Memorial of Saint John Vianney, Priest
Reading 1 NM 12:1-13
of the marriage he had contracted with a Cushite woman.
They complained, “Is it through Moses alone that the LORD speaks?
Does he not speak through us also?”
And the LORD heard this.
Now, Moses himself was by far the meekest man on the face of the earth.
So at once the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and Miriam,
“Come out, you three, to the meeting tent.”
And the three of them went.
Then the LORD came down in the column of cloud,
and standing at the entrance of the tent,
called Aaron and Miriam.
When both came forward, he said,
“Now listen to the words of the LORD:Should there be a prophet among you,
in visions will I reveal myself to him,
in dreams will I speak to him;
not so with my servant Moses!
Throughout my house he bears my trust:
face to face I speak to him;
plainly and not in riddles.
The presence of the LORD he beholds.Why, then, did you not fear to speak against my servant Moses?”So angry was the LORD against them that when he departed,
and the cloud withdrew from the tent,
there was Miriam, a snow-white leper!
When Aaron turned and saw her a leper, he said to Moses,
“Ah, my lord! Please do not charge us with the sin
that we have foolishly committed!
Let her not thus be like the stillborn babe
that comes forth from its mother’s womb
with its flesh half consumed.”
Then Moses cried to the LORD, “Please, not this! Pray, heal her!”
Responsorial Psalm PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 6CD-7, 12-13
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense;
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned;
and done what is evil in your sight.”
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
That you may be justified in your sentence,
vindicated when you condemn.
Indeed, in guilt was I born,
and in sin my mother conceived me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not off from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 14:22-36
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret.
When the men of that place recognized him,
they sent word to all the surrounding country.
People brought to him all those who were sick
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak,
and as many as touched it were healed.
Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?
They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.”
He summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand.
It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man;
but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.”
Then his disciples approached and said to him,
“Do you know that the Pharisees took offense
when they heard what you said?”
He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted
will be uprooted.
Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.
If a blind man leads a blind man,
both will fall into a pit.”
Commentary on Matthew 14:22-36 From Living Space
As soon as the people had been filled with the food that Jesus gave them, Jesus packs his disciples off in the boat to the other side of the lake. He sends the crowds away and then retreats to the mountain to pray all by himself.
We know from John’s account that the people wanted to make him a king. If Jesus wanted to take control of the crowd this was the moment; they were ready to follow enthusiastically. Jesus was indeed their king but not the kind they were expecting. He would draw the crowds to him in a very different way, hanging in shame on a cross.
It looks too as if he did not want his disciples to get any wrong ideas either. They must have been elated at their role in the extraordinary event of feeding more than 5,000 people. So, perhaps with a lot of grumbling, they are sent off even before the excited crowds have dispersed.
As they make their way across the lake in this dark mood, things get even worse. They run into a big storm and their boat is being tossed about like a cork. Then, out of the darkness, between 3 and 6 in the morning hours, they see Jesus approaching them across the water. Far from being delighted, they are terrified out of their wits. Superstitious men that they are, they think it is a ghost. Ghosts were very much a part of their world.
Words of encouragement come across the water: “Courage! It is I [Greek, ego eimi, ‘ego ‘eimi] = I AM]. Do not be afraid.” Jesus gives himself the very name of Yahweh; this is all the reassurance they need. Their God is with them.
Only in Matthew’s account of this story do we have Peter’s reaction. “Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come to you across the water.”
Peter gets out of the boat and goes towards Jesus. It is an act of love and faith/trust. But not quite enough. The power of the wind and waves gets stronger than his desire to be with Jesus. He begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” Jesus lifts him up, “How little faith/trust you have!”
As soon as Jesus and Peter get into the boat, there is a complete calm.
The rest of the disciples are overwhelmed: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
We have here behind this story an image of the early Church, of which the boat and the disciples are a symbol. The surrounding water is the world and the wind and waves, the forces which threaten the tiny community. Jesus seems to be far away but he is not and he appears in the midst of the storm. Once he steps inside the boat, there is calm, not only because the surrounding storm has stopped but also because of the peace which the awareness of Jesus’ presence gives.
There is an added element in this story in that Peter, the leader of the community, comes hand in hand into the boat with Jesus. In time, the authority of Jesus will be passed over to him.
There is also, of course, in the calming of the storm an indication of Jesus’ real identity, expressed in the awe-filled words of the disciples, “Truly, you are the Son of God”, echoing Jesus’ own statement of “I AM”.
There is a brief epilogue at the end of our passage. The boat reaches the area of Gennesaret. The name refers either to the narrow plain, about four miles long and less than two miles wide on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, north of Magdala, or to a town in the plain. Significantly for the work that Jesus was about to do, the plain was considered a garden land, fertile and well watered.
As soon as Jesus reaches the shore the crowds again gather in huge numbers especially to have their sick cured. So great was their faith that they asked only to touch the fringe of his garment. All those who did so (in faith) were healed.
