Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

St. John Vianney vs. Hananiah

Feast of St. John Vianney
Priest (Aug 4)

Ok, so St. John Vianney (1786-1859) didn't actually beat up Hananiah (oh, let's say 650 BC to 588 BC, give or take). But his spirit sure did; or rather, we should say that Jeremiah, who outdid Hananiah, lived on in spirit in the person of St. John Vianney.

The Babylonians had attacked Jerusalem and taken some of her leadership into captivity. They replaced the king of Judah with their own man, who took the name Zedekiah. Zedekiah turned out to be not so much a puppet as they had hoped, and decided to rebel against the Babylonians; to do so, he would recruit the help of the Egyptians. Hananiah and some of the other court "prophets" were happy to be yes-men and encouraged Zedekiah. Jeremiah, on the other hand, told them all flat out that it was the will of God that they should be humbled a while longer, that they should not ally with the Egyptians because the Egyptians' help never turned out well. He repeated until he was blue in the face that Judah's new found national pride was opposed by the will of God. To make his point, he strapped onto himself a wooden yoke, like a farmer would use to harness a pair of oxen. Sure enough, the Babylonians come back with a vengeance and lay seige to the Holy City.

Today's first Mass reading (Jer 28:1-17; Ps 119:29, 43, 79, 80, 95, 102; Mt 14:22-36) picks up at this point. Hananiah, the mealy-mouthed so-called prophet smashes the yoke from Jeremiah and proclaims that in like manner God Himself will lift the seige and save the city. Jeremiah goes and fetches an iron yoke and straps it to himself: Judah, you are on the wrong course! Repent! Trust God, not the Egyptians! He turns his wrath on Hananiah and tell him that because he has falsely spoken on behalf of the Lord, he will not live to see the year's end. Sure enough, Hananiah died within a few months. Within a few more months, in the year 587 BC, Jerusalem is taken by the Babylonians, her entire leadership deported, Zedekiah's eyes were put out and his sons murdered by the Babylonian general, and the city was laid waste and her population dispersed.

About 2400 years separate St. John Vianney from the time of the holy prophet Jeremiah and the false prophet Hananiah, but the same perennial battle was underway and is underway still. On one hand, the sunny optimists of progress continually tell us that all is well, that by our own efforts and on our own terms, we can make the world a better place. They call opponents pessimistic, unpatriotic, narrowminded, backwards, and worse. The only problems they see are in their opponents' unwillingness to trust them.

St. John Vianney spoke out against the merry laxity of his day, in which religious observance was mechanical and infrequent. He spoke out against the immorality that lax observance protected. He spoke out even against people, when they encouraged that immorality. His homilies were not nice, and people did not like to hear what he had to say. "So gloomy, this new priest," one can almost here people saying as they left church after Sunday Mass. Importantly, St. John Vianney did not merely speak out against these evils, but he lived out against them. His whole life was a testimony to goodness, virtue, prayer, devotion, service, and joy.

But then something began to happen. People began to respond. By the time he died, Ars, the little village where he was pastor, had been transformed into a thriving spiritual center, laden with apostolic works and saturated in the prayer of its few hundred residents and tens of thousands of visitors.

In our time, there are numerous false prophets leading our people down paths of evil, insisting that all would be well if only Christians would shut up. Whenever anyone is hurt along these roads of evil, these false prophets insist that all is really well, and getting better. We must show them wrong by speaking truth lovingly, and by living love truthfully.

St. John Vianney and Holy Jeremiah, pray for us.

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