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Next summer, the incorrupt heart of the Curé d’Ars will be visiting the diocese of Shrewsbury; but why only Shrewsbury?

Surely priests (and seminarians) from other dioceses should be spending time with their patron saint? Not to mention the rest of us

By on Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Knights of Columbus honour guard processes with a reliquary containing the incorrupt heart of St John Vianney (Photo: CNS)

A Knights of Columbus honour guard processes with a reliquary containing the incorrupt heart of St John Vianney (Photo: CNS)

First of all, for anyone who has missed it: the miraculously incorrupt heart of St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests – which was carried in procession through St Peter’s Basilica at the opening of the Year for Priests in 2009, which had been declared by Pope Benedict in honour of the 150th anniversary of his death – is to be brought to England for a four-day visit.

That’s the good news. The bad news (for anyone whose diocesan bishop is not Bishop Mark Davies) is that to venerate this very powerful relic of one of the Church’s greatest saints, you will have to go, next summer, to the Diocese of Shrewsbury, since there are at present no plans for the heart of the patron saint of all parish priests, really of all priests, to make a halt anywhere else. It should be added that a visit to Shrewsbury diocese will be very much easier for some than for others, so many of us whose dioceses are more or less en route to Shrewsbury (how will the relic be arriving? Through the tunnel?) will be hoping that our own diocesan bishops will be on the phone to Bishop Davies to try to work out a considerable extension to present plans.

Meanwhile, this is what the Shrewsbury diocese tells us about the thinking underlying the visit, and also about how it came to be arranged:

The three intentions of the four-day visit of the relic of the Cure of Ars in early July 2012 are to provide an occasion of prayer for the renewal of the ministerial priesthood in the diocese, to inspire new and generous vocations, and to spur the renewal of the missions and life of all parishes in the diocese.

The relic will be accompanied by the Rt Rev. Guy Bagnard, Bishop of Belley-Ars, France, and two priests of his diocese, and will be taken to a number of locations to provide opportunities for its veneration by priests and laity and as an invitation to prayer. A programme will be announced at a later date.

The visit is being arranged following a request by the Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, to Bishop Bagnard when they met in September during a visit of the young Shrewsbury clergy to Ars, where three seminarians for the Shrewsbury Diocese are also in training. Bishop Bagnard later wrote to Bishop Davies to confirm that it would be possible to transport the heart of the saint to England.

St Jean Vianney has always seemed to me one of the most powerfully affecting of saints, for though of course the saints are all lovers of God, not all of them in their earthly lives were so visibly so that their love of God was conveyed to so many other ordinary people, and in a way which was exceptionally demanding: this was no vague odour of sanctity which inspired in a gentle but sometimes effective way (nothing wrong with that, of course) a growth towards God: He didn’t just love God, he expected his people to love him too, and smartish.

His aim was simple, but total. It’s an unfashionable notion, perhaps, or was until recently, of a priestly pastoral style (just a thought: is that why he’s only going to Shrewsbury? Hmmm… Surely not). l love the story of his arrival in Ars. As he neared his parish, he asked someone the way. Having been told, he said simply: “You have shown me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven”. There are so many stories about him; often when the Curé was returning to Ars from missionary expeditions, the local mayor, anxious about his safety, would send his son Antoine to accompany him on his journey home. “Even amid the snows and cold of winter,” Antoine long afterwards related, “we rarely took the shortest and best road. M. le Curé had invariably to visit some sick person. Yet the tramp never seemed really long, for the servant of God well knew how to shorten it by relating most interesting episodes from the lives of the saints. If I happened to make some remark about the sharpness of the cold or the ruggedness of the roads, he was always ready with an answer: ‘My friend, the saints have suffered far more; let us offer it all to the good God.’ When he ceased from speaking of holy things we began the Rosary. Even today I still cherish the memory of those holy conversations.” (For more, go here.)

