St. Jean Marie Vianney (later known as the Curé d’Ars) was born on 8th May 1786, in the French town of Dardilly, and was baptised the same day. When he was four years old the French Revolution erupted, and priests were forced into hiding. Every day they risked their lives to give the sacraments, and John looked up to them as heroes. His First Holy Communion and Confirmation were made in secrecy. After the Catholic Church was reestablished, John studied for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest in 1815 after struggling greatly with his studies, especially Latin, and three years later he was made parish priest of Ars, a remote French hamlet, where his reputation as a confessor and director of souls soon became known throughout the Christian world. The life of St. John Vianney was one of extreme holiness, humility and mortification. He had a great devotion to the young early Christian martyr, St. Philomena, regarding her as his special guardian, and erected a chapel and shrine at Ars in honour of the saint.
Accustomed to the most severe austerities, loved by the crowds, beleaguered by swarms of penitents, and besieged by the devil, this great mystic manifested an imperturbable patience. Many wondrous things began to take place at Ars, but he forever retained a childlike simplicity, and he remains to this day the living image of the priest after the Heart of Christ.
As the fame of his holiness spread, people from all over France and even further afield, started to flock to this tiny hamlet, and St. John Vianney heard their confessions for up to sixteen hours each day! His life was filled with works of charity and love. It is recorded that even the staunchest of sinners were converted at his mere word. Yet he himself yearned desperately for the contemplative life of a monk, and four times ran away from Ars, the last time in 1853!
He died on 4th August, 1859, at the age of 73, and was canonised on 31st May, 1925.
I have often recommended to our readers the blog, ‘Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ’, that offers beautiful daily meditations on the writings of this holy Irish priest. Fr Willie Doyle had a great devotion to St. John Vianney, and today’s article, reprinted below, gives insight into the influence of the saint in his, Fr Willie’s, own life.
From O’Rahilly’s biography (on Fr Willie Doyle) on a visit Fr Willie made to Ars in 1907:
In spite of missing a train, and after an adventurous journey on a very primitive steam-tram, he found himself in the spot hallowed by the Curé of Ars. Fr. Doyle insisted on seeing everything: the room in which the saint died, the half-burnt curtains said to have been damaged by the devil, the little pan in which the holy man cooked the flour-lumps which he called cakes. He was allowed as a special privilege to sit in the Curé’s confessional, and above all he was able to say Mass at his shrine, using the saint’s chalice. Just above the altar reposed the Curé’s body in a case of glass and gold. “It gave one a strange feeling,” wrote Fr. Doyle, “to see the holy old man lying before one during Mass, calm and peaceful, with a heavenly smile on his face, just as he died fifty years ago…I shall never forget my visit to Ars,” he concluded; “I knew all about the Blessed Curé’s life, so that each spot had an interest and charm for me.”
Two further reflections from Fr Doyle on St Vianney may be helpful today. Writing in his diary on this day in 1913, he said:
“Making my meditation before the picture of the Blessed (John Vianney), he seemed to say to me with an interior voice: “The secret of my life was that I lived for the moment. I did not say, I must pray here for the next hour, but only for this moment. I did not say, I have a hundred confessions to hear, I but looked upon this one as the first and last. I did not say, I must deny myself everything and always, but only just this once. By this means I was able always to do everything perfectly, quietly and in great peace. Try and live this life of the present moment. Pray as if you had nothing else whatever to do; say your Office slowly as if for the last time; do not look forward and think you must often repeat this act of self-denial. This will make all things much easier.””
In another place in his diary Fr Doyle writes in a similar vein:
“No sacrifice would be great if looked at in this way. I do not feel now the pain which has past, I have not yet to bear what is coming; hence I have only to endure the suffering of this one moment, which is quickly over and cannot return.”
This practical and wise advice can be applied by every person, no matter what our state in life might be.
We shall conclude with some short sayings from St John Vianney.
– There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold they offer their little sufferings to God.
– A Christian either rules his inclinations or his inclinations rule him.
– God has given each of us our work to do. It is for us to pursue our road, that is to say, our vocation…When God gives such and such a vocation, He bestows upon us at the same time His grace to fulfil it.
– Very few people invite Jesus Christ to their wedding; on the contrary they seem to do all they can to keep him away.
– The way to destroy bad habits is by watchfulness and by doing often those things which are the opposite one’s besetting sins.
– We all make wonderful promises to God as long as nobody says anything to us, and all goes well
– All soldiers are good in garrison. On the field of battle we see the difference between the brave and cowardly.
– We must be like the shepherds in the fields during the winter. They have a fire, but from time to time they search about for sticks to keep it alive. If we knew how to keep up the fire of the love of God in our heart by prayers and good works, it would not go out.
– In the soul which is united to God it is always spring.