August 9 – Saint John Vianney, Curé of Ars, Confessor
It has been said of more than one person, of more than one Saint, that they were the prodigies of their century. This is perhaps true of no one more than of the Curé of Ars. This man, who was so remarkably humble, for about thirty years saw the whole world, as it were, attentive to his virtues, the entire Christian world at his feet. He is certainly a marvel of the pastoral apostolate and sanctity.
Born three years before the French Revolution into a humble and profoundly Christian family, at Dardilly near Lyons, he was at first a little shepherd, occupied also with the cultivation of the land. From his earliest years he was noted for his candor, piety, love for the Blessed Virgin, and charity for the poor. He desired to become a priest and reached the altar through his piety rather than through his talents. Lack of schooling during the Revolution had made Latin grammar virtually inaccessible to his best efforts. The bishop asked, however, whether he was pious; and when he heard that he said his Rosary like an Angel, ordained him.
After a few years of parish work as an Assistant Pastor, in 1817 he was placed in charge of the parish of Ars, a small village considered backward and scarcely half-Christian. On his way there, solitary and in poverty, when he saw in the distance the steeple of the church, he knelt and prayed God to bless his ministry. His first concern was to visit his parishioners, and he soon won them over by his far-from-ordinary virtue. To their indifference to religion, then, a profoundly Christian spirit succeeded, and one saw the Lord’s day observed to perfection; under the influence of a Saint, the parish of Ars became like a religious community. Word of this transformation passed from one person to another and soon, from many surrounding regions people came to hear him, enter humbly into the confessional, and obtain miracles. These he attributed to Saint Philemena, whose tomb had recently been discovered, and whom he called his dear little Saint. He was very attentive to the beauty of the sanctuary, to the preparation of his sermons, and to the orphanage which he founded; no application was excessive where these were concerned. For himself he was unsparing, sleeping in a damp basement and persecuted there incessantly by the devil. The villagers themselves became aware of his terrible combats with the one he called the “grappin” – literally a sharp-pronged anchor – the fitting name he gave the ancient enemy.
Ten years later, the reputation of this humble country priest had spread over Europe, and from everywhere there came impious scoffers, unbelievers, and libertines, as well as fervent Christians and those in sorrow; the former were converted by the thousands, the latter consoled and strengthened for their combats. He spent ordinarily from sixteen to eighteen hours daily in the confessional, in winter with his feet on an unheated stone floor; and the rest of his time in preaching, prayer, and teaching catechism in the church. He died at the advanced age of 84, despite his unrelenting penance and long-standing rheumatism, and loved “by the whole world.”
Reflection: Let us pray for holy priests to bring the world on its knees to its Saviour. No intention is more important than this one. The Curé of Ars will pray with us, if we ask him to do so, and protect the sacerdotal race from the unending, unrelenting dangers which threaten it everywhere.