Fr Julian and myself arrived at Ars last Sunday night and walked up the pathway to the front door of the seminary where we were really well received by those who were in the entrance lounge: priests, seminarians and lay members of the Society of John Vianney. We were immediately offered supper, but we had already taken the opportunity of eating in Villefranche on our way from Lyon airport, and we were lead to our rooms where the grace and the tranquility of the house again took us in.
In the morning we were greeted by the wonderfully pastoral view of Ars from the seminary. In the early, still, quiet hours, the seminary chapel was already a haven of prayer for a host of priests who had arrived for the Colloquium.
The theme of the Colloquium was the Holiness of the Diocesan Priest. It is Christ himself who communicates his holiness to the lives of those He has chosen to be priests. Christ gives us the example of how to serve, so that we can transmit His risen life.
The priest is the minister of the new humanity to the old; the one who uniquely transforms the human heart, by crucifying the old humanity and giving new life in its place.
The presence of the St John Vianney was expressed throughout the congress: he was a genuine friend of God who could not live without God's love. Indeed, he was fascinated by God's love. He entered into the logic of self-gift, which is the logic of holiness. He was totally a priest.
We heard how the Rite of Priestly ordination - the way in which the Church has always made priests - reveals at the same time the way in which Christ himself chooses and makes a priest; one who can live with the same attitude and heart as the Eternal Son.
The Eucharist, above all, expresses Christ's love for the Church, a love which finds its inclination in the heart of a priest. Priests have a special companionship with Christ and with His praying heart. Christ advances in the life of a priest precisely through his prayerfulness. This is shown not just in the Mass, but in the Liturgy of Hours by which priests also express their charity for humanity.
During the two and a half days of the Colloquium we we part of a priestly movement whose desire was that each one should live in the plan which God has for him. We were mainly priests, many of them young, but we were joined by many seminarians of the International seminary whose house was hosting our gathering.
There was a tangible sense of the priesthood, of its greatness and of its unique place in God's plan of Salvation. So too, we were absolutely aware of how Christ desires to act in the life of His priest, and of how each priest is called to make himself available to the whole person of Christ, whose Mystery we are to hold and to communicate to many. Being set apart for the work of God has never before been so wonderfully expressed to me (and all of it in French!) Every priest is a doorway to Christ and the Life of Grace. I live in the world as a man and as a priest, and because of that I am forever a gentle subject of the Kingdom which leads me first to seek the Will of the Father and to be a channel of the charity of Jesus Christ.
We definitely want to return to Ars. Come with us next time, for a genuine renewal of the Diocesan Priesthood is happening here.