my God,
and I desire only to go to heaven,
to have the happiness of loving you perfectly.
I love you, O my God,
and my only fear is to go to hell,
because one will never have the sweet solace,
of loving you there.
O my God,
if my tongue cannot say at all times that I love you,
at least I want my heart to repeat it to you
as many times as I breathe.
Ah! Do me the grace:
to suffer while loving you,
to love you while suffering,
and, that when I die:
I not only will love you
but experience it in my heart.
I beg you that
the closer I come to my final end,
you will increase and perfect my love for you.
A Catechism on prayer, by St John Mary Vianney (from the Office of Readings of his memorial)
The noble task of man, to pray and to love
Consider, children, a Christian’s treasure is not on earth, it is in heaven. Well then, our thoughts should turn to where our treasure is.
Man has a noble task: that of prayer and love. To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.
Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by a marvellous light. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax moulded into one; they cannot any more be separated. It is a very wonderful thing, this union of God with his insignificant creature, a happiness passing all understanding.
We had deserved to be left incapable of praying; but God in his goodness has permitted us to speak to him. Our prayer is an incense that is delightful to God.
My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask.
And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.