In dedicating the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI has turned the spotlight onto a humble French parish priest -- St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars.

Noted for his devotion to the Sacrament of Penance and his spiritual strength in the face of diabolic attacks, St. John Vianney is a model not just for priests, but also for all the faithful.

To honor this holy curate, consider praying a novena to him leading up to his feast day, Aug. 4, which marks the 150th anniversary of his death.

July 27

St. John Vianney, you were born of a deeply religious mother; from her you received the holy faith; you learned to love God and to pray. At a young age, you were seen kneeling in front of the statue of Mary. Your soul was supernaturally carried toward the things on high. Despite the high cost, you answered your vocation! Against many obstacles and contradictions, you had to fight and suffer to become the perfect priest that you were. But your deep spirit of faith supported you in all these battles.

O great saint, you know the desire of my soul; I would like to serve God better; from him I have received so many good things. For this, obtain for me more courage and especially depth of faith. Many of my thoughts, words and actions are useless for my sanctification and for my salvation, because this supernatural spirit does not stir up my life. Help me to be better in the future.

At the end of each day, say the following: Holy Priest of Ars, I have confidence in your intercession. Pray for me during this novena especially for ...

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

July 28

St. John Vianney, what confidence the people had in your prayers. You could not leave your old rectory or your humble church without being surrounded by imploring souls, who appealed to you as they would have appealed to Jesus himself during his earthly life.

And you, O good saint, gave them hope by your words, which were full of love for God. You, who had always counted entirely on the heart of God, obtain for me a deep filial trust in his Providence. As the hope of divine goods fills my heart, give me courage and help me to always obey the Commandments of God.

July 29

St. John Vianney, because of your love of God you showed great charity toward your neighbor. You could not preach on the Love of God without burning tears of love. During your last years, it seemed as though you could not talk about anything else or live for anything else. Thus you sacrificed yourself to your neighbor by consoling, absolving and sanctifying them to the limits of your strength.

Your charity inspires me to greater love of God, a love that is shown more by acts than by words. Help me to love my neighbors generously as Christ loves them.

July 30

St. John Vianney, you were so adamant against sin, yet so sympathetic and so ready to welcome the sinner. I come to you today as if you were still alive, as if I were kneeling at your feet and you could hear me. Bend toward me, listen to the repentant confidence for the weaknesses and miserable deeds of mine.

Priest of the Lord, inexhaustible confessor, obtain for me the horror for sin. You wanted us first to avoid the occasion of sin. I want to take your advice and make the resolution to break bad habits and to avoid the dangerous occasions of sin. Help me today to examine my conscience.

July 31

O holy priest of Ars, you knew how important a good confession was for the Christian life. It was to procure the happy fruits of millions of souls that you agreed to be in an uncomfortable confessional, which was like a prison, up to 15 or 16 hours on certain days.

I will try to develop the habit of frequent confession, to prepare properly each time and to have always regret for my sins, so that the grace of final perseverance, but also the sanctification of my soul, will be assured. Ask this grace for me.

Aug. 1

O Holy priest of Ars, whose only comfort in this world was the real presence of Jesus in the tabernacle, was it not your great joy to distribute the Eucharist to the pilgrims who visited you? 

You refused Communion to the souls who refused to reform, but to souls of goodwill you opened wide the doors of the Eucharistic feast. You, who each day at holy Mass received holy Communion with great love, give me some of your fervor. With freedom from mortal sin, obtain for me a sincere desire to profit from receiving holy Communion.

Aug. 2

O Holy priest of Ars, the infamous attacks of the devil which you had to suffer and the trials that disheartened you by fatigue would not make you give up the sublime task of converting souls.

The devil came to you for many years to disturb your short rest, but you won because of mortification and prayers. Powerful protector, you know the tempter's desire to harm my baptized and believing soul.

He would have me sin, by rejecting the sacraments and the life of virtue. But good saint of Ars, dispel from me the traces of the enemy. 

Aug. 3

O Holy Priest of Ars, a witness of your life made this magnificent praise of you: 'We would have taken him for an angel in a mortal body.' You so edified others: the modesty and the exquisite purity radiated from your body. With such charm and with such enthusiasm you preached to others about these beautiful virtues that you said resembled the perfume of a vineyard in bloom.

