Sunday Sharing 8.4.19

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Fr. Tom Refermat

Fr. Tom Refermat

When I was a seminarian, I was always impressed with my professors, who seemed to be knowledgeable about certain theologians. So I thought I would try to get to know spiritual confessors of the Church. I devised something called the Saint of the Year. You have heard of Woman of the Year and Movie of the Year, why not a Saint of the Year? So I designated a saint each year to be the Saint of the Year, and I would take out all the books I could and read up on them to learn as much as I could about the saint chosen.

My first Saint of the Year was Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests at the time, and now patron saint of all priests. He’s not a theologian, but a parish priest who lived in France in the 19th century. While the Civil War was being fought in America, a little priest in a small town in France, called Ars, was transforming a parish. He never went through Renew My Church, but transformed a whole town from a place known for its corruption, drinking, and partying, to a holy place where pilgrims came from far and wide to see this holy priest known as the Curé of Ars. A possessed woman once told the Curé that if there were 3 priests like him in the world, the devil’s kingdom would be destroyed!

You probably wouldn’t find anything attractive with this priest: he wore the same tattered priest clothes each day, was frail, and looked ghastly. I recall once seeing a painting of this man looking thin, simply skin and bones. He spent most of his priesthood eating only rotten potatoes and spending 16 hours daily in the confessional. He took a few moments to offer Mass and weekly gave a catechetical talk, leaving 3 hours of sleep each night. If that weren’t enough, it seemed the devil loved to pester him while trying to sleep, once catching his bed on fire! A parishioner spent the night at the rectory, and heard a loud gunshot in the middle of the night. When the man woke up the saint, the Curé simply replied, “It’s the grapplin” [his name for the devil], and the man never stepped foot in the rectory again!

He never wrote a book, nor was famous for any great theology. Few knew him, and fewer followed in his footsteps. He was a simple priest who never accepted any award, and wished to live his life in service of the people.

How did he transform a parish? Through prayer and fasting, and through being available for his people for the sacraments, particularly confession. Saint John Vianney was known to be able to read a person’s soul, and know what the person needed to confess before the person ever mentioned anything. So famous was he in the confessional that people waited days, yes days, in line to go to confession to this saint. He preached against dancing and late night parties that caused people to miss Mass on Sundays. He made many enemies, but one could never accuse him of not caring for a soul.

With all the miracles that occurred through him, he never took the credit, but frequently turned to an obscure saint, Saint Philomena, for the credit. At the time, her relics were found after being buried for centuries. She was Saint John Vianney’s little saint, who never let him down.

I mention Saint John Vianney because today, August 4th, is his feast day. If you get a chance, say a prayer for a priest. Many of us have family and friends to pray for us, but sometimes priests are frequently forgotten. Who was the priest who baptized you, who gave you your First Holy Communion, who confirmed you, and who hears your confession? Who is the priest who makes sacrifices for you, who brings your petitions before the Lord at every Mass, and who cares for your soul?

After a year of reading book after book about this humble priest, I was inspired to be like him. Although I have not come close to this saint’s dedication and love for his people, I continue to strive to do a little each day. I will probably never transform a parish like this man did, but I know the Lord has another mission for me, and it begins with being faithful and listening to what God is calling me to do. Saint John Vianney did this in everything he did. May all of us do our part to transform this parish by inspiring others’ lives and following our vocation.