For as long as I can remember, this is the day when my dad would wish me a happy birthday. Never made much sense to me at first, because my birthday is actually nine days before. I used to think maybe he forgot or got confused or something. But, nope. With a straight face he would look at me and say happy birthday, this is the day we were baptized together as a family: August 4th, 1985.
What I never realized until I was accepted into the Seminary was that I share my baptism day with St. John Vianney. He is a priest whose Sainthood holds a very special place in my heart as I discern my own vocation to the priesthood. Over the last three years of my time in the Seminary, I have learned more and more about Fr. Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.
And so today, we pray in the Office of the Readings some of Father Vianney’s words: “This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies.” So this is where real love and real happiness come from!
Yesterday I just came home from helping to lead a SAW South retreat, in which about fifty young men and women have been called to share their witness about Christ in their lives. Most importantly, we did not only give them the tools to do good in this world, but we prayed our hearts out with them. With Mass every day and Adoration every night, we were witness to some genuine miracles of the heart and victories on the spiritual battlefield. And just as Father Vianney tells us of our duty, I, feeling like the new recruit to the battlefield, jumped in with guns blazing, hoping to set some souls on fire with the love of God and the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament that has been changing my own life and revitalizing my own vocation.
Yet, pride is one of the greatest weapons of the enemy against those seeking to grow closer to God in prayer. Whenever I have entered into prayer feeling like I’ve got this prayer thing figured out, the devil attacks with his most desperate weapon: doubt. And what I need you all to know about my experience with doubt is that it is strongest when I am entering into the most sacred of places, especially the Eucharist or Adoration.
Just a couple of nights ago, while on this SAW South retreat, we were given the chance to approach the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar, one by one, to touch Him, to feel Him, to bow down and worship Him. After keeping my distance and adoring Christ from some distance, I felt called to approach our Lord. The closer I came in line to the altar, waiting my turn, the more the doubt began to creep in. I felt like I was desiring too much from this experience; I felt like what we were doing didn’t make any sense; I felt like everyone else was going to receive some grace, but I would be looking too hard for some miracle, and miss what was really in front of me. Doubt: the devil’s last desperate attempt to keep us away from Christ and the altar.
I walked up the steps when my turn came, the chapel was dim, the candle in my hand warm. As I slowly walked up the steps to the altar, ready to place my candle with fifty others already on the altar, lighting up the monstrance, I looked straight at Christ’s Body, worshipping, but doubting. Doubting, but trusting. I nearly stopped short of the altar, I even felt that I was veering away from the Blessed Sacrament. But that little bit of faith I can actually claim, that ultimate trust I have in God, led me to my knees, led me to look up at Christ’s Body. Never had the Body of Christ looked more like bread to me, but never had it looked more beautiful to me in my life. I had wanted to see flesh before me, blood flowing through the veins of Christ’s Body. But all I saw with my eyes was bread. What I saw with that trust in God was everything. God took that doubt and transfigured it into faith. I felt clearer than ever before what Fr. Vianney meant when he said during his catechesis, turning to the tabernacle and exclaiming, “He is there!”
I can only imagine the battles that Fr. Vianney fought in prayer. But I would imagine I felt only the slightest bit of that skirmish that night in that chapel. We celebrate his faith because of its power to save souls and because of the wounds the devil tried to inflict on this fragile man. But most of all, we celebrate his life because of his trust in Christ’s Resurrection and His promise of our own. As we finish praying the novena to Fr. Vianney today, let us remember his great Act of Love, a prayer that is dear to me not because it is what I always feel in my heart, but because it is what I most desire to truly feel in my heart.
I love You, O my God and my sole desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O infinitely lovable God and I prefer to die loving You than live one instant without loving You.
I love You, O my God, and I do not desire anything but heaven so as to have the joy of loving You perfectly.
I love You, O my God, and I fear hell, because there will not be the sweet consolation of loving You.
O my God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to say it in every beat. Allow me the grace to suffer loving You, to love you suffering and one day to die loving You and feeling that I love You. And as I approach my end, I beg you to increase and perfect my love.