Please, I beg you to join your entreaties to those of Mary Immaculate and St. Philomena in order that I guard always, as God asks me, the purity of my heart. You, who have directed so many souls toward the heights of virtue, defend me in temptations and obtain for me the strength to conquer them.

Aug. 4

O Holy Priest of Ars, your precious remains are contained in a magnificent reliquary, the donation from the priests of France. But this earthly glory is only a very pale image of the unspeakable glory which you are enjoying with God. During the time you were on earth, you used to repeat in your dejected hours, 'One will rest in the other life.'

It is done, you are in eternal peace, and eternal happiness. I desire to follow you one day. Until then, I hear you saying to me: "You should work and fight as long as you are in the world." Teach me then to work for the salvation of my soul, to spread the good news and good example and to do good toward those around me in order that I will receive the happiness of the Elect with you.

What is a novena?

By Thomas J. Craughwell

After her conversion to Catholicism in 1891, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (daughter of American author Nathanial Hawthorne) embraced the complete package of Catholic devotional life. Daily Mass, frequent confession, reception of holy Communion and novenas -- especially novenas.

Flip through the pages of her diary and you'll find that nearly every week she is beginning, in the middle of, or concluding a novena to the Sacred Heart, to Our Lady, or to a saint or angel. By the way, her diary also bears witness that, more often than not, her novena prayers were answered.

Prayer's history

For more than 1,000 years, novenas have been a staple of the prayer life of countless Catholics, yet it is difficult to track down the origin of this devotion. It's possible that the first Pentecost was the inspiration for nine days of prayer (the term "novena" comes from the Latin word for ninth) in order to receive a great grace. The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that after Christ ascended into heaven, Our Lady, the apostles and the other disciples went back to the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper, and "with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14). After nine days of prayer the Holy Spirit descended upon them all.

In the early centuries of the Church some Christians prayed for nine days after the death of a loved one (this custom was probably adopted from the Romans, who, after a death in the family, prayed for nine days). In the seventh century, Christians in Spain prepared for Christmas with nine days of Masses in honor of the Blessed Mother. By the year 1000, Catholics in France, Belgium and the Rhineland in Germany were making novenas to favorite saints. But how these customs developed remains a mystery.

Grassroots devotion

We do know that making a novena is a grassroots devotion developed by ordinary Catholics. There is no formal liturgy for a novena. Yes, in many places a novena takes place in church, with formal prayers read from a little booklet or flier, followed by Mass or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and perhaps veneration of a relic or a sacred image, but such arrangements have been tacked onto the novena. At its essence, a novena is simply nine days of prayer that anyone can offer any place at any time of day or night, alone or with others. Although the Church has never given novenas a formal liturgy, it does approve of them because they foster the two qualities essential in the life of prayer -- confidence and persistence.

The one novena that has quasi-official status in the life of the Church is the Nine First Fridays. It is based on the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who reported that Our Lord promised to save the soul of anyone who attended Mass and received holy Communion on the first Friday of the month for nine straight months. Many parishes offer the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart every first Friday.

Even if your parish does not hold novena devotions regularly, there is a simple way to gauge the popularity of private novenas. Just open the classified section of your local newspaper and you are likely to find entry after entry of "thank you" notices to St. Jude.

Thomas J. Craughwell is the founder of www.antiqueholycards.com and the author of OSV's Catholic Cardlinks series.

Three reasons to pray a novena

It can help you develop the habit of praying daily.

Our lives are filled with ritual from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night. Day in and out the pattern is repeated. Is prayer a part of that daily routine? Praying for nine consecutive days can set a pattern of prayer in our lives that can create a daily habit of prayer.

It reinforces a sense that God is our Father and that God loves us.

Well-meaning people have done a very good job of spreading a false gospel that good Christians shouldn't ask God for anything, that we shouldn't be seeking favors from the Father. This is sad and clearly not in keeping with the teaching of the Gospel, where Jesus asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mk.10:51).

It teaches us the benefit of praying with others to God.

While the Second Vatican Council sought to renew a sense of the communal nature of prayer, some of the more zealous sought to achieve this by erasing one aspect of Catholicism where the sense of communal prayer was already a lived reality: the involvement of saints.

All prayer is directed ultimately to God, and as much as we honor the saints by inviting them to pray with us, God is still the object of our worship and praise.

Adapted from www.ewtn.com/devotionals/novena.

To learn more about novenas, see  "The Church's Most Powerful Novenas," by Michael Dubruiel (OSV, $14.95)