Come See John’s Heart

I was reading the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, April 7, 2019, and this article caught my eye: “150-Year-Old Priestly Heart Tours the U.S.” I had to read the title again. Yes, that’s what it said.


It seems the real heart of a Roman Catholic priest, John Vianney, has been set in a little glass box with a cross on top and is touring the United States. As of April 7, it had visited twenty-eight states and was on display at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The heart is scheduled to visit other churches and schools in that city and then continue touring the East Coast.

My reaction to this story is “Holy cow! What’s next?” My imagination is envisioning all kinds of strange body parts going on tour.

Accompanying the heart is a portrait of an elderly St. John Vianney. He is dressed in vestments and going bald on top, but his hair is still long and white on the sides. He looks stern and gaunt, like he did a lot of fasting.

John Vianney was born near Lyon, France, in 1786. He was one of six children born to devout Roman Catholic parents but grew up during the French Revolution, which forbade anything religious.

John had learning problems, so he didn’t finish grammar school. In 1809, he was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte’s army but went AWOL. A year later, he was granted amnesty and went to seminary but flunked out. However, a priest friend interceded on his behalf, and he became Father John at twenty-nine.

A few years later, Father John was appointed the parish priest in the little town of Ars. On his way there, he got lost. Fortunately, some townsfolk pointed him in the right direction.

People abandoned the church during the French Revolution and spent Sundays working, drinking and dancing. This infuriated Father John, so he refused to grant absolution (forgiveness) to anyone who didn’t give up those habits.

Despite John’s many limitations, he became a popular hellfire-and-damnation preacher as well as a father confessor for eleven to sixteen hours a day. Yikes! That’s a lot of sitting in a little box listening to sorry stories. (I’ll bet some were juicy.) John died at seventy-three. I wonder if the cause of death was starvation or claustrophobia (fear of little spaces)?

John was put on the pathway to sainthood in 1874 and canonized in 1925. He is recognized as the patron saint of parish priests.

I don’t understand why John is a saint, has schools named after him, and had his heart cut out and put on parade. Please don’t tell me he’s venerated for a kind heart, because he doesn’t sound very kind to me—more like weird.

Putting a heart on parade is barbaric. What does a dead muscle have to do with Jesus and agape? It’s pure silliness!

I wonder what’s next? Jesus’s private parts going on tour?

I’m not going to visit the heart. Are you?

Image courtesy of Shawn Rossi (CC BY 2.0)

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