My dear people of St. Mary’s:
You will remember that in April of this year I made a pilgrimage/retreat with my priest friends to the town of Ars in France, the home of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of all parish priests.
This year is the bicentennial of the saint’s arrival in his parish as its new pastor. He arrived on February 9, 1818, in the little farming village some 14 miles north of the city of Lyon. The church was tiny and, on his arrival, the parish numbered only 230 parishioners. In assigning him there, the Vicar-General of the diocese had said to him: “There is not much love of God in that parish; you will have to bring some into it.”
He did all that and more over the course of the next forty-one years as their curé, or pastor. By the time of his death in 1859, it is estimated that more than 100,000 pilgrims were coming to the town of Ars annually to attend Mass or go to confession to the man they knew to be a living saint.
On May 1, 1836, the Curé of Ars did something very beautiful, and very valuable for his people: he consecrated the entire parish and all parishioners to the Blessed Virgin. He had a votive heart made to hang around the neck of the statue of the Blessed Mother in the Church. Then he took a long ribbon and, with his own hand, inscribed the names of all of his parishioners on it, and then placed it inside the votive heart. On it he had engraved these words: “Consecration of the Parish of Ars to Mary Conceived Without Sin, Made the First of May, 1836, by M. John Marie Vianney, Curé of Ars.” This was his way of making sure that his parish and his people were always under the patronage and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and always kept in her maternal heart.
During my pilgrimage to Ars, while praying before the statue of the Blessed Mother in the church, with that heart hanging around her neck containing the names placed there by the saint 182 years ago, I realized that I had to do the same thing here in our parish.
Below you will see an image of the votive heart I have obtained for our parish. Made of silver, it was handcrafted in France around the year 1880. The front is engraved with the letter “M” surmounted with a cross, indicating Mary standing at the foot of the Cross of her Son, and united with Him in His work of redemption. This is also the symbol on the obverse of the Miraculous Medal, as seen in the vision of St. Catharine Labouré in 1830. Around the edge, it is engraved with lilies, a symbol of the Blessed Mother. Finally, the heart is surmounted by a flame, always seen in depictions of the Immaculate Heart, and representing Mary’s burning love for God and for all of us as her spiritual children. Inside, there is a compartment where the names will be placed.
This week I encourage all parishioners to fill out a card with the names of your family’s living parishioners (we will collect the names of deceased parishioners for the heart at a later date). Then, thanks to computer technology, all of the names can be printed in small enough type to fit on a paper to go inside the heart. On December 8, 2018, we will consecrate our parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and bless the votive heart and all the names contained within and place it around the neck of the statue of the Blessed Mother in our Church.
In this way, you the people of St. Mary’s will always know that you are under Our Lady’s protection, and occupy a special place in her heart.