He never let up; it’s hard to imagine him, in modern circumstances, taking the occasional evening off his parish duties to watch television. He is patron saint of all parish priests, really of all priests; and a truly demanding one, that most will find hard to emulate. But it’s not his Stakhanovite spiritual energy that is held up for emulation, but his vision of the priesthood. As Bishop Davies puts it of his incorrupt heart, many in his diocese (and I hope en route to it) will be venerating “this visible reminder of the heart of a simple and extraordinary pastor will encourage us to look to that love and truth found at the heart of the Catholic priesthood, for St John Vianney said simply: ‘The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.’

Bishop Davies adds: “This will be an invitation for everyone to pray for the renewal of the ministerial priesthood in our time, a renewed sense of mission in our parishes and for new and generous vocations for the future.”

Well, truly, a Church whose priesthood were indeed renewed by St John Vianney’s vision of its ministry as being nothing less than “the love of the heart of Jesus” would be invincible – nothing, the very gates of hell, would stand against it; even the materialist and decadent society in which we live would not be entirely unaffected.

I have an idea. The origin of the visit was in a visit Bishop Mark himself paid to Ars, where he has three seminarians: why not (surely there’s still time to arrange it) a halt at each one of the four remaining seminaries in England (as well as a visit to their local cathedrals), so that those preparing for their own priesthood might spend several days in the presence of this most powerful saint? It could hardly do less than irresistibly affect their priestly formation; it could be a major step in the renewal of the whole English Church.

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic ideas…

    But Dr Oddie the Cure d’Ars – and all he represents – is not conducive to the modern notions of a ‘presbyteral ministry’ where we all can hog some of the ‘limelight’ for  – by virtue of our Baptism – we share in a royal priesthood [adherents to this paradigm are invariably remiss in failing to mention that it's not our priesthood - but it's Christ's priesthood in which we share.]

    A priest in the vision of Lacordaire:

    To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures; To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none; To share all suffering; to penetrate all secrets; To heal all wounds; to go from men to God and offer Him their prayers; To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope; To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life; and it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ.

    …is not desired when so many professional laity and sancturary-clinging ‘ministers’ of this that and the other can claim ‘I’m priestly in my ministry too’.

    Look at what’s happened in Austria – where the laity are defiantly going to say their own masses; at Holland where the same thing has been going on under the radar [with clerical conspiracy] for years; look at the maniacal rants emanating from Ireland where everyone wants every aspecr of the priesthood while the priest should be denied it and treated with contempt unless he’s a specialist priest in ‘feeling your pain’ psychotherapy or he reaffirms their wonderfulness while lecturing in pastoral theology or can speak in tongues on a group hug retreat….

    Yesterday the courts have informed us that priests are now employees of their dioceses – admittedly that’s news to us but what of the devastating administrative consequences? The local canonical ramifications? the enforcement of adherence to equality legislations and employment laws and…

    Oh God – we’re in such a mess!!!!
    …and why?

    …because we abandoned the Church of that little Cure – we’ve all started believing in ourselves and giving up our belief in everything for which the Church stands – because we don’t wish to offend.

    Was there ever a man more humble?
    But there wasn’t a fraction of hesitancy or faux-humility in his avowed proclamation of the faith – there was no cultural sensitivity in recognising a sin as a sin and casting it out from the sinner – there was no polite well-mannered ‘pastoral sensitivity’ when he lived and loved and served unconditionally – in persona Christi.

    We’ve gone mad!
    The Church needs the help of St Jean Vianney more than ever…
    But who will admit it?
    “we’re in the era of a new humanism – a new evangelisation – where the youth are our hope in the future – and the flame is being re-ignited across the land” [as seminary rectors keep informing us]…meanwhile we who dwell out in the wastelad are fully aware that they have created desolation and call it peace…

    So Dr Oddie – do you really think the rest of the country is going to have the integrity and the humility to admit it needs to return to an emulation of the Cure d’Ars?

    …and if they do jump on the bandwagon – will they do it for the right reasons?

  • Tim Robertson

    I entirely agree. We need the heart of the Cure d’Ars in each of our seminaries and every diocesan cathedral. Look at what happened when the relics of St Terese of Lisieux were brought to England. Who better to bring it about than the Cure d’Ars himself. May I suggest to Dr Oddie that he organises a nation-wide novena of prayers to the Cure d’Ars for this intention, through the Catholic Herald. Then when a sufficient number are enrolled, letters can be sent to the Bishops urging them to invite the miraculous relic to their cathedral.

