In his first general audience at Castel Gandolfo this summer, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the example of St. Jean Marie Vianney, who provides priests with an example of how to minister in a culture under the influence of moral relativism.
The Holy Father began by noting that yesterday the Church celebrated the 150th anniversary of his “birth into Heaven.”
He then spoke about the childhood of the Curé d’Ars, his illiteracy as a child and his struggles with his seminary studies.
Nevertheless, Pope Benedict continued, “in his pastoral service, as simple as it was extraordinarily fruitful, this anonymous priest in a remote village in southern France was able to become one with his ministry, to become, even in a visible and universally recognizable way, alter Christus, the image of the Good Shepherd, who, unlike the mercenary, gives his life for his sheep.”
He recalled that the Curé d’Ars was able to help his “parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, showing it to be an intimate requirement of the Eucharistic Presence.”
“In fact,” the Pope said, “what made the Cure d'Ars holy was his humble fidelity to the mission to which God had called him, his abandonment was constant, full of confidence, in the hands of divine Providence.”
He “managed to touch the hearts of the people not by virtue of his human skills, nor by relying solely on an, albeit laudable, effort of the will. He conquered souls…by communicating to them what he intimately lived, that is his friendship with Christ.”
Pope Benedict also reflected on the early adulthood of Jean Vianney who, in a post-revolutionary France that was experiencing a kind of “dictatorship of rationalism” bent on erasing the very presence of priests and the Church in society, heroically traveled kilometers at night to attend Mass.
“Then, as a priest,” Benedict recalled, “he stood out for his unique and fruitful pastoral creativity in showing that the rationalism that prevailed at the time was far from meeting real needs and moreover, ultimately not worth living.”
“If then there was a ‘dictatorship of rationalism,” he added, “at present there is in many environments a kind of ‘dictatorship of relativism. Both responses are inadequate to man’s just demand to fully use his own reason as a distinctive and constitutive element of his identity. Rationalism was inadequate because it did not take account of human limitations and wanted to elevate reason alone as the sole measure of all things, transforming it into a god.
“Contemporary relativism mortifies reason because it arrives at the point of insisting that human beings know nothing with certainty beyond the field of positive science,” the Pope taught.
In the midst of today's moral relativism, Benedict insisted that priests “must create an intimate personal union with Christ, to be nurtured day by day, only then will he touch the hearts of the people and open them to the merciful Lord.”
“Let us pray,” the Holy Father concluded, “so that through the intercession of St. Jean Marie Vianney God makes a gift to his Church of holy priests and so believers may grow in their desire to support and assist the priestly ministry. We entrust this intention to Mary, whom today we invoke as Our Lady of the Snows.”