Our Lady in the Life of the Priest
Pope Benedict XVI has been using every opportunity to promote a fruitful observance of the Year of the Priesthood. Especially noteworthy is the Holy Father's attention to the place of Our Lady in the life of the priest. At the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Assumption, he spoke of the Immaculate Virgin in the experience of Saint John Mary Vianney.
The Curé of Ars and the Parish Priest of Knock
It struck me, after my recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock, that the Marian devotion of the Curé of Ars (1786-1859) had much in common with that of the Parish Priest of Knock, the Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897). Both priests were devoted to Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception; both priests consecrated their parishes to her.
The memorial tablet erected by the grateful parishioners of Knock in honour of Archdeacon Cavanagh could, in fact, describe the Curé of Ars. It reads:
Pray for the soul of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Archdeacon of the Chapter of Tuam, and parish of Knock-Aghamore, whose fame, on account of the extraordinary sanctity of his life and his devotion to the Mother of God, was diffused thus far and wide. Unwearying in the Confessional, assiduous in works of piety, he died, full of years and merits, December 9th, 1897, R.I.P.
There is one mistake on the memorial tablet; the Archdeacon died, not on December 9th, but on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception to whom he was so devoted.
Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus message:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Mary Our Mother
In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Collect).
The Example of the Saints
Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.
Priestly Love and Veneration for the Most Holy Virgin
You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.
His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).
Never Tired of Speaking of Mary to the Faithful
And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).
The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.
"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).
Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.
Turn to Mary
Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.