  • Inquisator

    Yet more bits of bodies wheeled around the country. I am sure this is exactly what the humble, priestly Cure would not want to happen after his death.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Well done Bishop Mark for arranging this visit to Shrewsbury diocese.

  • W Oddie

    Miracles happen, especially if we pray for them. Where better to pray for the priestly ministry than before St Jean Vianney? Don’t be such an old misery.

  • Anonymous

    It’s strange that this holy relic isn’t touring the country especially after the huge success there was with the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux. Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but the thought occurs that the veneration of relics isn’t the kind of thing our bishops would approve of. I imagine they think this traditional practice has no place in the modern Church and is a rather embarassing throwback to the Middle Ages. The faith and devotion that the relics of St. Therese inspired shows how wrong they would be to have this opinion. Well done to Bishop Davies.

  • Honeybadger

    Why all the moaning and whingeing about the Cure of Ars relics being brought to Shrewsbury?

    Where better?

    It’s geographic location is perfect for commuters, isn’t it?

    Would you be moaning and whingeing if the relics were brought over exclusively to Westminster Cathedral? The rest of us provincials would have to think about travelling down to London, wouldn’t we? Do Londoners have it so cushy within the confines of the M25 that they feel they have no need to visit beyond the pale – er, other parts of the UK? It would do some good if people adapted that pilgrim spirit!

    It would have been lovely for the Heavenly Treasures to tour the museums, universities, churches and/or cathedrals of England and Ireland but … they were only at the V&A in London! Tough on the rest of us!

    Besides, what’s wrong with the other bishops? Do they not know how to shift their carcasses and pull their fingers out to go courageously for the ‘Big Ask’,  like the esteemed and wonderful Bishop Mark Davies?

    Will the bishops – and priests - be clearing some room in their diaries to make the pilgrimage to wherever the Sainted Cure’s relics will be?

    Hmmmm… a toughie!

    Bishop Mark Davies is giving other ecclesiastics a run for their money for sure – and every day I thank God The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, His Holy Mother and Pope Benedict XVI for him.

  • Honeybadger

    St Therese DID come via Eurostar or Eurotunnel.

  • Honeybadger

    Yes. You are spot on.

    Why didn’t the other bishops shift their proverbials and do something with great courage and truckloads of genuine faith like Bishop Mark? 

    There is also a place in the hearts of devotees to the early Church martyr, Saint Philomena, for the Cure of Ars, too.

    Like you say, some bishops wouldn’t ‘entertain’ the possibility of these holy relics reposing on their patch!

    So… there’s the answer to Dr Oddie’s beef.

    Wherever in the Shrewsbury Diocese these relics be exposed for veneration, will not be a problem to get to. The diocese covers South Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside and Shropshire.

    Easy peasy squeeze the lemon.

    And…Where better?

  • W Oddie

    Why do you accuse me of whingeing? And no, I wouldn’t be happy if the relic were to go only to Westminster. What on earth are you talking about?

  • theroadmaster

    St Jean Vianney was an indefatigable worker in the Vineyard of the Lord who brought in a very fine, abundant harvest during and after his life-time.  He led a simple but not simplistic lifestyle which was fully modeled on the perfect Priest, Jesus Christ.  The recent announcement of the future arrival of his relics in England for a 4-day visit is to be very warmly welcome and the complaint about it being restricted to the Shrewsbury Diocese seems like a minor quibble when one considers the rich spiritual benefits that could be reaped from it across Britain.

  • Laurence England

    Would we be able to request that the Cure come to our Diocese, or would such lay-inspired initiatives be against the spirit of Vatican II?

  • Anonymous

    The Cure is a miracle-in-himself  – like a huge stone thrown in a pool the ripples continue long after the stone’s gone from sight – many many have been drawn to the priesthood by his example, many have returned to the confessional, many have been drawn back to the sacraments.

