A Priest who Learned Leadership

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We may be tempted to abdicate leadership on the grounds that we do not have enough natural qualities.

Pope Benedict XVI pulled the carpet from underneath that excuse when he named a certain priest of a rural French parish who was not naturally gifted either in appearance or as a speaker or academically as worldwide patron for all priests.

But through living out the four dimensions of self-formation –  closeness to the fountains of grace, walking the paths of self-conquest, forming the mind through reading and reflection and a dedicated use of time –  the  “nonentity” would go on to “rock” his parish – and indeed all of France and finally the world!

And man, did he “rock”!  The following is a description of  the first weeks of the new pastor of Ars in his parish:

“He made the usual round of visits; almost everywhere he was received with friendliness.

After all, they hadn’t expected anyone very special—bishops are not in the habit of sending eagles into the country.

A very pious man, very simple, very timid, acquainted with the labors of the fields— so they saw him.

He would pray in his corner and not disturb people. They would exchange small services—chat with him from time to time, even perhaps go a shade more frequently to Mass, because he appeared to attach some importance to it, and nobody would like to hurt his feelings!

Yes, no doubt, an acquisition.

At the end of his visiting  Father Vianney knew all that as well as his parishioners. He had made discreet enquiries as to their situation, their occupations, their way of life. He was skilled enough by well chosen remarks to provoke information or that silence which reveals so much more. So that he knew quite precisely what each soul had made of the gift received at Baptism.

The picture was not brilliant. Out of fifty families there were five or six really devout, in addition to the lady of the château, Mademoiselle des Garets, a holy woman by any standard.

Clearly the kind of disease that demanded a desperate remedy.

He went up into the pulpit on Sunday, and this is something of what he said:

‘Christ wept over Jerusalem . . . . I weep over you. How can I help weeping, my brethren?
‘Hell exists. It is not my invention. God has told us. And you pay no heed . . . . you do all that is necessary to be sent to it.

‘You blaspheme the Name of God. You spend your evenings in the cabarets. You give yourselves to the sinful pleasures of dancing. You steal from your neigh- hour’s field. You do a world of things which are offences against God.

‘Do you think then that God does not see you? He sees you, my children, as I see you, and you shall be treated accordingly.

‘What misery! Hell exists. I beg you: think of hell. Do you think that your curé will let you be cast into hell to burn there for ever and ever! Are you going to cause this suffering to your curé?’

He had learnt his sermon with great trouble; but he did not recite it, he lived it—without anger, without violence, his voice and his eyes full of tears.

We may imagine that the congregation was surprised.

What? Is that the same man? The same who spoke so sensibly about land, and ploughs, and cattle? The same who appeared so sympathetic to the body’s sufferings, who could give you good prescriptions to cure whooping- cough?

Truly, he entered into the heart of his subject and into the heart of his hearers. He accused, he threatened.

And it was not merely vain words in the air. He meant what he said. He demanded what he demanded. He demanded every iota that God demands.” (HENRI GHÉON, The Secret of the Curé D’Ars)