Jesus had sent away the crowds earlier probably because of the late hour but also perhaps because of the mood of the crowd which was taking on political overtones not wanted by Jesus.
But now they are back to seek from him what he came to give them: healing and wholeness.
Accustomed to the most severe austerities, beleaguered by swarms of penitents, and besieged by the devil, this great mystic manifested a imperturbable patience. He was a wonderworker loved by the crowds, but he retained a childlike simplicity, and he remains to this day the living image of the priest after the heart of Christ.
He heard confessions of people from all over the world for the sixteen hours each day. His life was filled with works of charity and love. It is recorded that even the staunchest of sinners were converted at his mere word. He died August 4, 1859, and was canonized May 31, 1925.
Thomas Merton: You should want to be a saint.
You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.
Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.
But many of us are challenged to do more….
One of our favorite stories of Thomas Merton is here:
grant me the grace of your Law.
I have chosen the way of constancy,
I have moulded myself to your judgements. (Ps 119,29-30)
We know very well that leaders are not perfect. The decisions that we make will not always please those people that we serve. Of course, there are times when we will make sincere mistakes. Even in such situations, we tend to receive harsh criticisms. This was true of Moses as well. In spite of his greatness, it seems that Moses made a decision that was displeasing and unacceptable to some members of his community, represented by Aaron and Miriam. Scholars are not very clear as to why Aaron and Miriam spoke against him. Perhaps, it was because he divorced his first wife or took a woman from among the Cushites not accepted by the community.
Voicing our unhappiness with the decisions of our superiors in itself is not wrong. However, when our criticisms are no longer constructive but become personal attacks on their personal integrity and even at their office and authority, then such reactions can no longer be justified. This could imply that we are no longer objective, and our dissent could spring from jealousy, personal interests or lack of knowledge. This precisely was the real mistake committed by Miriam and Aaron. They became vicious in their opposition against Moses and said things against him in a disparaging manner, “Has the Lord spoken to Moses only? Has he not spoken to us too?” Passing this remark was tantamount to challenging the appointment of Moses by God as the leader of the community and even doubting the wisdom and sovereignty of God’s choice.
So the Lord called three of them to the Tent of Meeting. But it was not meant to be a meeting to discuss the problem. Rather, it was a meeting to reprimand and punish Miriam and Aaron. God said, “How then have you dared to speak against my servant Moses? The anger of the Lord blazed out against them. He departed, and as soon as the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam a leper, white as snow!” Ironically, instead of isolating Moses from the rest of the people, the Lord punished Miriam with leprosy. In rejecting His appointed leader, they had also rejected the authority of God in the final analysis.
What then should we do in the face of opposition to our authority? Like St Peter who lost his self-confidence in the authority the Lord had given him to walk on the sea, in the face of the storms in our lives, quite often we, too, are shaken in the office we hold because of difficult and unpleasant criticisms. How can we remain firm and confident, upholding the office the Lord has given to us?
Firstly, we can learn something from Moses. We must remain calm and humble. The first reading told us “Moses was the most humble of men, the humblest man on earth.” To be humble does not mean that we are spineless. Meekness is to be calm and yet firm in our dealings with people who oppose us. It also presupposes that we are ready to admit our mistakes, to reconsider our decisions, that we could be judgmental or fail to see the whole problem. What is significant about Moses was his silence before their charges and accusation. He did not take things into his own hands. He must have prayed over it but he did not react with anger and resentment. He left it to the Lord!
Secondly, we must pray. That was what Jesus did. The gospel told us “after sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray.” Jesus must have felt the need to discern and to take direction from His Father in the prospect that the people wanted to make Him king. We, too, must pray before we make any decision. When the work becomes difficult; when, like the disciples, we are “battling with a heavy sea” and “a head-wind”, all the more we must cling on to Jesus. Prayer helps us to recover our identity as His appointed servants, purify our motives for service and, most of all, through the criticisms, discern His will as to whether it comes from the Lord or from the selfishness of the human heart.
Thirdly, we must realize that all legitimate authority comes from God. The authority that we exercise is on His behalf and not for ourselves. That was what God told Aaron and Miriam. He said, “If any man among you is a prophet, I make myself known to him in a vision, I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses: he is at home in my house; I speak with him face to face, plainly and not in riddles, and he sees the form of the Lord. How then have you dared to speak against my servant Moses?” Indeed, the sin of Aaron was a misplaced disloyalty, questioning the unique position of Moses. He was chosen by God, not by men! This is what differentiates our appointment from the secular world. They are chosen by popularity, credentials, qualifications, and by their fellowmen. As such, they can be deposed from their office if they are found to be disagreeable or when they fall out of favour. The Sacrament of Holy Orders particularly, is by divine election; not by human choice. No one can demand to hold an office except when the community discerns it as coming from God’s choice.
