With a heart in his hand, Fr. Patrice Chocholski, rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars, in France, stands with Fr. Kaz Chwalek, the provincial superior of the Marians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The two priests have worked together for years organizing the series of World Apostolic Congresses of Mercy.
Saint John Vianney's Heart Comes to Stockbridge
By Joan Lamar (May 3, 2016)
Saint John Vianney's heart made an unofficial stop at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, last week, but not before raising the eyebrows of customs officials in Lyon, France.
The saint's incorrupt heart, normally kept with his incorrupt body in Ars, France, was brought here by Fr. Patrice Chocholski, rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars, in France. Father Patrice, who is also the general secretary for the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, will be a keynote speaker for the Marians' 12th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics & Spirituality Conference at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, on May 4 and 5.
Father Patrice, who was bringing St. John Vianney's heart to the conference, had it in his carry-on luggage. As his bag went through customs screening, an official saw the shape of what looked to be a heart and asked what material it was made of. "It is a human heart," Fr. Patrice said. She was incredulous and responded "You have a human heart in your handbag?" So Fr. Patrice had to explain that, in nearby Ars, they have the heart and body of an incorrupt saint who's been dead for more than 150 years.
Father Patrice then produced a letter from his bishop as well as a permit that allows him to transport "infectious biological agents." She brought her supervisor over. The documents checked out, so he and the saint's heart were allowed to go through. They flew to Frankfurt, then to Boston, then driven to Stockbridge to spend one day with the Marian Fathers at the National Shrine, then to St. Mary's Parish in Greenwich, Connecticut, before going to the Healthcare Professionals conference on Thursday, May 5.
We had the privilege of venerating St. John Vianney's heart, then sat down with Fr. Patrice to talk about the Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, and, well, the very heart of the priesthood of St. John Vianney.
On the Jubilee Year of Mercy
Father Patrice said he is very glad to be rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars during this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy because Pope Francis is giving us so many writings on Divine Mercy that help us to better understand the function of Confession, he said.
"The pope is asking us priests to contemplate the face of our brothers and sisters in the confessional and to see the ray of light in them so that the mercy of God may penetrate through this ray, through this wound, and invade the inside and transform the soul from within." This is how John Vianney, whose life's work was hearing Confessions, approached his penitents, he said.
But John Vianney experienced Divine Mercy in his own soul first, Fr. Patrice said. He then recounted how, as a young man, after the French Revolution, John Vianney was obligated to become a soldier in Napoleon's army. In good conscience, he could not serve in Napoleon's army, so eventually deserted. He spent a year in the hills of a remote village and, returning home a year later, his father would not let him enter the house. Instead, his father told him to go to the cemetery. "There you will find the grave of your mother who died because she had no news of you. She died also because your brother, Francois, had to take your place in the army and he died." Father Patrice said they have letters from John Vianney to his father talking about his feelings of unworthiness and how he felt that evil fell on the family because of his actions. So, he was suffering from a deep culpability, said Fr. Patrice, and he found relief only in the Divine Mercy healing him in his wounds.
On St. Faustina
Father Patrice said St. Faustina, termed "the little secretary of mercy" by Pope Francis, is a phenomenologist of Divine Mercy in the soul. "She meets Christ and understands that it is Christ who takes the initiative and comes to her. And she observes how Divine Mercy changes your soul and your way of life," Fr. Patrice said. "She says that her hands, her lips, her feet, and her tongue are all becoming merciful. And that Divine Mercy is entering her soul, transforming it from the inside."
Saint Faustina is the one who really focused on the depth of experience of Divine Mercy in the soul, he added, but she is a servant of the Church. "She is not the finality, rather, she is a sign who invites us to look at who she is showing."
On St. John Vianney's Heart
Father Patrice recounted a story that spoke of the strength of St. John Vianney's heart. "He was a small man and used to eat very little. So he was very fragile, and at the end of his life, he was so tired. But his spiritual heart was enthusiastic for God," he explained.
At the last procession of the Holy Eucharist that St. John Vianney participated in, he insisted on carrying the monstrance, even though it was very heavy and he was very weak. At the end of the procession, he was radiant, Fr. Patrice said. People asked him, "How did you carry that monstrance,?" and St. John Vianney replied, "He was carrying me." So, his strength was coming from his heart, Fr. Patrice explained. And it is a beautiful sign that the Lord wanted his heart to be incorrupted — like the tongue of St. Anthony of Padua.
Saint John Vianney, known as the patron saint of priests, said that the priesthood is the heart of the love of God, and he embodied this priestly heart, Fr. Patrice said.
"That's why we bring his heart to different parts of the world so that the Church may have catechesis on the priesthood — especially where there have been priest scandals, such as in Boston, or now, in Lyon," he added. "The people of God need to see the testimony of good and holy priests. Saint John Vianney's heart is incorrupted because God is probably giving us a sign that he is a priest always — even now — he is still a friend of his people. He is a merciful priest, crying for his people and praying for his people."
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Speaking of St. John Vianney, check out a video of Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, discussing one of his favorite saints: