By FATHER JOHN C. KIERAN, Commentary | Published August 9, 2022
One day, when Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) was 5 years old, his sister found him on a stepladder behind the high altar, with his ear against the tabernacle.
“What are you doing?” she cried out. He answered, “I am listening to Jesus.”
That simple comment by the child makes a neat summary of his future life. Through all kinds of struggles—to be accepted and study for the priesthood, his troubled discernment in sorting out his place of service in the Kingdom, his frustration in finding kindred priests totally dedicated to eucharistic adoration and willing to form a new congregation—in all situations Julian Eymard never stopped promoting a deeper trusting reverence in the Blessed Sacrament.
Long before Pope Pius X, “the pope of the Eucharist,” publicly called on the church to practice a more frequent taking of holy Communion, Julian Eymard had been pleading for a greater use of the sacrament. In his lifetime, he was recognized as a saint of the Eucharist and influenced many to a deeper appreciation of the Real Presence of Jesus and to receive him regularly.
In my older years, I treasure more those priests who have influenced my life’s journey. I recall them, but wonder, did they realize the impact and good they engineered?
Maybe it was by their simple words of encouragement or advice. Others impacted me by the way they performed their priestly duties. Others by their joyful way of life, being at peace in the best of times and in the worst of times. All my mentors exhibited a deep commitment to prayer and the Mass.
I think of a local priest who had been a missionary in Japan, whose stories of sacrifice and bravery fascinated us youngsters. He was the first to plant a missionary spirit in me and reveal the satisfaction in making disciples for Christ. He was a family friend, always approachable, especially for youth.
Another idol was the priest I got to know during my working days in fruit forming. He too was an Irish missionary priest working in South England.
Totally different was the priest who tutored me in Latin during my preliminary year. He was a member of an enclosed order, who spent several hours in daily prayer and meditation. He taught me to appreciate the power of prayer and inspired me by his lived example.
I had several priest seminary professors. All were truly dedicated and helped me through the required studies. One priest joined the staff the year I entered. He taught my class in different roles up until ordination. He was a great model in priestly living and by his practical teaching, I clearly remember his sayings now 55 years later.
I wonder did these illuminating priests realize the lasting impact they had on others? They were “lights” of goodness and inspiration in their time. Remembering them and their voices continues to uplift me.
Memories of good deeds and the sayings of priests can inspire and lead others to respond to the priestly call. We must never discount the value of priestly example in word and in deed. We are public icons before our people. The way we pray and celebrate is noticed. Prayerfulness can be detected; gestures can reveal the heart’s intention.
That is why I am extremely careful in making the Sign of the Cross at the beginning of Mass. I remind people, the Sign of the Cross is a prayer. It is the preface to all the prayers that follow. It is a way of accepting the cross of Jesus on self, whose cross sacrifice we revere and celebrate.
St. Peter Julian Eymard was a master listener. He spent hours each day with his ear turned to the tabernacle and its divine inhabitant. His listening resulted in his many achievements, notably establishing a new religious order, devoted to worshiping the Blessed Sacrament. That community promotes eucharistic adoration and can be reviewed at www.ssscongregatio.org.
May all our priest icons receive their due reward, and may they intercede for us priests of today.
Father John C. Kieran is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.