    I know there will be miracles – I know where that heart is it cannot but enter into every open soul…and where the doors are closed it will keep knocking incessantly…

    But our world is so pelagian and donatistic – everyone thinking they’re either a mini Aquinas or a mini St Francis of Assisi – can we deny that so many have been hoodwinked into believing ‘we neither want nor need your miracles’.

    How many nouveau-experts in pastoral theology will consider St Jean Vianney’s piety and self-sacrifice and relentless devotion to His God and the faithful as ‘contrary to lay empowerment’? How many will see his recognition of sin wherever it lay [even when it hid behind other virtues or minor sins] and his demands to cut it out and cast it upon the all-consuming fire – as psychologically detrimental and pastorally insensitive?

    I was reading Alice Thomas Ellis’s  ‘the serpent on the rock’ today and she recounted how a young man wishing to test his vocation, when expressing the church position on women priests; was told to go away until he grew up…we all know of men who were certain they felt God’s calling being blocked by diocesan vocations scrutiny committees because of their aversion to a dismantling of Catholic moral teaching and a repudiation of the sacraments e.g. ‘saying we need baptism offends our brothers and sisters of all faiths and none; saying we are scarred by original sin is psychologically oppressive and contrary to the spirit of Lumen gentium’. The only way one could even attempt to become a priest was to deny the very nature of the Priesthood!!?

    The miracle we need is not for God to send us more priests – God has never abandoned Holy Mother Church and has always sent us vocations and dozens of priests-in-waiting – it is for a collapse of the ideologically contra-catholic barriers built within the system..where apostolic executive temporal power has been delegated to those who neglect and abuse that power for their own ends…

    The Cure would laugh at the ridiculous folly and self-deception of the sinners in his confessional – would throw a bucket of ice water over them and throw a blanket of grace round their shoulders…

    He shouted out the Truth – and lies fled before him.

    The Cure’s heart is going to Shrewsbury – but the Cure’s heart – thanks to the stunning work of Bishop Davies – is already there!!! [ while I was in seminary I spent many a mealtime with dear old Christ-recrucified Bishop Gray, God rest his soul; and I hit my knees and thank God that what that thwarted Bishop wanted for his diocese is being fulfilled through his successor]

    I just wish we could kidnap the heart – and lay it in the middle of Eccleston Square – and wait for the miracles to flow…

  • Lindi

    Agree. I imagine some of our bishops shrinking at this and stumbling over an attempt at explaining  it to their political cronies – let alone to the professional Catholics who ‘ advise ‘ them.

  • W Oddie

    It’s NOT a complaint. It was the splendid Bishop of that dioceses, after all, who started this, for the nurture of his own people. I simply, in all humility,  make the plea that that nurture should be spread more widely. It looks as though the diocese of Shrewsbury will in any case over the coming years be benefiting from sound and charismatic episcopal leadership. Can’t we, too, have a bit of those benefits? Just a bit? 

  • theroadmaster

    I see your point, William that the organizers of this upcoming visit should have been more aware of the potential spiritual rewards that could be received right across the length and breadth of Britain by  exhibiting the relics across a wider territorial spread.  

  • Honeybadger

    Every day, since Bishop Mark Davies was consecrated as Bishop of Shrewsbury, I thank The Holy Trinity, Our Lady and Pope Benedict XVI … for a brilliant bishop with vision, guts, wisdom and holiness!

    I understand your cry in the wilderness. Pray to The Holy Trinity and Our Lady Mother of the Church and Saint Joseph that the bishops will be more receptive to the needs of the church… and cease dissing initiatives – like the Cure of Ars relics – without seeing the bigger picture.

  • Honeybadger

    You know well what I’m are talking about, if you read my post properly.

    For a secular kick-off, there’s a whinge from Southerners about some BBC departments moving to Salford and they having to up sticks and go North… never once giving a thought for the hundreds of people from up North who had to make tougher sacrifices to live and work in London over the years.

    It’s a typical reaction from the Metropolis to such big things, whether secular or religious.

