St. John Vianney (1786-1859), often called "the Cure' of d'Ars", is the exemplar parish priest of our time. He is the only canonised parish priest! All others are struggling and most are just happy to stay on the rails.
St. John Vianney can surely serve as a reference point for all priests. Though no one could be more humble, he was, nevertheless, conscious of being an immense gift to his flock. Few nowadays may view the priesthood in quite this way. The laity should realize that the priesthood is God's gift to the priest himself and also to the people whom he is called to serve; he may have his shortcomings, after all he is only human, though some of the work he does is far from human. His first point of contact with the human soul is making a child of God in Holy Baptism (hence one of the reasons why he is designated 'Father' cf. Gal. 4:19), preparing that soul to receive Jesus, the Food of the soul, offering forgiveness of sin in the Sacrament of Penance; uniting that soul in marriage to a kindred spirit and finally seeing it out of this world when its earthly journey has ended. St. John Vianney saw the grandeur of the gift of his priesthood and he lived it out every moment, day and night. The priests of the diocese would have regarded Ars as a dump, with 44 houses and four bars and a few practising Catholics - what a tremendous challenge! The French Revolution had left its scars upon the church; a generation had grown up devoid of instruction or religious practise and few went to Mass on sunday; anti-clericalism was also rife. That was enough to deter any man, but the Cure' in his humility took on Ars and changed the place out of all recognition. However, who would have undertaken the necessary prayer, penance and mortification?: he ate little, slept little, cooked potatoes once a week, being tempted by the Devil at night and often spending 16-18 hours a day in the confessional, giving spiritual counsel. The Lord blessed him and made his work fruitful; truly St. John Vianney "...set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (I Tim. 4:12). The only happiness we have on earth is loving God and knowing He loves us - "it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge" (Psalm 73: 28); "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord" (Psalm 119: 1).
Alas we have a very different Church today - almost moribund in the west. The split between so called progressives and orthodoxy has greatly weakened the Church and undermined its mission to the world. People should look to the Church for moral authority. When, for instance, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Pope four years ago, the attitude of many was that he had made many enemies owing to his imperious and arrogant approach to theology. If a bishop or priest is orthodox than he is* ipso-facto* arrogant! Pope Benedict has proved all his uncharitable accusers wrong: he is a kindly, saintly man with utterly no trace of arrogance whatsoever. The plain simple truth is that the truth is the truth (not merely someones interpretation of it) and, sadly, some see the truth as arrogant because of their morbid dislike of dogmatism. Regrettably in recent times there has been a monumental failure to preach and teach the faith dogmatically and a failure to live the true Catholic life of faith. Moreover the Ten Commandments and the precepts of the Church are widely disregareded as being obsolete or behind the times, or at the very least are said to be in dire need of a radical reinterpretation. Unfortunately there appear to be no Cures' in the west either to help remedy matters.
Our lot is cast in very difficult times. There are proud, bitter, unscrupulous and well-organised enemies to be met. Moreover there are hard social problems to be solved and there are troublesome heresies to be grappled with and vices to be withstood. There is a lowered public opinion (even within the Church) to be raised and an increasing disregard of moral standards to be fought against. Special men with special gifts (like St. John Vianney) are needed for this most urgent work. May it please God to raise up such exemplary men for the priesthood in our desperate and apostate times.
Warmest good wishes,