Once we have these dispositions, we can then consider how we should respond to our detractors. When we are confident that it is the Lord who bestows the authority on us, we can afford to be more forgiving and compassionate with those who do not understand our position. We must forgive those who, in their folly, have misjudged us. The magnanimity of Moses is seen in the prayer he interceded on behalf of Aaron and Miriam who turned against him. “Moses cried to the Lord, ‘O God,’ he said ‘please heal her, I beg you!’” One of the most important qualities of a leader is to forgive those who hurt him and be humble sufficiently to ask for forgiveness as well.
Secondly, as leaders, we must be people who encourage those who have failed us, especially those who have been judgmental towards us. Jesus was sympathetic with Peter and the disciples. When the disciples were terrified and cried out in fear, “at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’” When Peter lost faith “as soon as he felt the force of the wind…and began to sink” he cried, “Lord! Save me!” Jesus “put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped.” Jesus knew that they needed time to come to realization that He is truly the Son of God. Let us be patient with our detractors and slanderers. When God enlightens them and makes them aware of their selfishness or ignorance, they will repent and change their attitude towards us.
Finally, we must pray for those who oppose us. Just as Moses pleaded for Aaron and for Miriam, we too mustleave judgment to the Lord. Moses prayed for the one who challenged him and asked God to bless his oppressors. We can be sure that God will honor His servant in the face of challenges and troubles. By praying for our enemies, we will become less resentful, more compassionate and understanding. If not, we might nurse grudges and hurts in our encounters with them, leading to vindictiveness and hatred. This will make us lose all objectivity and eventually lose the moral authority to lead on behalf of God. Yes, we must pray for calmness and a detached objectivity to the decisions that we make for those under our care.
In this way, we can become fearless and compassionate leaders, serving without vested interest, conscious only that we are exercising authority on behalf of God for the good of the community. God who appoints us for the office will ensure that He gives us the necessary graces to accomplish His task, so long as we are receptive and docile to His grace. Like St Paul we should also pray, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:3-6)
St. John Vianney, the Cure’ of Ars and patron saint of priests, is well known for being a confessor who could see into others’ souls and for taking great penances upon himself for the conversion of sinners. Less known, though, is his wisdom. John Vianney may have had difficulties learning Latin and passing his seminary exams, but he preached beautiful insights:
“To approach God you should go straight to Him, like a bullet from a gun.”
“Prayer is the conversation of a child with his Father. Of a subject with his King. Of a servant with his Lord. Of a friend with the Friend to whom he confides all his troubles and difficulties.”
“A pure soul is with God, as a child with its mother. The child caresses and embraces her, and its mother returns all its endearments.”
“Just as a mother holds her child in her hands to cover it with kisses, so does God hold the devout person.”
“Our Lord takes pleasure in doing the will of those who love him.”
“God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.”
“You must accept your cross. If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.”
“Here is a rule for everyday life: Do not do anything which you cannot offer to God.”
And as we turn now towards the Eucharist, let us keep this final thought in mind: “To content his love, God must give Himself to us separately, one by one.”
For many years, around 300 people would travel by train each day to a small town of 230 people. Why did they come? They came because they sought the mercy and counsel of Christ in the confessional of John Marie Vianney. Why did Father John 12 to 17 hours a day sitting in his confessional? He was there because he believed that this sacrament was that important.
Today we often hear people say, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest when I can just pray to God directly? It’s like the complaint of Aaron and Miriam in the first reading, “Is it though Moses alone that the Lord speaks?”
Jesus, in the upper room, breathed on his apostles and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Did Jesus give them this authority and power for no purpose at all?
Jesus gave us the sacrament of reconciliation because we need it. Confession prevents my sins from just being between me and myself. It prevents me from making mountains into molehills, and molehills into mountains. It allows me to know with absolute confidence that this sin of mine is forgiven forever. When we go to confession we acknowledge the Incarnation, that Christ redeemed us in His flesh, not merely by composing a prayer to the Father.
If you are too shy to admit your sins to a priest, who won’t know who you are, and couldn’t tell another soul even if he did, then what makes you think you will have the poise to stand face to face with Christ at the judgment?
When Miriam and Aaron sinned, they turned for mercy to the Lord’s servant, Moses, and their sin was healed. If you have neglected confession, please come. There is mercy, peace, and God’s help awaiting you.
If you already go to confession with some frequency, then please offer a penance today for the conversion of sinners. St. John Vianney did penances for conversions because he was convinced that it made a difference.
In the Gospel we heard that every sick person who came and touched Jesus’ cloak was healed, but those sick people first had to be brought to Jesus. Help carry them.
“The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” —St. Thomas Aquinas
“Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.” —St. Francis of Assisi
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” —St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
“One single Mass gives more honor to God than all the penances of the Saints, the labors of the Apostles, the sufferings of the martyrs, and even the burning love of the Blessed Mother of God.” —St. Alphonsus Liguori
“All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.” —St. John Vianney
“If the Angels could envy, they would envy us for Holy Communion.” —St. Pope Pius X
“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you–for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.” —St. Thérèse of Lisieux