What is it, to be a priest?
This is an important question. We might say that a faithful Catholic priest allows all the little children to come to Christ (are we not all children?), and strives to enable everyone he meets to live and die in the state of sanctifying grace. A priest who tries to consider everyone whom God's Providence puts into his life to be his own potential companion in the way of the Vita Aeterna - in Beatitude - if he and they also both faithfully persevere unto the end, in Grace. For he knows that the gift of final perseverance is itself a great gift. That gift of God is never to be presumed upon. Until the moment of our death, we retain the permanent possibility of voluntarily defection from Divine Grace and from God Himself: in what Dante called "the Great Refusal". Such is the terrible gift of our human freedom, for we can only love God freely. It cannot be forced.
He must be a witness. A man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. This view is rooted in the incarnation and the incarnation's continuation in the Seven Sacraments of Christ; especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where the Eternal Himself intersects with Time, where the Sacred Mystery and Concrete Intimacy are graciously joined. Such is the Sacred action of the Mass. The Universal is present in the Particular. It is also present to our senses, especially in the Mass's sacramental visibility which elevates and draws us into our contemplation of God, with love. That is to say, from the visible to the invisible beauty, the heart with love is raised in rapt attention to God.
The humble Cure of Ars does not, in his humility, realise that his own "spiritual childhood" would awaken the souls of his little village to a greater life of grace. But the cost is at times heavy. Faced with apathy, boredom and a lukewarm response to his pastoral care, he identifies with Our Lord's mental and moral agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is a man for others, a father and shepherd of his flock whose joys and sorrows he shares. Aware of his deflects and sins, he is an instrument by virtue of God's calling to teach, govern and sanctify his people, continuing in time the same work of Jesus Christ . Whatever his personality and human skills may be, he knows that they are dependent on Divine Grace.