    Many thousands of people travelled to Birmingham, London and Scotland to see Pope Benedict XVI. Yeah, it would have been lovely if Wales and Northern England were included in his schedule but we didn’t whinge. We got on with it, went on our travels, endured our penance of being rained and muddied overnight and a fab, spiritual time was had by all.

    Some ‘biggie’, high-profile holy relic goes to Shrewsbury Diocese and there’s a moan. Take it up with your bishops and Archbishop Nichols and see how far you’ll get. If enough people were interested and hungry enough for the good of the church to deluge their bishop’s in-trays, the penny might drop that the Holy Spirit is moving.

    It took our previous Cardinal, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, to request the relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux for England and Wales. A Cardinal primate of England and Wales. He is far up in the pecking order than a bishop. Only the primate of England and Wales could make such a request for all English and Welsh diocese.

    Where is he?  Where is he? Where is he? Er… ?

    If Bishop Mark was a Cardinal, I think he would be more than chuffed to bits to give the go-ahead for the relics to travel to every diocese.

    The fact remains (for now) that is he isn’t, he’s looking after his Shrewsbury flock like the good shepherd he is and, if the Catholics in England and Wales are hungry enough to keep the Benedict Bounce bouncing for years to come… then one has to make the pilgrimage journey.

  • Anonymous

    William,

    I agree with you. It’s great that the relic is coming, but would that it was being displayed more widely.

    However, I do see one benefit in Bishop Mark Davies constantly setting about good and holy initiatives, constantly ministering to his priests and visibly leading his people, when other Bishops just seem to busy themselves with admin. I believe that if the good Bishop is left in his place long enough we will start to see a blossoming of religious vocations in his Diocese and a general flourishing in parish life; this will obviously be in stark contrast to the situation in some of the surrounding Dioceses and will provide the other Bishops with incontrovertible evidence that we do not simply have to manage and accept decline, but rather that with fervour in proclaiming the Gospel and sincere concerted prayer, Our Lady’s dowry might be worthy of the name once more.

  • Parasum

    “He never let up; it’s hard to imagine him, in modern circumstances, taking the occasional evening off his parish duties to watch television.”## Not hard – impossible :)

  • Parasum

    It would be good if the relic came north of the Tweed as well…

  • Parasum

    It’s geographic location is perfect for commuters, isn’t it?

    ## As long one lives in Southern England or in Wales. Not if one lives in Aberdeen :)

  • Parasum

    “It’s a typical reaction from the Metropolis to such big things, whether secular or religious.”

    So true. For them down there, the country stops at the Watford Gap :) – the North East doesn’t exist, and Scotland exists only when Alec Salmond is doing something. As for the Shetlands… In effect, London = Britain

  • Gerardodonnell8

    That was a pleasure to read, well said.

  • Anonymous

    It’s only Shrewsbury because they have the country’s best bishop, by far. He is the one who allowed the ICKSP to take over the church in New Brighton after all.

    I am intrigued to learn that he has seminarians at Ars.

  • Wishiwasemeritustoo

    William, 
    I think your last paragraph hints at the answer to the question ‘Why only Shrewsbury?’
    The origin of the visit was in a visit Bishop Mark himself paid to Ars, where he has three seminarians…’

    The thought occurred to Bishop Mark himself, whilst on a visit he himself was making, that he himself should accept the offer from Rt Rev Guy Bagnard. He is obviously divinely appointed and inspired and is justified in making decisions like this himself with any thought of collaboration, not only with fellow bishops, who it seems don’t have much support from you or your readers, but also indeed with his own diocese here in Shrewsbury. He knows what is best for us all. Lucky us.

  • Bernard Payne691

    I couldn’t agree more with “Inquisator”. By all means honour the memory and example of the saints, but to parade bits of their bodies is grisly and degrading.

  • Walkerfamily1

    the cure d, ars is coming to shrewsbury diocese because its something the area desperately needs ! ! !

  • Walkerfamily1

    Well done Honeybadger ! re St. Philomena — how can the Church ” dispose ” of her , when she is part and parcel of St. John Vianney ? !